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DVD Review: Murder in America – The Sarah Cherry Story

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This documentary investigates the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of a 12-year-old girl named Sarah Cherry 19 years ago in the rural community of Bowdoin, Maine.

On July 6, 1988 Sarah, a responsible and straight-A student, took on her first babysitting job. Unfortunately, she was kidnapped, and two days later her body was found nearby in a secluded wooded area. She had been murdered and evidence showed that she was sexually assaulted.

The suspect in this hideous crime was a 31-year-old farmer named Dennis Dechaine. He was linked to this crime because his personal papers were found in the driveway of the home at which Sarah was babysitting, and when questioned by police officers, he gave statements admitting that he committed the crime. The investigation found rope in his truck that was used to tie up Sarah. There were bruises he could not explain and his alibi did not add up. He was taken into custody, charged, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

The controversy in this film stems from the efforts of Dennis Dechaine's friends, who formed an organization to clear him called Trial and Error. The group speculated that there was prosecutorial misconduct because there were many holes in the evidence gathered by the police. Also, the defense had requested DNA testing and it was denied by the court. Possibly, the denial of the DNA test was because it was a new procedure in the state of Maine. Trial and Error suggest that the police department manipulated the evidence against Dechaine and launched a conspiracy.

What makes this film so different from most investigative documentaries is that the filmmaker Dora Militaru uses the actual people from both sides involved in the events to give their own opinions, evidence, and statements. This gives the audience a feel of being involved and rendering their own decision on whether Dennis Dechaine is deserving of a new trial. What's disturbing is that the victims' family can't bring closure to this horrific tragedy. This film gives a gutsy look at the real "law and order".

Director: Dora Militaru
Run time: 43 mins
Genre: Documentary
Studio: Moon Lake Films

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About Gerald Wright

  • lambie

    This Director is a joke. He has not researched both sides of the story and has only shown bias for the Cherry family’s unobjective, unsubstantiated facts……sad…..

  • http://trialanderrordennis.org/ Steve S

    The review is incorrect. Dechaine did not admit to the crime; detectives testified that he did, but their testimony is contradicted by their own notes. Read more here: Look for the links to the images of Westrum’s notes.

    Anyone who really looks at the evidence will see that it is nowhere near as conclusive as is stated in the review.

    Beyond that, the state incinerated evidence, denied DNA testing, and told the jury there were no other suspects when there were (and still are).

    Trial & Error is not alone in thinking that Dechaine deserves an new trial. The Innocence Project, a majority of the residents of Maine (according to an independent poll), and two independent investigators from Court TV believe a new trial is in order as well.

    The worst part is that the real killer is still free. That is why none of us have “closure” here.

  • Larry

    This film is bogus and one sided. It’ll never get any place because of that

  • Tim

    Three comments from three people who haven’t seen the movie. Is the director biased or is it the moonbats the support a murderer? Read the trial transcripts. I’m not sure of the exact quote but its something like this. ‘I don’t consider myself a murderer, I consider myself a drug addict’.

  • Daniele

    I HAVE seen the movie, and I have to tell you that I was VERY impressed with the way the story was told from both sides. Everyone has their own opinion on how he did or didn’t admit to the crime. The point of the movie was to show you what everyone is dealing with, not that Dennis is or isn’t guilty. Its a movie that highlights everything that is wrong with the world out there, from the horrific murder of a sweet innocent kid, to the whacked out criminal justice system.

    Get it??

  • nancy

    If this film is onesided what the heck is Trial and Error?? all i know is that a little girl was murdered ,innocent beautiful little girl who could have been a doctor or teacher with her own kids think about the Cherry family… no i don’t know the family at all

  • http://broasband Mike

    I live in New York and I’ve heard about this film.My question is, when will it be on TV?………..I hear thats its very good.

  • Joe

    What is eerie about this documentary is that these are ordinary people like you and me telling their story. The format is different from what is on TV today. No actors, no recreations, no commentary or anyone asking questions. Just the actual people involved telling their story. I thought it was very well done with a different approach. Let’s you draw your own conclusions to the guilt or innocence.

  • Shannon

    This documentary is unique, compelling and deserves a wide audience. The director Dora Militaru won an award for this film and richly deserved it.

