Reader Misty Lake made such a well thought out response to my post Opinion: Dennis Dechaine and the murder of Sarah Cherry that I felt it deserved a blog post of it's own to respond to. Despite her persuasive enumeration as to 15 reasons why Dennis should be found not guilty, I remain unconvinced, and here's why.
1. Of course the DNA and blood found under Sarah's nails. Neither of them were Dennis' (and neither was the hair that was found on her). AND! There was this known pedophile (who had already raped one 12 y/o girl - there were similarities in these cases: Inserted items inside that other girl, bondage etc) that lived half a mile from the house Sarah was babysitting..his blood type was the same that was found under Sarah's nails. Child's footprints (barefooted ones..Sarah's shoes and socks were left inside the house) were found outside this pedophile's trailer..and a neighbor heard a child later the same day Sarah was kidnapped. This person (the pedophile) later told that no one ever interviewed him about Sarah, altho people had told the police what they had witnessed and police told them they would come and interview this man..actually his trailer was the only place the police never even checked in that neighborhood.Normally I would agree that the DNA under Sarah's nails was a clincher. If it didn't match the suspect then he could not be the perpetrator of the assault. Case closed. Two things make the DNA irrelevant. The first and most critical is the issue with the custody chain of the evidence.
Extra: A shirt and one other piece of cloth (girl's clothes) was also found in the woods near this pedophile's home.
For a long time Dennis' attorney had Sarah's fingernail clippings in his possession. Somewhere there exists a person who would be tempted to find a way to tamper with that evidence to plant exonerating DNA. There's no saying Dennis' lawyer did this, but there's also no saying he didn't. Tragically, this renders this physical evidence irrelevant to me. Also, there could have been two perpetrators, Dennis just one of them, the other, his DNA found under her nails. Can we know for certain there weren't two men involved?
It is yet another mark of shame and ignorance on the investigators of this crime that they did not thorougly pursue the evidence pointing to the pedophile you mention. The only thing I can ask is why, if the pedophile had a cabin nearby and Sarah's footprints walking willingly to it, why he would have taken the chance to assault and torture her so far from it? Why would he have taken all the risks of obtaining the evidence to frame Dennis? Remember the notebook was "planted" and then found hours before Sarah Cherry was killed. So the "frame-up" would have had to be premeditated. Why and how could a local pedophile accomplish this or bother?
Alternatively, and just as plausibly: Dennis could have heard of the assaults that the pedophile had been accused of and triggered his own desire to try it himself. Perhaps he himself chose a location close to the pedophile and simulated his modus operandi, all in order to cast suspicion upon the pedophile and not the other way around.
2. The fact that no trace of Sarah was ever found in Dennis' truck.
I believe Sarah was unconscious before she was ever placed in the truck. There was no struggle and she left no fingerprints. More on this later.
3. The fact that the police dog could not find any trace of Sarah in Dennis' truck..and didn't find any smell of Dennis anywhere near the place Sarah's body was found..in fact, the dog went in the opposite direction, where Dennis said he had gone fishing and shooting drugs.Was the dog following the trail of Dennis or Sarah? A dog can't do both. He can't tell us what he was following so we can't say who or which trail the dog followed. Also, I find the investigators of this case clumsy and single-minded in their desire to find evidence to prove Dennis guilty. I don't trust their investigation, for the most part, and that also includes their work with the search dog. Dennis also had just finished hauling hundreds of pounds of slaughtered chickens in his truck, surely this would add complications for the dog in the immediate vicinity of the truck?
Following the trail from the car, which the dog indicated as belonging to Dennis, brings us within a few yards of where the second piece of rope from the truck was found.
I think Sarah was unconscious in the truck, he bound her once he pulled off the road into the almost invisible spot he parked his truck. Then, Dennis locked his truck, locks it to keep anyone from stealing it and trapping him in the woods near his victim. He's carrying her, which would confuse a tracking dog. He then forged into the woods to the east looking for a spot to immobilize his victim and assault her.
He encounters a shallow stream, a marshy area and in the distance he detects the only house on that whole section of road (at the time) he realizes he must make the risky move of going back, and heading west into the section of woods with no houses, and he must cross the road carrying his victim.
He drops the extra piece of rope by accident at this time. He heads back, partly retracing his own path going west now, further confusing the dogs, and then furtively crossing the road. He then travels 1/4 mile into the woods to the west, following the creekbed past the marsh until he finds the high and dry spot under a tree where he places his groggy victim. He even describes this spot in his testimony as "a deciduous grove of trees that were particularly nice, and sat down to rest for a few minutes. I had done a lot of walking that day."
He has bound her with ropes from his truck and gagged her with a bandanna from his truck, He's got hours with his victim, no one to hear her in this location.
