PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Week three of the Anthony Sanborn post-conviction review hearing wrapped up Friday.
The case is charting new territory in Maine legal circles. The length of the hearing is just one of the many unusual aspects of this case.
Sanborn was convicted in 1992 for the murder of teenager Jessica Briggs. He served 27-years of a 70-year sentence. He is now free on bail awaiting the outcome of this hearing.
Unprecedented and unusual. Just some of the words used to describe the Sanborn hearing.
“Never seen it before. In 21 years of being an attorney I’ve never seen it before”, said Maine attorney Clifford Strike.
Strike has been involved in thousands of criminal defense cases, including a few dozen post-conviction reviews. He says none have come even close to lasting this long.
“In essence it is being tried all over again. In a different format and its more of an attack on the investigation and what was and was not provided to the defense council”, said Strike.
At the heart of this case is notes detectives took during the Briggs investigation, that were not included in the official reports turned over to the defense. The question is whether or not the prosecutors had access to that information while Sanborn’s defense team did not.
“Whether the state likes the evidence or doesn’t like the evidence, if it comes out in the course of the investigation, gotta be turned over. And when it’s not, problems arise”, Strike said.
Strike says if the judge ultimately rules in Sanborn’s favor, she will not be deciding his guilt or innocence in the murder.
“The case would go back to square one. It would literally start all over”, said Strike.
“They go back to square one, the question will be whether the state will try the case again”, said Maine attorney Peter Rodway.
Rodway is another longtime Maine attorney with 30-years experience. He says retrying the case successfully nearly 30-years later will be extremely difficult for the state.
“Some of the testimony by the detectives, the detectives don’t remember everything that happened 30 years ago. Their witnesses are not going to remember everything that happened years ago”, he said.
Difficult he says, especially considering two witnesses have already changed their stories. Another problem for the state, according to Strike, is overcoming the issues brought up in this hearing, if the judge does rule in Sanborn’s favor.
“That means there are holes in the case, problems in the case. Whether or not those can be reconstituted after 30-years, that could be quite a hurdle”, he said.
Rodway says if the judge rules the state did withhold evidence from the defense, that would provide a good basis for the case to be dismissed, even leaving open the possibility of the judge dismissing it as a sanction against the state.
“It’s an unusual sanction, but in a case like this, a pretty unusual case, that’s a distinct possibility in this case”, he said.
Rodway and Strike had been following the case mainly through news reports and courthouse conversations. As far as what the judge will decide in the end, they say only she knows.
“We’ve been around long enough to know what we think on the outside is going to happen to a case, may not be the same thing going on in the courtroom and therefore I’m not going to make any opinions as to whether it may or may not be successful. It is highly interesting”, said Strike.
Unlike a criminal trial, the burden is on the defense to prove its case, not the state. If Sanborn’s attorney is not successful Sanborn would be sent back to prison to continue serving his 70-year sentence.