  • lambie

    DNA is scientific evidence that has been exonerating many wrongfully convicted people as we speak through out the United States today—but in Dennis Dechaine’s case the fact that it wasn’t his DNA but someone elses is not even accounted for in the State of Maine. The sad part of this story is that the Cherry family is missing knowing who the the real murderer of their daughter was and knowing that he is off the streets and away from other daughers.

  • Tim

    lambie,

    Have you seen the movie? The DNA issue has been addressed by the State of Maine. Maine has even passed the Dennis Dechaine Bill(L.D. 1907). This is a bill designed specifically for Dechaine so he can get a new trial. Even with this new law in place there is not enough evidence to get him a new trial.

  • http://broasband Frank T.

    What is in this film, that the convicts supporters don’t want us to see?

  • Betty

    i seen the movie and found it to be fsinating !!.the story of how this little girl died ………..who killed her came across real clear……the shame is that it isn,t put to rest and the Cherry family isn,t allowed to go on with life!! the killer is where he belongs,,thanks for a good job!!

  • Dennis

    I am intimately aware of this film and I found the review insightful and right on the mark. It is a shame the the critics of this film have never seen it. Also when people spew lies such as someone eles’s DNA was present when no such thing is in evidence it’s sad. I guess when you are a true beleiver you don’t have to be forced to drink the kool aid.

  • Joan

    This movie is a lie, all lie’s. Dennis Dechaine is a wonderful person who could never have killed that girl.

  • mark

    lorenzo is a joke and so is his film, it’ll never get any place because of that.

  • Bill

    I live in Maine and I can tell all, that up here you only hear one side of the story, thats how Dennis is innocent. After reading the review, it would be refreshing to hear both sides of the story with out any distortions.

  • Howard S. Klerk Jr.

    I have not only seen this documentary, I have a copy of it. It is not only well done, but it shows both sides in a very fair manner. It is a very sad commentary that the myopic members of “trial and error” cannot see beyond the noses on their faces. Having attended a court hearing lasting several days covering “new found evidence”,Presided over by judge Bradford I was disgusted by the antics of this murderer’s fan club. They gave him a standing ovation when he entered the courtroom and mouthed “we love you Dennis”. These people need to get a life, and should really study the facts instead of acting like a bunch of sheep. Howars S Klerk Jr. Coleader Maine chapter Parents Of Murdered Children.

  • Todd

    I was at the premiere of this documentary in New York. I was and still am somewhat hesitant about airing my views of what I personally experience viewing this film.As a producer of independent films myself, I am drawn to these festivals. Murder in America, in my view is the best documentary I have seen in years. I perdict that once this film is aired (and it will be picked up) it will set a standard for all investigating reporting. The producer and director of this film have shown a great insight to fairness and balance. As I viewed, I had the feeling that each person that participated in this film was speaking directly to me or that I was sitting in a jury box and it was up to me the question of innocent or gulit. I have read the comments regarding this film; it’s a shame that they haven’t seen the film and are so judgmential, but they should be happy that the producer and the director do not have the same mantality as they do. Bravo, job well done!

  • Andrea

    I was a 20 year old college student in the summer of 1988 when Sarah Cherry was murdered. Hers was a name I will never forget. As heart wrenching as it was to know that this little girl had been murdered, it is as heart wrenching to know that Dennis Duchaine is still wrongfully imprisoned for her murder. I knew when he was being tried that he was innocent. I would think that the family of Sarah Cherry would want another trial for Dennis Duchaine because there is plenty of evidence to vindicate him. Don’t they want to know the truth? What would it be like to spend 20 years in prison for a crime you had not committed?

  • michael

    Movies/documentaries when written well can convince our mind’s eye. The truth of the matter here is that both side WERE never presented and that makes for a very bias story and possibly a coverup from our cohorts in the Maine office. Hmmmmm……..

  • Barbara

    This was a well-made film. How can anyone think this man is innocent, or rally around him? Perhaps his defenders hate women and condone violence agasint women as much as he did. No one wants to believe how bad the situation is — esp men, because they are so afraid of each other, they have to live in denial.