Dennis said:Well, what I did was after having sat down for quite sometime I got up and walked back to my truck. And it was at that point that I realized after walking for a short period of time that I didn't recognize anything. It didn't seem like I was going in the right direction. We were beginning to lose light at that time.
Q So this is getting dark, towards..A Yes. That's one of the reasons why I started moving around because we had lost the light.
Who is "We"? He's supposed to be alone. Pronouns are instinctive, we don't use them incorrectly. "We" means Self and at least one other person. Who is with Dennis at dusk in the woods? I believe it was Sarah and this is why she was partly exposed in her near-complete burial, because "We" had lost the light. He stumbled from the woods after dusk.
Why does someone explain that they had to "start moving around" when he and a companion noticed the coming darkness? Dennis makes these kind of incriminating slips often. It's hard to imagine that every single quote from Dennis was contrived where he shows guilty knowledge of the crime. In fact in his own testimony he admits that he's not sure but he may have actually said some of the things he is accused of saying "I really don't believe I could have said that, If I did it was certainly a regrettable error of semantics."
Ultimately he exits the woods almost a mile to the west of his truck, after dark, and on the side of the road where Sarah's body was found, not to the east in the direction the police dogs first track him. He's wandering lost in the same block of woods where Sarah's body is found. And he is across the road from his truck. He crossed the road. It's significant.
4. A fishing pole was later found in the woods..but the police + prosecutor disregard and hid that evidence..like many other evidence too.
This is moot. Dennis lists in his testimony everything he took with him that day and he doesn't mention a fishing rod, and he admits that he was lying when he told absolutely everyone that he was fishing. His defense to being in the location at all is that he just happened to be doing the only injectible drugs he had ever done in that precise set of woods while Sarah was coincidentally being murdered nearby. He now claims that he lied to everyone that he was fishing because he didn't want them to know he was doing drugs. There's no fishing pole. If a fishing pole was found later, no doubt it was planted to help boost his story. This could have been done whether he was guilty or not, so it's moot.
5. The truck was locked. Would someone, who is struggling to get his victim out of the truck lock the doors? Or even if the victim was dead at that point..which would make locking the doors even more bizarre! And that brings me back to the fact that no trace of Sarah was ever found anywhere in the truck. Yea..i mean what did Dennis do? Tell Sarah "wait a second, i'll lock the doors..then you can start kicking and screaming again"?? After of course arriving to the location with Sarah..and miraculously not leaving any trace of her anywhere near/inside his truck!?
His victim was neither struggling nor dead. I think he had injected her with a veterinary sedative. I think he charmed his way inside the house to use the phone and then injected her without leaving any sign of struggle. He transported her to his truck parked close to the door and then drove her to the pull-off of the road, which he had already scoped out. She wasn't struggling so she left no evidence in his car. There was no evidence of a struggle at the house either. He locked his car exactly for the reason he said in his testimony. "Probably because I was in a remote area and I was afraid it would be an easy thing to steal." -And having his truck stolen would really get him in trouble. So would getting lost in the woods and not finding his truck, but he made that one mistake.
6. No traces of blood was found on Dennis. Again, Sarah was stabbed multiple times in the neck and chest area..there would have been lots of blood flying around.
Dennis could have brought a change of clothes and washed off thoroughly in the marsh. He admits to falling in the water as one of the few things he "remembers" from his long afternoon in the woods. He wasn't examined fully until the next day and he had already laundered the clothing he was found wearing.
7. No marks were found on Dennis that looked like someone had scratched (or anything!) him while trying to defend him/herself. However, there was one other man who had fresh scratch marks on his face (that had appeared the same day Sarah was kidnapped) and upper chest area. But the police never even thought about checking that person either.
Dennis actually did have a few scratches and bruises. Nothing that couldn't also be explained by being lost in the woods and falling in the creek though. He explains a large bruise as <i>I told him that was a pinch I received while doing some work in the barn or something of that sort.</i> Linguistically this is not the same thing as saying "It was a pinch I received while doing some work in the barn" Instead he says "I told him <the police officer> it was a pinch, or something of that sort. We are left not knowing where the bruise really came from. Because it certainly wasn't from a pinch given his unwillingness just to tell us so.
8. The tire tracks that didn't match. One tire of Dennis' truck had similar details, but wasn't a true match (and this one tire was one of the most common types used in Maine at that time). The other three tires didn't match with any of the tracks found. And again, the police decided to not get prints out of set of tires that was left by a truck a neighbor saw (with two men and a child inside!).Sorry, tire marks etc are just symbols of how badly this investigation was botched. Officers walked and drove all over that driveway and it wasn't secured as a crime scene until hours after the investigation began. I place no weight on any tire mark evidence.
