The former state prosecutor who won a murder conviction against Anthony Sanborn 25 years ago is denying allegations that she mishandled the trial.
Sanborn was granted bail last week after a key witness for the state recanted her testimony. Attorney Pamela Ames says she’s disturbed that the judge granted bail after only hearing witnesses for the defense.
The crime occurred 28 years ago on a Portland Pier. Sixteen-year-old Jessica Briggs was stabbed to death and dumped in Casco Bay. Sanborn, her former boyfriend, was convicted of her killing. He was also just 16 at the time. And a key witness, who testified that she saw Sanborn commit the crime, was 13-year-old Hope Cady.
But at a hearing last week in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court, Cady recanted her testimony and said that police told her what to say. Cady also disclosed that she has had vision problems all her life. A state caseworker who was Cady’s guardian in 1989 also testified that she was aware of Cady’s vision limitations.
Sanborn’s attorney Amy Fairfield argued that the state knew this, but never disclosed it to the defense during Sanborn’s trial. Fairfield said this new evidence cast doubt on Cady’s original testimony, and therefore Sanborn’s guilt. She asked Justice Joyce Wheeler to grant Sanborn bail, pending a hearing to determine whether to reverse or dismiss Sanborn’s conviction, or to order a new trial.
Wheeler agreed, and Sanborn was released on bail last Thursday.
“I am completely aghast that a judge would only hear part of the story and not even know the facts of the case,” says Ames, an attorney in private practice who was a former assistant attorney general and the lead state prosecutor in Sanborn’s case. “The fact that the judge did not hear from any witnesses from the state on the bail argument is completely unheard of and unprecedented.”
Ames says she specifically asked Cady on the witness stand 25 years ago whether she had vision problems at the time Briggs was murdered, and Cady testified that she did not. Ames also says Cady came forward to police to give her witness account of the murder, the details of which are consistent with the medical examiner’s report.
“There is no way she could have written that statement in her own words unless she was there,” she says.
Ames, as well as two retired Portland police detectives, is also accused of threatening Cady and other witnesses. The police detectives deny those allegations in separate affidavits. Ames says she never threatened witnesses either.
“There was nothing done that a witness was either intimidated or promised anything. Just did not happen. And it is a fabrication that says it did. And these witnesses wait 25 years, and they wait until attorney Fairfield contacts them, apparently, to ask them if they want to recant their stories,” she says.
Fairfield made a motion earlier this week to civilly arrest and detain Ames, claiming that attempts to issue her a subpoena to appear in court were unsuccessful. That motion was denied after the state said Ames will testify.
“I am not ducking anything. As you can tell, I know this case. I remember this case. Backwards, forwards, and inside out,” she says.
The next hearing is scheduled for the end of May.