The first convicted killer in Maine to be released on bail is getting a second chance to clear his name. After spending 27 years behind bars, Anthony Sanborn is back in a courtroom, fighting to have his guilty verdict vacated, or to be granted a new trial. Sanborn’s post-conviction hearing started Tuesday morning at the Cumberland County Courthouse.
Sanborn was found guilty of the 1989 murder of Portland teenager Jessica Briggs in 1992, and given a 70-year sentence. A twist in the case came last spring, when the state’s eyewitness, Hope Cady, recanted her story, and told a judge she was pressured by police to provide a statement putting Sanborn at the scene of the crime.
That was enough for a judge to grant bail for Sanborn, who has been free for the last six months.
His attorney, Amy Fairfield, argued that prosecutors and police concealed evidence that would have made a difference in the outcome of the case.
"There can be absolutely no confidence in the jury’s verdict," Fairfield told Justice Joyce Wheeler Tuesday.
This case puts prosecutors in the rare position of defending the actions of the Attorney General’s office, decades later.
"The detectives followed the leads," said prosecutor Paul Rucha. "This was not a case of Mr. Sanborn railroaded from the beginning."
Both sides plan to present dozens of witnesses over the span of several days. The judge will decide if Sanborn’s conviction should be vacated, if he should get a new trial, or if he should go back to prison.
"There isn’t any way to give him back those 27 years," said F. Lee Bailey, O.J. Simpon’s former defense attorney, and consultant to Sanborn’s defense team.
He thinks the hearing will show that prosecutors rushed to judgment in the 1989 investigation, and hid evidence that would have been helpful to Sanborn’s defense.
"A conviction was all people wanted," said Bailey. "It was like the infectious atmosphere in Simpson case. We got to have an arrest right away."