The Bush DUI Tipster: No Party Hack

Man Accused of Smearing Bush Backed Legalizing Pot, Protecting Gun Rights, and Freeing Convicted Sex Killer

NOVEMBER 3—Contrary to allegations from the Bush campaign, the lawyer who tipped a Maine television reporter to Shrub’s 1976 drunk-driving conviction is hardly the kind of guy who’d carry out a “dirty trick” for the Democratic party.

Tom Connolly, a Portland trial lawyer and former Democratic candidate for governor, is known around the state as a quirky, straight-shooting iconoclast willing to stand up for positions roundly regarded as foolish, unpopular, and out of the step with the party line.

In 1998, Connolly won the Democratic nomination for governor, largely because few wanted to challenge the popular incumbent, independent Angus King. Connolly patched together a losing platform that included a proposal to “cut off the retail sales of alcohol at 6 p.m. on weekdays and all day on Sunday,” according to the alternative Casco Bay Weekly. He also told the paper he had smoked pot and advocated the decriminalization of marijuana, and argued strongly for the right to bear arms.

But Connolly is most notorious for defending a man convicted of the brutal rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl.

Connolly represented Dennis Dechaine on charges he kidnapped, sexually tortured, and killed Sarah Cherry in the southern Maine woods. Items connected to Dechaine were discovered at the scene, but Connolly and other backers say DNA evidence was inconclusive. In later attempts to help Dechaine win a new trial, Connolly told a judge his representation had been “ineffective.”

Connolly may have thought he could use a term in the state’s highest elected office to rectify his own mistakes. Asked two years ago by Casco Bay Weekly whether he’d exercise his authority as governor to pardon Dechaine, Connolly said he’d consider it. “I’m inclined to,” he told the paper. “I believe he didn’t do it, and I’m unlikely to back down from my beliefs.”

 
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