  • Gigi80

    Dennis Dechaine is guilty!! The Trial and Error moonbats need to find a new cause. And yes, I do have personal knowledge of the case and I am convinced beyond all doubt of Dechaine’s guilt. Why would the officers, the DA, and the prosecutor — all of whom lived locally and had children — want to frame an inoocent man and let the “real killer” go free to harm other children? It is a symptom of Dechaine’s narcissistic and deluded personality that he claims that he was “set up”.

  • Daniel Rastatter

    Cherry’s body still had rigor mortis when found, which lasts a maximum of 36 hours after death. At the time Dechaine had a solid alibi for the previous 41 hours. There is no getting around this alibi unless someone can scientifically show that rigor mortis can last 41 hours under the conditions in which Cherry’s body laid. Dechaine appears to be the victim of ignorant people who do not accept established science and cannot be bothered to try and disprove it.

  • Tim

    Daniel Rastatter,

    Do some research on rigor mortis please. The 36 hours is a minimum. Rigor mortis can last 72 hours. Especially when the body is buried under a foot of debris. There goes the alibi. When you call someone ignorant and not accepting of established science please be looking in the mirror.

    “A few hours after a person or animal dies, the joints of the body stiffen and become locked in place. This stiffening is called rigor mortis. Depending on temperature and other conditions, rigor mortis lasts approximately 72 hours. The phenomenon is caused by the skeletal muscles partially contracting. The muscles are unable to relax, so the joints become fixed in place.”

  • Daniel Rastatter

    Tim,

    Rigor mortis probably can last longer in cold temperatures. Probably forever if a dead body is frozen. I was talking about the conditions under which Cherry’s body was found. Cherry’s murder occurred in July.

    According to James Moore, author of Human Sacrifice, “Every pathologist interviewed, and every forensic pathology textbook agrees that, in [Cherry’s] situation and circumstances, rigor mortis would last a maximum of 36 hours. This places the earliest time of death at 2:00a.m. on Thursday– more than five hours after Dechaine’s actions are accounted for by State’s witnesses and police officers. Every other suggestion advanced by Roy [the medical examiner who testified a Dechaine’s trial] (i.e. “two days prior,” “could have been longer,” and “within hours of eating her last meal,” are totally contradicted by every other pathologist interviewed and every forensic pathology textbook. Jurors heard none of these facts . Asked about these inconsistencies in a recorded interview, Dr. Roy blurted, “This case is why I left the State of Maine.” Dr. Roy also said that he would not return to Maine under any circumstances.”

  • Tim

    Daniel Rastatter,

    Do you wonder why James Moore never names a pathologist or directly quotes a textbook? Please do your own research.

  • Daniel Rastatter

    Tim,

    I did online research through Google and found plenty of sources including crime investigation sources which say rigor mortis ends 36 hours after death. However, such an estimate is not absolute as the ending of rigor mortis is caused by decay, and if Cherry’s body was refrigerated, rigor mortis could have lasted longer. Was that the case?

    According to page 238 of the online copy of Human Sacrifice, “Sarah was a child. If her age had any effect, her rigor mortis could have begun and ended more rapidly than in an adult. Her body was partially concealed beneath a pile of sticks but the ambient temperature during those days neared ninety degrees. If the temperature didn’t hasten her rigor mortis, it certainly didn’t retard it. Lastly, it’s safe to assume that the torture inflicted on Sarah added to her stress and muscular activity. Any one of these variables would accelerate rigor mortis. … Attempts to manipulate that scientific conclusion with talk about variables simply backfires.”

  • Randy

    I’ve been following this case for 20 years. I have read,listened to all the info this case has to offer..
    It’s a sad thing… But, someone is lieing..
    is it the cops, or dennis?????? The DNA tells NO LIES my friends!!!!!!!!

  • chris

    I have lived in Maine my whole life, new some of the family, and have been in the office of the detective who arrested the man.( He has a picture of him self with the defendent in handcuffs on the wall like a trophy.)

    I do not understand how they can find dna under her fingernails and just ignore this evidence.

    I do not know what happened, and maybe know one ever really will know, but I live with an addict and depending on what the substances she is on I have seen her lose time she will be talking in present time as if events that happened a day before were accually taking place then ,she has had black outs, I have even seen her talk to people who were not even there, so i can understand how at the time of his arrest he could be confused on the details of what he had been up to. He very well could have witnessed it and just can’t put it together in his head.

