Friday, February 15, 2008

Dennis Maher Found Innocent After 19 Years

The tale of Dennis Maher is so similar to Ben LaGuer it is startling. They were both convicted for rapes occurring the same year and received life sentences without any physical evidence solely by the victim's ability to visually identify the attacker. The difference in Dennis' case is that there was enough DNA from the attacker to prove it wasn't him in spite of how sure both the witnesses and jury were that he was guilty.

"Maher had always asserted his innocence. In 1993, he wrote to the Innocence Project. The Project tried repeatedly to gain access to the biological evidence collected from the victims but was told that the evidence could not be located."


This reminds me of the fingerprints taken from the phone in the Ben LaGuer case. Once the police realized they didn't match LaGuer they filed them away without sharing them with defense, then lost them. Since the phone was ripped from the wall by the assailant they could have been used to prove LaGuer's innocence.

A short review of the benlaguer.com website will make anyone interested wonder how our justice system can make so many mistakes in the same case and still try to imply there is no cause to question the conviction. Here is some information about Mr. Maher from the The Innocence Project:


Dennis Maher
Incident Year: 1983

Jurisdiction: MA

Charge: Rape, Assault w/ Intent to Rape, Assault & Battery, Aggravated Rape

Conviction: Rape, Assault w/ Intent to Rape, Assault & Battery, Aggravated Rape

Sentence: Life
Year of Conviction: 1984

Exoneration Date: 4/3/03

Sentence Served: 19 Years

Real perpetrator found? Not Yet

Contributing Causes: Eyewitness Misidentification


On November 16, 1983, a 28-year-old woman was attacked as she was walking home from work in Lowell, Massachusetts. An unknown man accosted her and tried to engage her in conversation before forcing her into a nearby yard, where he sexually assaulted her. The following evening, a 23-year-old woman was attacked less than one hundred yards away from the site of the first assault.

The second victim had been on her way home from work when she was pushed to the ground by a man wielding a knife. She was able to escape her assailant after a vehement struggle and notified the police. The victim described her attacker as a man wearing a red, hooded sweatshirt and a khaki military-style jacket.

Dennis Maher was stopped and questioned by police on the night of the second attack. He was wearing a red, hooded sweatshirt and a subsequent search of his vehicle turned up an army field jacket, a military issue knife, and a rain slicker. Maher, then a sergeant in the United States Army, was arrested and charged with the two attacks, as well as an unsolved rape that occurred the previous summer in Ayer, Massachusetts. Though their descriptions varied, all three victims identified Maher in photographic lineups.

The Lowell attacks were tried together. Although no biological evidence linked him to the crime, Maher was convicted of both crimes. A month later, he was convicted of the Ayer rape, where biological evidence was introduced but never tested. The prosecution relied, instead, on the identifications made by the victims.

Maher had always asserted his innocence. In 1993, he wrote to the Innocence Project. The Project tried repeatedly to gain access to the biological evidence collected from the victims but was told that the evidence could not be located. In 2000, the case was transferred to the New England Innocence Project. The case picked up momentum when, in 2001, a law student discovered two boxes of evidence from the Lowell case in the basement of the Middlesex County Courthouse. The boxes contained the pants and underwear collected from the rape victim. The Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory found seminal stains on the underwear and possible blood stains on the pants. The New England Innocence Project and the prosecution agreed to send the evidence to Forensic Science Associates (FSA) for DNA testing.

Testing performed on the pants did not yield conclusive results. Testing on the underwear, however, produced a genetic profile that excluded Dennis Maher as the donor of spermatozoa to the sample. Shortly after testing was completed, prosecutors were able to locate a slide from the Ayer case, which was sent to Orchid Cellmark for testing. Results from the Ayer evidence were received in March 2003, again excluding Maher as the source of spermatozoa.

After reviewing the results, the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office joined with the Innocence Projects in filing a motion to grant Maher a new trial and agreed to drop all charges against him.

On April 3, 2003, after 19 years of proclaiming his innocence, Dennis Maher was exonerated and freed from prison.


I wonder why there is so much confidence in Ben LaGuer's conviction that we cannot re investigate the circumstances and be sure. The most prominent response that I have heard to this question is that LaGuer has had his day in court and that he was convicted. In light of the factual truth that some people have been wrongfully convicted like Mr. Dennis Maher, is this answer good enough? Our government, our justice system, is only as good as our participation in it. Review LaGuer's case and ask yourself, is this the justice I want for myself and my loved ones? Precedent has been set, and in LaGuer's case there seems to be no relief in site. Our system is set up to assume guilt once you have been convicted, and it makes questioning a wrongful conviction almost impossible. If we learn nothing else from LaGuer's case we should take this lesson home and find a better way to handle these issues.

LaGuer is up for parole in June 2008, having served 25 years of a life sentence. He's made a name for himself as a writer, winning a PEN award, and he has graduated from Boston University's undergraduate program Magna Cum Laude. Although a model prisoner his release is planned to be denied as it has been before based on his inability to confess to his guilt. LaGuer has said, "I will not admit to this horrible crime of which I am innocent. I will not besmirch my father's name, even for the sake of my freedom." Ask yourself this question; when was the last time you saw a man so concerned about proving his innocence while so unconcerned with his freedom? Perhaps the victim was wrong, just like in the case of Dennis Maher.

Congratulations to Dennis and the Innocence Project for having the faith and determination to bring about justice when those who are charged with the resonsibility have neglected it.

7 comments:

John said...

I know how hard you work for justice, John. I commend your efforts; you are a good man.

John Hosty-Grinnell said...

Thanks for the compliment John. In this case we find a flaw so huge it cannot, or at least should not be ignored. What if Ben LaGuer is just as innocent as Dennis Mayer? Everything I have read, and I have read extensively, shows me that this is more than a simple possbility, it is likely. LaGuer has helped us see one ugly truth about the system; if you don't get proper representation during your trial you're screwed.

It seems ironic to me that we say we have such a high value on justice that we are willing to let twenty guilty men go free rather than imprison one innocent man, yet when innocent men try to get the facts clarified from behind bars we could care less about justice.

John said...

"It seems ironic to me that we say we have such a high value on justice that we are willing to let twenty guilty men go free rather than imprison one innocent man, yet when innocent men try to get the facts clarified from behind bars we could care less about justice."

That is not ironic; that is myth. The concept that we, as a nation care about justice is largely bullshit. We care first and foremost about revenge.

As you are involved with the Innocence Project then you know better than I that one can be exonerated by DNA evidence and the court will uphold the conviction.

Anonymous said...

"Our system is set up to assume guilt once you have been convicted ..."

Of course it is. That's the whole point of having a trial--to decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

John Hosty-Grinnell said...

I don't find standing in the way of justice valuable, do you? In the case of Mr. Mayer that assumption was a detriment to justice, our legal system's credibility, and our pocketbooks.

I think we should always be ready to review new evidence, but yes, we do need to draw the line somewhere. I think the court system needs to adopt something akin to an innocence project, where people like Ben LaGuer are heard out rather than ignored.

Ray said...

New Dennis personaly as a friend of my brother, we often fished together along the Merrimack river.
I was stuned,shock..Hope he got his life re-gained.
RD

John said...

Ray,

Where abouts in Maine are you from.

I am quite familiar with the Newport and Damariascotta areas.