The tragedy in Lewiston has brought time-of-death science to public notice. Robert Card’s body was found 48 hours after he was last known to be alive. Based on rigor mortis, and other factors, Maine’s chief medical examiner concluded that death occurred eight to 12 hours before discovery.

In 1988 the body of Sarah Cherry was examined by the state’s medical examiner about 48 hours after she was last known to have been alive. Based on his report, including rigor mortis and other factors, and given that the whereabouts of suspect Dennis Dechaine were accounted for for nearly 40 hours before the body was found, three highly respected forensic pathologists, and a leading crime re-constructionist, have since concluded that Dechaine was wrongfully convicted of Sarah’s murder.

With the Card suicide, the state has presented as valid a finding based on long-accepted science, while in the Dechaine case, the state has opposed ever having a court consider any such evidence. In the heat of a moment, critical facts may be easily overlooked, but the powers-that-be in the Office of the Attorney General have now had over 30 years to consider the scientific evidence in the Dechaine case, proving once again that it is very difficult for people to admit to having made an error, especially a grievous one.

William Bunting



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