The prosecutor responsible for putting Anthony Sanborn Jr. behind bars for 25 years for a murder he says he did not commit has agreed to testify at a hearing regarding the case next month, court records show.
Pamela Ames, who Sanborn’s defense attorney contends avoided numerous attempts to serve her with a subpoena seeking her testimony, was an assistant attorney general in 1992 when she helped convict Sanborn for the 1989 murder of Jessica L. Briggs.
Sanborn was granted bail from the Maine State Prison last week after a key eyewitness recanted her testimony, and new evidence discovered by his defense team has raised questions about whether Ames and Portland detectives colluded to hide evidence and coerce witnesses to lie on the witness stand to help seal Sanborn’s conviction.
The agreement to testify by Ames, now a private attorney practicing in Waterville, headed off a potential confrontation after Sanborn’s attorney, Amy Fairfield, requested Thursday that Justice Joyce Wheeler issue a civil warrant for Ames’ arrest to ensure her appearance. Fairfield has said that multiple attempts over several days to reach Ames at her office and at properties she owns were unsuccessful, leading to the request for the arrest warrant.
Fairfield said in a telephone interview Thursday that Ames, along with Portland detectives James Daniels and Daniel Young, “have some explaining to do.”
“That’s why I’m calling them,” Fairfield said. “They owe Tony Sanborn, Jessica Briggs and her family, and the people of the state of Maine some answers.”
JUSTICE DENIES CIVIL ARREST WARRANT
Fairfield alleges that the detectives threatened witnesses and told them how to testify before the trial, and that Sanborn was targeted by Young and Daniels as the suspect in Briggs’ murder despite the lack of physical evidence linking him to the crime.
Young and Daniels, in affidavits submitted the day Sanborn was granted bail, denied the allegations of misconduct.
Although Wheeler denied the civil arrest warrant Thursday after Ames communicated to the state Attorney General’s Office that she would agree to appear, the ruling allows Fairfield to refile the warrant request in the future.
Responding to a request for comment late Thursday evening, Ames declined to be interviewed by the Portland Press Herald regarding the Sanborn case or the subpoena.
“Ms. Ames has informed our office from the beginning that she was willing to testify at any hearing without need for a subpoena,” Timothy Feeley, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said in a written statement Thursday. “That fact was communicated to the defense at the hearing last week. She is anxious to defend herself from these allegations.”
“We can chalk this up to one big misunderstanding,” Fairfield told the Bangor Daily News on Thursday. “I’m just thrilled that she is testifying … (and) am really welcoming the opportunity for all of the facts to be finally heard in a court of law.”
AMES CONVINCED SANBORN IS KILLER
Several hours after the Press Herald published the civil warrant motion at midday Thursday, Ames spoke with the BDN in her first interview since the allegations against her surfaced in court. She told the Bangor newspaper that she remains absolutely convinced that Sanborn killed Briggs, and said Wheeler rushed to judgment in granting Sanborn bail.
“It is too bad that the court has not heard facts about the actual prosecution that happened 25 years ago and has made some pre-judgments that are not consistent with the evidence,” Ames told the BDN. “I am looking forward to testifying as to the facts and not all the false allegations and misinformation that (Sanborn’s lawyer) is feeding the court.”
Ames denied that she coerced testimony from key witnesses and said she has evidence to disprove the allegations of misconduct against her.
Fairfield’s first attempt to serve Ames was on April 7, when a private investigator employed by Fairfield went to three properties owned by Ames to search for her. At one property, the investigator reached a person connected to Ames and left his name and contact information, but Ames never responded, Fairfield wrote in a sworn affidavit describing the efforts she took to serve Ames.
The following day, a Saturday, the private investigator returned to the three properties, but again did not find Ames, Fairfield wrote.
On April 9, Fairfield wrote, she personally attempted to serve Ames at two of her properties and made contact with another unidentified associate of Ames.
“I gave the gentleman my name and he indicated he would tell Ms. Ames I was trying to contact her,” Fairfield wrote. “To date, I have heard nothing from Ms. Ames.”
Fairfield’s final attempt to serve the subpoena came Wednesday, when she called Ames’ law office, according to the court records. An assistant for Ames said she was in court and unavailable, and that the assistant was not authorized to accept the subpoena on Ames’ behalf.
The assistant, who was not named, said she did not know which courthouse Ames was currently working in, and that Fairfield would have to leave her name and number, Fairfield wrote.
“I said to the assistant on the other end of the phone that my name is Amy Fairfield, and the phone call suddenly ended,” Fairfield wrote in a sworn affidavit describing the efforts she took to serve Ames. “I do not believe I disconnected the call.”
Sanborn’s next date in court has been moved. Wheeler approved a continuance to allow a new state prosecutor to get up to speed on the thousands of pages of documents associated with Sanborn’s trial and conviction. Three days of hearings are scheduled for May 24-26, at which Ames, Young and Daniels could testify.
Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber, who had been assigned to the case during the post-conviction review, withdrew after the April 13 bail hearing.
Macomber helped Ames prosecute the case in 1992, but said last week that he would be a witness in the post-conviction hearings because he had firsthand knowledge that the key eyewitness who recanted her testimony is not telling the truth about her recantation.
OUT ON BAIL AFTER 25 YEARS IN PRISON
Assistant Attorney General Megan L. Elam has taken over the case from Macomber.
Sanborn was released on bail roughly 25 years after he was sentenced to 70 years for the murder of Briggs, whose body was found in Casco Bay. Her throat was slashed and she had been stabbed to death.
Sanborn briefly dated Briggs several weeks before her death, and prosecutors portrayed Sanborn as a scorned ex-boyfriend who became enraged when Briggs refused Sanborn’s offer to have her travel to Virginia Beach with him.
Both Briggs and Sanborn ran with a rough crowd of teenagers who lived on Portland’s streets and slept on friends couches and at shelters.
Many were escapees from the Maine Youth Center, the South Portland youth detention facility now known as Long Creek Youth Development Center. At the time, the Maine Youth Center did not have a fence, and teens could easily escape and walk to Portland, where they often hid out and lived with friends.
Briggs was a runaway at the time of her death, having fled the youth center after her state-employed caseworkers struggled to find a place for her to live once she completed her sentence on a burglary charge.
STAR WITNESS SAYS SHE WAS COERCED
At the time he was charged with Briggs’s murder, Sanborn was wanted for fleeing Maine and violating the terms of his release from the youth center, which required him to check in regularly at the Portland police station.
The state’s case hung largely on the testimony of Hope Cady, who was 13 when she claimed to have witnessed Sanborn kill Briggs at the end of the Maine State Pier. Fairfield alleges that prosecutors knew at the time of the trial that Cady had serious vision problems that were uncorrected when she said she witnessed the murder. An eye exam about 18 months after the killing revealed that Cady had 20/200 vision, meaning at 20 feet, Cady saw an object as clearly as someone with normal vision who was 200 feet away.
“They basically told me what to say,” Cady said at the April 13 bail hearing. She said the detectives interviewed her at least 10 times, all without her legal guardian or an attorney present, and that they suggested they would press charges against her in unrelated assaults and have her locked up for years if she didn’t testify as they instructed.
Matt Byrne can be contacted at:
Correction: This story was revised at 12:20 p.m., April 21, 2017, to reflect the correct title for Assistant Attorney General Megan L. Elam