Anthony Sanborn’s attorney Amy Fairfield speaks with Justice Joyce Wheeler about dropping one of her arguments for overturning Sanborn’s conviction: that a serial killer possibly killed Jessica Briggs. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

For a third day, an attorney for convicted murderer Anthony H. Sanborn Jr. hammered retired Portland police detective James Daniels with questions about what information he chose not to include in reports that were later handed over to Sanborn’s defense team.

Daniels, who repeatedly said he was unable to remember certain details, spent much of Thursday referring to documents – his handwritten notes and police reports – to refresh his recollection of events nearly 30 years in the past.

Sanborn’s attorneys also agreed Thursday to abandon a theory advanced in their earlier court filings that a serial killer murdered Briggs.

Justice Joyce Wheeler, who has presided since January over Sanborn’s petition to have his murder conviction thrown out, heard oral arguments on a motion to dismiss Sanborn’s claim that he is actually innocent.

“There was no support for that ground except that Mr. Sanborn said, vehemently, that he was innocent,” said Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam.

Fairfield, joined by attorney Timothy Zerillo, argued that their interpretation of Supreme Court case law allows the claim to stand.

Wheeler said that actual innocence is not even determined in a jury trial.

“The most I can find (for Mr. Sanborn), if all the breaks fall in his favor, is that there is no evidence for a reasonable jury to find him guilty,” Wheeler said. “You’re asking us to go another step.”

A ruling on the innocence claim could come Friday, Wheeler said.

Justice Joyce Wheeler presides over Anthony H. Sanborn Jr.’s post-conviction review. She may rule Friday on a motion to dismiss his claim that he is actually innocent of murder. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Those legal arguments were an addendum to a lengthy day of testimony in which Fairfield once again challenged whether Daniels had reliably conveyed information that could have helped Sanborn from his handwritten notes gathered during witness interviews into the formal reports that were turned over to Sanborn’s attorneys to prepare their defense at his 1992 trial.

The post-conviction review hearings come 27 years after Sanborn was imprisoned for the crime. He was released on bail in April after the only apparent eyewitness in the case, Hope Cady, recanted her testimony and said she had been coerced to testify against Sanborn.

Briggs was stabbed to death and her body was found in Portland Harbor on the morning of May 24, 1989. Police believe the grisly killing took place at the end of the Maine State Pier, which was then occupied by a Bath Iron Works dry dock.

Fairfield has alleged that Sanborn was singled out as a suspect almost from the beginning, and that police forced the evidence to fit their theory that he was the killer. Police and prosecutors have denied wrongdoing, and the state Attorney General’s Office is fighting to preserve the conviction.

At the 1992 trial, prosecutors alleged that Sanborn, then 16, was angry with Briggs the day before she was killed, had been seen looking for her and showed another person a knife he was carrying.

Early portions of the questioning and testimony by Daniels on Thursday centered on David Schwarz, a witness in the murder trial who told detectives he was sleeping on a park bench on a wharf near where Briggs was killed, and that he saw someone leaving the area after he heard unusual sounds.

Anthony H. Sanborn Jr. waits for court to resume after a recess on the third day of his conviction review.

In court documents, Fairfield has alleged that Schwarz, who was a teenager at the time of the killing, was coerced to testify and was “brutalized” by detectives during his interactions with them.

Daniels denied that claim, and said he never witnessed anyone assault or harm Schwarz, who was in and out of the Maine Youth Center around the time of the murder.

Under questioning, Daniels testified that Schwarz told detectives he heard arguing, followed by two “whack” sounds that night on the wharf.

Schwarz was shown multiple photo lineups roughly three weeks after Briggs was killed, including one lineup containing Sanborn’s photo.

Daniels said Schwarz told them he had helped Sanborn move a washing machine the day before Briggs was killed. During one photo lineup, Schwarz pointed out Sanborn.

Retired Portland detective James Daniels holds a drawing made by David Schwarz after Jessica Briggs was murdered. Schwarz told police he was sleeping on a pier near where Briggs was murdered and heard arguing, then saw someone leaving. He later told police that Anthony Sanborn looked like the person he saw leaving. Sanborn’s attorney Amy Fairfield argues that Schwarz, who was a teenager at the time, was coerced to testify and “brutalized” by detectives. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

In notes, Daniels wrote about how something “clicked” for Schwarz, and that he said the man he saw on the pier looked “like” Sanborn.

“Schwarz went on to say he (Sanborn) looked like the guy. … I’m not saying it’s definitely him, it just looked like him,” Daniels said, reading from a portion of his notes. “Blank face and Tony fit in.”

Daniels said he did not include the final portion regarding the “blank face” comment in his final narrative report.

“Did you document anything near that, on 6/15/89, ‘blank face and Tony fits in?’ ” Fairfield asked.

“That’s not written in the typed report,” Daniels said.

“Nothing remotely like it, no?” Fairfield replied.

“No,” Daniels said.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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