    The fact I can not understand is how people can ignore the fact that a person other than the defendents dna was under Sarah Cherry’s nails from defending her own life and no one cares to even try to explain this. If it was my daughter I would never get another nights sleep, ever.

  • Jim

    Can possible suspects be forced to submit DNA samples if they are suspected of a crime of this magnitude in Maine? Can the one remaining suspect, Senecal be forced to submit DNA?

  • Austin

    The evidence is there to convict the man. He was spotted coming from the woods and also asked neighbors if he could use their hose to wash himself off. Duchaine claimed to be fishing with no fishing pole in the woods. The police later found the body where Duchaine’s lawyer said it would be….let me guess, there is plenty of explanation for all of this? He really was fishing! (with his hands) and just somehow his papers got in the driveway. Liberals will always find some reason to defend and support murders, rapists, and child molesters.

  • CM

    The evidence is there to convict the man….Beyond a reasonable doubt? I”m not here to rally for the man’s guilt or innocence. I will say, they’re way too many doubts in this case. I’ll admit there is a lot of convincing evidence, but there is also a lot of cover up. Hence the doubt.

    A jury that can say they convicted this man without any doubts is lying. And being a drug addict liar does not make a child killer. I’m just puzzled why Senecal refuses to step up, give his DNA, and clear his name. An innocent individual being okay with living under a cloud of suspicion. Highly suspect IMO.

    If this guy is truly guilty. Let him rot! He deserves everything he has gotten and more. But if someone else committed this horrid crime. They should pay!My heart goes out to this family although I can’t even imagine the anguish assiociated with having your child murdered. But I do know having the wrong person pay for the crime isn’t gonna bring closure any closer. If that’s even possible at all.

  • Old Cop

    Sorry to contradict “Tim” but James Moore’s book, “Human Sacrifice,” quotes a number of expert pathologists and textbooks in support of the conclusion that this little girl wasn’t murdered until hours after Dechaine was picked up by the police, and while he was still in their custody. In fact, the 2nd edition of “Human Sacrifice” contains photos of the actual documents proving that both detectives’ testimony about incriminating admissions by the defendant is false, AND documents proving that prosecutors incinerated DNA evidence shortly after the defendant filed a motion for a new trial. This “documentary” would have credibility if the producer had included this information.
    Personally, I’m ashamed of law enforcement’s conduct in this case.
    Nevertheless, the producer continues to quote this review by Mr. Wright as a plus for his film.

  • kristen

    I’grew up there and went to high school with her step sisters it took a very bad tole on there family. I think no one should be running there mouth about this ordeal unless you were there let the law decided who’s guilty there was evidence end of story he’s in jail thats were he belongs.

  • Kyala

    I grew up in Maine. There is a reason I left. The backwoods attitude, exhibited by many of its inhabitants, being just one.

    I do not see why this man should not get a re-trial in lieu of new information/evidence. I have an eight year old and I would want to know the truth, not just sit behind my blinders and a false sense of security.

    I also would not put my faith in any documentary. Bias’, and changing of facts to fit circumstances, can occur whether intentional or not. The fact that testimony, from people who were there, was used does not change this.

    I know I can become confused over information after a mere few days, let along over the course of twenty-one years. All of you who are willing to watch this, and commit a man based solely on the testimony of people who were there at the time, need to sit down and tell us all where you were and what you were doing twenty one years ago on that day.

    I am not saying the people in this documentary are lying on purpose. I am saying that eventually, it becomes not about these people remembering the past, but about them recanting a story they have told for years. I would liken it to the childhood game telephone, where the words remains similar, but somewhere along the way the meaning gets lost. Only an idiot would believe everything they see on tv, in a movie or read in a magazine. I don’t care who is telling the “story” it is still just a story.

    The only thing I would believe is hard evidence. If said evidence convicts Dennis after a second trial then he is where he belongs. However, if the evidence is not there and an innocent man is in prison, then not only do we free an innocent man, but we also can start looking for the real sicko. Face it people, forensics have come leaps and bounds in the years since this tragedy happened.

    In closing, I think many of you are very ignorant. It seems like some of you do not want to believe the police could have made a mistake, do not want to believe that in twenty one years, forensics can prove a man innocent. You would rather feel a false sense of security than find the truth. It is a sad day, indeed, when people would rather live behind a possible lie than move forward to a possible truth.

