Politics & Other Mistakes: The SODDIT chronicles

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It’s SODDIT season once again.

For those not familiar with the legal thrillers of author John Lescroart, SODDIT is an acronym for the strategy of defense lawyer Dismas Hardy. It stands for “some other dude did it.” When Hardy can’t refute the prosecution’s evidence indicating his client’s guilt, he attempts to deflect the blame by pointing to an alternative suspect.

Al DiamonIn Lescroart’s fictional world, this ploy often works. Through hard work and sheer luck, Hardy exposes the real killer, and the wrongly accused defendant goes free.

In reality, SODDIT is considerably less effective.

While there are numerous documented cases of innocent Black people being railroaded into prison by racist cops, district attorneys, judges and juries willing to ignore evidence pointing to some other (white) dudes, that’s almost never the case in Maine. Here, the dude that got charged is nearly always guilty.

That doesn’t stop the occasional murderer from trying the SODDIT gambit.

In 1988, Dennis Dechaine kidnapped, raped and killed 12-year-old Sarah Cherry in Bowdoin. That’s not an opinion requiring a qualifying “allegedly.” Dechaine was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to life in prison. He has appealed numerous times without success.

But every five or six years, he and his small band of supporters in the group called Trial and Error attempt a fresh approach to win his release. The latest version is classic SODDIT.

Late last month, a Superior Court justice granted Dechaine’s motion to conduct new, high-tech DNA tests in the case. The judge cautioned that his ruling wasn’t an indication that Dechaine is innocent. Maybe he figured lab workers had some spare time this summer to engage in pointless experiments.

“People who are guilty do not ask for DNA testing,” Trial and Error’s Bill Bunting proclaimed to the Bangor Daily News shortly after the court decision was announced.

Well, yeah, they do, since what do they have to lose when they’re serving life in prison?

While awaiting the test results, Dechaine’s fan club unloaded their usual truckload of reasons why their boy didn’t do it. He was an organic farmer who couldn’t even bring himself to slaughter his own chickens. Some of the numerous squishy estimates of Cherry’s time of death show Dechaine was already in police custody when she died. And, of course, SODDIT.

In an Aug. 7 Maine Sunday Telegram story obviously inspired by Trial and Error, the full litany of other dudes got laid out, including at least one new suspect who’s conveniently dead.

Richard Marc Evonitz, a South Carolina native, was a serial killer of children, although he was never convicted of his crimes. Evonitz shot himself in 2002 after police in Florida surrounded his car and attempted to take him into custody. Evidence collected after his death showed he brutally raped and murdered several children over several years. At the time of Cherry’s abduction and death, he was in Maine serving in the U.S. Navy.

That’s as close as anybody has come to linking him to Dechaine’s case. Maybe the DNA testing will show something else, but ironically, the shaky evidence against Evonitz is weakened by the SODDIT defense. The Telegram story mentions a half-dozen other dudes, from convicted sex offenders to a guy somebody thought looked “creepy,” all of whom had some (mostly marginal) connection to the case.

It’s a SODDIT bonanza.

Dechaine’s truck was found near where Sarah Cherry’s body was discovered. Rope cut from a coil in the truck had been used to bind her. Two documents with Dechaine’s name on them were found in the driveway of the house from which the girl had been kidnapped. And when Dechaine wandered out of the woods near the murder site, he lied to searchers about what he was doing there, which was injecting amphetamines to get high. He couldn’t engage in that habit at home, because he’d promised his wife he’d stopped doing drugs. A police officer testified he later made incriminating statements.

Sorry, Dismas Hardy. This ain’t SODDIT. It’s a case of SODDDIT:

Some other dude didn’t do it.

I can’t claim some other dude wrote this column, so you can complain to me at [email protected]