Imagine for a moment that you are driving down a road in a rural part of a state like Maine (could be Montana, upstate New York, South Dakota, or other states with low population densities). You pass very few houses along the unfamiliar road that you are motoring down. It’s now late in the afternoon and you decide to pop open the glove box of your vehicle and take out that weed you’ve been dying to smoke.
After taking your time and rolling a perfect joint, you fire it up and enjoy the first few tokes of some mighty fine pot. Seeing that it’s a perfect summer day and you feel up to a walk in nature, you leave your vehicle and strike out down a path just a few yards off the road. About 30 minutes later, the combination of the pot, the three beers and the uppers you took earlier are all making you disoriented. You decide to head back to your truck, but after an hour of thrashing through the underbrush, you can’t find the goddamn vehicle.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, you come out on a road that you don’t recognize. About 6pm, see an older couple just arriving home at the farmhouse on your right and decide that you’ll try to arrange your disheveled hair and pick the burrs out of your beard before asking for some directions. Somewhat paranoid from the drugs and feeling foolish at your stupidity, you sheepishly invent a story about fishing and getting lost, while asking for directions. The older man is very accommodating and even offers you lemonade on this hot July day, before volunteering to drive you back to your truck.
When you finally locate the vehicle, it’s obvious someone’s been in the glove box, as your dope is gone, and so is your journal, registration, and receipts. Not wanting to say anything to the Good Samaritan that just gave you a lift and saved your sorry ass, you thank him and wave as he drives away.
The next afternoon, after completing your chores, you hear a news report about a missing 15 year old, the next town over. You wonder if she ran away and if they’ll ever find her, before quickly pushing it out of your mind as you clean up and begin preparing your dinner.
Later that night, around 10pm, there is a knock at your door. You are startled as you were in the back room and had dozed off while watching television. You natural inclination is to assume the worst, because knocks at night are never about good news. Two county sheriff’s deputies are standing at your door. They want to ask some questions about papers of yours that were found near the body of a dead 15 year old girl in the general area where you were lost yesterday.
Sound farfetched? Well meet the story of Dennis Dechaine. While the fictional account above varies somewhat from his story, the general gist of his conviction for a murder back in 1988 that many (myself included) are convinced he didn’t commit, forms the basis for my little tale.
I wrote about his situation back in August on my blog over at JBIWFY. Interestingly, the organization Trial and Error found my post for that day and has put it up at their website.
Dennis Dechaine has been incarcerated since the summer of 1988 on a case that was mishandled, bureaucratically bungled, and has serious holes in the state’s case against him.
Jim Moore, the former federal agent and author of Human Sacrifice, systematically takes the case apart in his excellent book. Like many, Moore assumed Dechaine was some psycho, or pervert, and was justly locked away in the bowels of Maine’s prison system. When he attended a local meeting of Trial and Error for the heck of it, to see what kind of whackos would be defending a murderer, Moore became intrigued and impressed with the level of commitment he saw.
As he began his investigations for the book, it became apparent that there were serious criminal justice issues, evidence destruction and other information that was withheld from the jury.
I urge Mainers to read the book and get involved with freeing Dennis. If you live in another state, you will find the book extremely interesting and it will make you realize that there are countless men and women locked away within our criminal justice system for crimes they didn’t commit. The truly scary part is that the actual killers are still walking around, free to kill again and again.
Tommorrow is “Dennis Dechaine Day-2005” at the State House in Augusta. Members of Trial and Error will be there and taking part in a conference call with Dennis. Members will also be lobbying state representatives on Dennis’ behalf, calling for a complete and independent investigation into a reopened case.
It’s so easy to be callous and think, “that would never happen to me”; the reality is that Dennis Dechaine never thought it would happen to him, and yet he sits at Thomaston, where he’s been incarcerated for the past 17+ years.