  • Grace

    If he is guilty, why were the footprints discovered by police,a pair of large and small barefoot prints,(sarah was barefoot when kidnapped), leading to the door of a man who would later be convicted of having sex with, (raping), a girl the same age as Sarah Cherry? Clearly the police focused on one suspect who would appear to be involved due to the papers that in my opinion were in the driveway of the home Sarah was abducted from due to wind taking them from his pick-up truck, and never investigated other possible suspects. Its a shame for this poor girl and her family that they don’t know with 100 certainty who killed their beloved child, and the fact that an innocent man’s life may have been ruined. You would think that DNA tests would be conducted to help free him or keep him where he is considering it is the year 2009 and these tests are available to be done.

  • Max Surkont

    I lived in Bowdoin at the time of the murder. Mr. Dechaine admiited to being high on some kind of meth type drug. The one that makes you sexually aggressive. Does this make him guilty? Probably not and I wasn’t there. But another note on his personality: I used to live on a back dirt road. Somebody dumped a load of trash there as they didn’t want to pay to dump it. The police investigated by sorting through the trash and found mail addressed to Dennis Dechaine. He dumped it. He wasn’t highly thought of.

  • joey robbins

    HAhaahah, you Mainers make me laugh. How about his first attorney who contacted the AG and told him that Cherry was dead and that the police were searching in the right area. After the phone call the police increased their search near his truck. And boom. Her body was found. My friend was at the trial, and she said after the verdict Dennis didn’t even shake his head or yell that he was innocent. If I was found guilty of a crime i didn’t commit I would be yelling and screaming like a madman. Oh, and I wouldn’t have said to 2 prison guards, “I’m the guy who killed that girl”. Yep, they lied. Oh and 2 detectives lied when he said, “something inside of me made me do it.” Or “why did I stop at that driveway?” Or “why couldn’t I have just kept driving?” Or “I told my wife I did something really bad, and she just laughed at me!” hahahah….STOP WASTING the TAXPAYERS MONEY on this case!!

  • Tommy Landry

    Yep I agree. tied of reading about this case.

  • Dereck Rhoads

    I watched it the other day. Just re-affirms what I always thought. He’s so guilty it’s scary. And without a doubt, I agree with Det. Hensbee, he probably did this out in Washington! Jim Moore sounds like an absolute idiot in this!! This is who these “trial and error” idiots rely on as their spokesman?? hahahaha Stop wasting the taxpayers money on this case.

    My favorite quote from the movie,
    “I like Dennis Dechaine, I really do. I’d even have him over for dinner, as long as I didn’t have a 12 or 13 year old daughter! hahaha

  • adam

    y they cudnt just do a dna n get it over n done with i dont know, there is 2 possible suspects and only 1 has been investigated (poorly)they need to put this case to bed. Thats the american justice system for ya. THE REAL KILLER COULD B LIVING ON UR STREET

  • ninak

    was deschaine ever given a polygraph?

  • Sarah

    My name is Sarah Cherry I was looking it up. It is sad to think that someone in this world would do such a stupid thing to a 12 year old girl! Like I am 10!!

  • Danielle

    I am in the UK & have not seen the documentry. It sounds very sad for the little girls family, however, any doubt should be fully investigated before the person is charged with murder surely??

  • eve

    just watched documentary, what was the name of the other suspect that refused to talk 16 years after, when tv programme tried to talk to him. seems dennis brothers thought he was guilty of the crime.

  • CLC

    why don’t they just have a new trial?

  • brit

    Yes, law enforcement NEVER goes after the wrong guy and then adjusts evidence to fit that suspect being the murderer. NEVER. Why would they “frame” an innocent man? They erroneously framed him by thinking genuinely that he was guilty and incinerating all evidence to the contrary. There actually WAS DNA found that was not dennis’ DNA and there was no evidence sarah cherry had been in his car. Also, dechaine’s car was full of junk- how interesting the only two things that fell out right on the victims driveway (of her babysitting charge rather) had his full name on it. Hive me a break.

  • Nicole pelletier

    I am dennis duchain’s second cousin, my mother is his first, all of us know that dennia would never do something like this. It was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • Bert974

    The Strangler committed the crime. He was 51 at the time.
    He usually surveils for several days before the crime.