The attorney for convicted murderer Anthony Sanborn continued Friday to pick away at the police work of Portland detectives as they built a case against Sanborn 27 years ago.

Amy Fairfield suggested in Cumberland County Superior Court that the detectives ignored the fact that Sanborn didn’t fully match the description of a man seen with Jessica Briggs shortly before she was brutally murdered on the Portland waterfront in May 1989. She also used one detective’s notes to suggest that police didn’t follow up on alternate suspects or fully check out the alibis of some people connected with Briggs.

The deconstruction of the case against Sanborn came during the fourth day of a post-conviction review of Sanborn’s 1992 murder trial. In April, Justice Joyce Wheeler took the rare step in Maine of ordering a review of the murder conviction, and allowed Sanborn bail and a release from prison when a key witness recanted her testimony and alleged that police had coerced her to lie on the stand.

Now, Wheeler is overseeing a full hearing looking at the case and the conduct of the trial against Sanborn to determine whether he should go free for good. The hearing is expected to continue for at least two more weeks.

Sanborn has spent the last 27 years in prison for the grisly stabbing death of Briggs, who was 16 at the time of her murder. Prosecutors alleged that on the day of the murder, Sanborn told others that he was angry with Briggs, said he was looking for the girl and showed an acquaintance a knife that he was carrying.

Sanborn has maintained his innocence and Fairfield has argued his cause, alleging that police focused quickly on him and then coerced witnesses into slanting their testimony against Sanborn. She also said that police didn’t turn over all of the evidence in the case to Sanborn’s lawyers, including evidence that might have cleared him.

The two retired detectives who led the investigation into Briggs murder, James Daniels and Danny Young, have testified this week.

On Friday, Fairfield said that Young’s notes indicated that he interviewed workers at Bath Iron Works, which had a facility on the Maine State Pier at the time, about the night of the murder. The workers said they saw two teenagers together on the waterfront late that night. The girl matched Briggs’ description, but the BIW workers described the boy as having blond hair, while Sanborn is dark-haired.

“People can change their hair color,” Young told Fairfield.

Fairfield had Young pore over his notes, trying to pick out times where he seemingly excluded other potential suspects without fully checking out their stories.

Her level of detail at one point seemed to exasperate Meg Elam, the assistant attorney general representing the state in the hearing, who is trying to preserve Sanborn’s conviction.

“If we’re going to read every note, we’ll be here until the cows come home,” she told Wheeler, and at other times questioned the relevance of Fairfield’s questions.

But Wheeler allowed the close examination of Young’s notes and reports to continue. In most cases, he said that he didn’t remember the interviews he conducted at the time, but insisted his written reports were accurate. He did say that police were trying to rule out potential suspects as they interviewed Briggs’ friends, but said that’s standard in cases where the victim is connected to a large number of other people.

Young is expected to continue to testify when the hearing resumes Monday.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: