A judge has denied a man’s request for a new trial, ending his most recent attempt to overturn a 2002 murder conviction.

Foster Bates, now 51, is serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting and killing Tammy Dickson in 1994. He has been fighting his conviction for 17 years and earlier this week Justice Roland Cole dismissed his third petition for post-conviction review, but Bates will likely continue to try to clear his name.

Tammy Dickson

Assistant Attorney General Donald Macomber said he was pleased with the decision and does not doubt the conviction from nearly two decades ago.

“The evidence at trial was overwhelming,” Macomber said.

He also expects Bates to continue to argue his case, which is not uncommon when a life sentence has been imposed. Macomber said Bates could appeal this decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and, if unsuccessful, a petition for a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court.

“This is not his last bite at the apple,” Macomber said. “We’re in the position of responding to whatever he argues, so it depends on what he has to say, but so far, based on what he has alleged, we have every confidence that the jury reached the right decision.”

Defense attorney Peter Cyr, who represented Bates in this case, did not respond to messages Thursday.

In at least the past 30 years, only one murder case in Maine has been sent back for a new trial after conviction. In 2004, a judge ruled that prosecutors introduced prejudicial evidence at Brandon Thongsavanh’s trial. He was convicted at his retrial, too.

The closest since was Anthony Sanborn, who had been seeking a new trial for nearly as long as Bates. Sanborn wasn’t granted a new trial, but a judge did release him from prison early after hearing new evidence that appeared to cast substantial doubt about his conviction.

Tammy Dickson was 22 at the time of her death. She was living in an apartment complex in South Portland with her 18-month-old son, and was working as a dancer at a strip club that has since closed. When her body was discovered in her apartment in February 1994, a man she was dating at the time was the first real suspect. But he was never charged, and a few years later, DNA evidence connected Bates to the scene through a semen sample. Bates has admitted that he had sex with Dickson, but denied that he killed her.

Foster Bates is shown in a visiting room at the Maine State Prison in Warren. Bates has been serving a life sentence since he was convicted in 2002 of raping and murdering a South Portland woman. He has maintained his innocence from the start and pushed for a new trial. Press Herald file photo

Still, the jury convicted him of gross sexual assault and murder in 2002. Bates appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and lost. He challenged the conviction on several fronts – that he was provided inadequate counsel, that his ex-wife should not have been allowed to testify, and that the all-white jury was biased. Since then, he has filed two requests for a post-conviction review and lost both, but a judge has allowed new DNA testing.

In this latest petition, Bates argued in part that two women have come forward with new information about the night Dickson was killed. But the state said the latest appeal wasn’t filed within the one-year deadline that is required when requesting a retrial based on new evidence. The judge agreed, saying he did not believe Bates or at least his attorney did not know about Amanda Indigo, one of the potential witnesses. Indigo has said she saw Bates leave Dickson’s apartment that night and then saw Dickson alive immediately afterward.

Cole said the defense team had been investigating the people who were in the apartment building the night of Dickson’s killing since at least December 2014, including Indigo.

“The court cannot suspend its disbelief that Mr. Bates’s counsel first learned of the facts to which (Indigo) testified on the day she was called to the witness stand, much less that those facts could not have been discovered prior to the date of her testimony,” the judge wrote in his Monday order.

Bates, an inmate at the Maine State Prison in Warren, is the father of Trevor Bates, a professional football player who was arrested in January for allegedly punching a New York City police officer after failing to pay a $32 taxi fare. Information about the status of his case wasn’t available Thursday night.

 

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