9. A fingerprint that was lifted from the door of the house Sarah was in. A fingerprint that wasn't Dennis'.It's just not enough. Unless it can be identified it's a red herring.
10. The witness that said she saw a red truck passing their and the house Sarah was in. Dennis' truck was orange. Senegal's truck was red. And she saw the truck moving..never stopping..so if that was Dennis kidnapping the girl how did he do it?The witnesses seeing red trucks don't always remember which day they saw them and did not see who was driving them and cannot identify the specific truck. The sheer number of red trucks in this area just devalues this evidence. Also Dennis claims he drove up and down the roads of the area "looking for fishing holes" or a "quiet road to park and shoot up" depending on which of his two stories you believe.There's not that many roads in the area, they are long and intersect only every few miles. One witness did hear a vehicle turn into what they thought might be the driveway because he lost sight of the truck and heard the dogs barking. All of the witnesses live South of the house where the kidnapping took place, and Sarah's body was transported North. They would not have seen any vehicle transporting Sarah, Dennis driving or otherwise.
11. The two items found on the driveway. This is -in my opinion- the best part of this case! Out of +180 items (and out of 3 items that had Dennis' name on them) that were in the car somehow Dennis managed to pick up TWO, not one but TWO..the notebook that was always in between the front seats and a receipt that was..who knows where in the truck..and carry them allll the way close to the house and then what...he just left them there!? Even a blind person would see them lying on the ground and would pick them up! But i guess he couldn't pick them up because he was carrying a 12 y/o girl who is fighting and kicking and screaming so he decided to leave them there!?(no one did hear anything though ..no doors opening or closing..shouting or screaming..nothing..everything happened perfectly and perfectly quiet). Dennis must have had helluva lot of beginner's luck that day...I agree its unlikely that just those two items would fall out, but not nearly as unlikely as all the misfortunes of Dennis' "wrong place at the wrong time" story strung together. It could happen. He wouldn't see them if they fell out of the truck while he was placing Sarah unconscious into the passenger seat -a moment of time likely fraught with fear, like when he also had to carry her unconscious body across the road.
It doesn't matter who it was kidnapped Sarah when evaluating the absence of struggle, screaming etc. Whoever took her did it in a way that left very little evidence. I just happen to believe it was Dennis and he injected her with something from his animal veterinary bag to drug her helpless and likely unconscious. He left one empty syringe on his car seat and was terrifed this would tie him together to Sarah when she was found. This is why he lied to everyone about WHY he was in the woods, and in particular why he lied to at least four police officers telling them he didn't have his car keys, hid his keys in a patrol car and directed officers at every chance away from where his truck was actually parked.
12. Dennis himself. He has no history of violence or perverted child fantasies or ANYTHING. He is kind and polite. All the shrinks and therapists said the same thing: He is totally normal man with "normal way of thinking". Even FBI's special agents who was shown photos of the crime told that this was done by someone who had done it before, who was a loner and a person you'd feel uncomfortable being around with..someone you'd say to your kids to stay away from. Dennis was a married man, enjoying his life in his farm with his wife, planning on having kids of his own...Everyone has a secret life. I think Dennis had one. Dennis is a smart man. He's convinced you. He fails to convince me. His own testimony leaks deception at every turn to me. He says he was too high to remember anything at all about his entire afternoon but that he was absolutely so clear in his mind that he remembers every fine detail of his time after he exited the woods and met up with the Buttricks (now deceased.) He lied to them, he lied to the officers who he first meets up with, and he lies to the investigators even after they tell him why they are questioning him. He lied and lied and lied. But now he's not lying?
He says "You think I did this?", when he is made aware that Sarah Cherry is missing. He admits to this response, which contains an embedded confession- a trained officer would take note of this and recall it clearly. Yet, despite being aware he is a suspect in a horrifying felony, he continues to lie even after this. SO WHY LIE? He needs police to accept he's also a victim, someone is framing him, his car's been broken into, it couldn't have been him. SO WHY LIE? He's got no drugs left to be charged with a drug crime and he claims to not be stoned. SO WHY LIE? I can't get past this.
You have to ask yourself: "Why did Dennis hide his truck keys in the cruiser if what he wanted most of all was to find his truck and get out of there?"
The thing that bugs me the most in this case is in fact that it has turned into a "oh yea yea, this NICE-LOOKING, EVERYONE'S FAVORITE, KIND man must be innocent huh?..he couldn't have done it because no one expects a guy who looks like that to be a killer!" ..i mean what has his looks got to do with anything!? I'm afraid he will never get a FAIR trial, because of things like that. What if he was fat and ugly with bad teeth? A loner? That would have been bad too. It's like "He is ugly and a loner..GUILTY!" or "He is kind and friendly and rather good looking...GUILTY!!!"
Someone once said to me that 90% of homicides..the person who is the murderer is a family member..so is there, inside Sarah's family, behind those grieving faces a murderer? I know this is a mean thing to say, but if they are allowed to say that because Dennis is kind and good looking he is the murderer then others are allowed to say, that someone inside Sarah's family could be the real killer.His looks have nothing to do with it *except* they could have been what charmed Sarah Cherry into opening the door for him. This was key to Ted Bundy's success as a serial killer of young women.
13. The fact that Dennis has always said he is innocent. It's not like he waited for 20 years and then suddenly decided to scream "i didn't do it!" He has also always wanted to test the DNA, RIGHT FROM THE START..would a guilty person want that? I mean if he was guilty he wouldn't want to take the risk that the DNA would suddenly show something that would be damaging to him!Granted, an innocent person would want DNA to be tested, but so would a man who drugged his victim, immobilized her before she regained consciousness and can then say "I don't recall being scratched" and finally, who's attorney had possession of the fingernail evidence for a good period of time.
14. The fact that he is now demanding another type of DNA testing done..from the items that were located in the crime scene.It's on the same biological sample though, as I understand it, the same one who's chain of custody has been compromised.
15. All the hiding and lying the police and the prosecutor have done. Changing Dennis' words into something he has never said..destroying evidence (the rape kit and the hair for example) weeks after Dennis had appealed and asked for a new trial etc etc.Police misconduct does not prove innocence or guilt, only that they were overzealous in their desire to suspect, investigate and nail the crime on him. This shameful behavior does mean he should be given a new trial. They may have been correct in their assumption of Dennis guilt but that will never justify shenanigans that result in a life sentence.
That's about it. For now. :o)Thanks Misty, you make excellent points and I appreciate the debate.
I keep trying to craft an alternative narrative which ties all the pieces together but only contains Dennis as a tragically framed victim and not a perpetrator. I just can't do it.
Look at the "framing of Dennis" how elaborate and unlikely it is. The risks of getting caught were much higher than to just abduct her, assault her and then hide the body where she is never found again.
The "real perp" comes across Dennis truck hidden in the woods. It's locked, but he finds a way to get into it. Committing his first two crimes, B&E and theft, without leaving evidence, no fingerprints, hair DNA etc of the "real perp" is found in the vehicle.
He searches the truck and finds just what he needs, ropes to bind a victim, bandannas to gag a victim and papers with Dennis name. This required a thorough search of the truck and the assumption that the papers found would correctly identify the owner of the truck.
The Perp locks the truck again, and then proceeds three miles away to kidnap Sarah and then, without leaving any evidence of struggle. He deliberately leaves the incriminating notebook and drives Sarah presumably, kicking and screaming back to where Dennis truck is parked. He drags Sarah 1/4 mile into the woods, binds her, tortures her and sexually abuses her for extended hours before finally killing her and attempting to bury her remains.
How could the perp luck onto exactly the vehicle he required to both frame the owner and to obtain the tools of bondage he required. So convenient that the driver is gone for extended hours allowing the perp to extract just the incriminating evidence necessary to frame the truck owner. The elaborate premeditation and scheming is exceptional. The actual crimes perpetrated against Sarah were not.
Why did no one hear Sarah? How did the killer get her to leave the babysitting home?
How did the perp subdue her while driving?
Where did he park his car during the hours he assaulted her? Why was he apparently not worried it would be noticed? Did he walk with his barefoot victim? Carry her, while still alive and struggling, through the deep brush for a mile or more, with his car hidden far away? Why?
How did he know Dennis wouldn't stumble across him and discover him torturing Sarah as he returned to his truck?
How did he know Dennis would be parked there long enough for it to be possible for him to be framed? If Dennis returned to his truck and ended up with an alibi before the kidnapping was complete the plot would have failed.
How did he know Dennis would not return to his truck and recognize it had been broken into, report it immediately, bringing law enforcement to the area, even before the kidnapping was complete or during any of the many long hours where Sarah was still being abused and he could be caught in the act?
How could it have been so convenient that Dennis truck just happened to have the bondage items he needed for his plan?
Why bring Sarah back to 1/4 mile from Dennis truck? Why bother? It doesn't aid the frame-up. It only creates huge additional risk. 50 feet from Dennis truck, he could leave the dead body, that's pretty incriminating. But buried 1/4 mile away? It's such a mixed message. "I hope they pin this on you Dennis, AND I hope they never find her body."
It is so painfully perfect for the "real perp's" plan that Dennis became lost in the woods that day and helped participate in his own frame-up. It's just too perfect.