Beyond Bars: Dennis Maher moves on

In a Boston Globe piece, Dennis Maher has moved beyond the wrongful conviction that took prime years from his freedom. “I got over losing the 19 years of my life,’’ says Maher, 50, in an even tone. “I don’t try and make up for it because I can’t. The best that I can do is just go forward. Don’t hold the anger.’’

In addition to his job at Waste Management, where he started working one month after his release, Maher speaks publicly at conferences and other events involved with wrongful convictions and the importance of access to DNA testing. “It’s part of the healing process,’’ says Maher. “I enjoy it.’’

Massachusetts access to DNA testing

Client Dennis Maher wrote an op-ed in the Herald and testified this week on a Post-conviction DNA Access Bill pending before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Maher was exonerated by DNA testing after spending close to 20 years in prison for rapes he did not commit. This firm later investigated on his behalf in a civil action, resulting in a multimillion dollar settlement.

$3.1 million settlement for client in Ayer wrongful conviction

Dennis Maher reached a $3.1 million settlement in his civil rights case against the town of Ayer. Maher was released from prison in April 2003 after having served 19 years of a life sentence for rape. He was exonerated when forensic tests revealed his genetic fingerprint did not match DNA evidence found at the scene of an alleged 1983 Ayer rape at the Caza Manor Hotel. Maher claimed his civil rights were violated due to the negligent management and training of Ayer Police Department investigators, including now-retired Officer Nancy Taylor-Harris.

Maher's civil case was based partly on evidence unearthed by private investigator John Nardizzi, who discovered that one of the alleged rape victims had faced criminal assault charges of her own during that era. These charges were dropped in exchange for her cooperation on the Maher case. Defense counsel was never told about the arrangement that Taylor and the Ayer Police had engineered with the victim/witness. The witness's criminal charge was transfered to another court and essentially disappeared from the public docket, only to be unearthed two decades later. The prosecutor who handled the Maher case later testified at his deposition: "Officer Taylor, in my opinion, engaged in misconduct by working some side arrangement with the victim not to prosecute her for a criminal case against the police department, and withheld that information from me."

Nardizzi also unearthed evidence that a key witness at trial, Richard Nichols, was well-known to Ayer Police and Nancy Taylor (who denied any memory of him in her deposition). Nichols was the son of a former police matron employed for decades at the Ayer Police Department. Moreover, Nichols had been arrested multiple times. Ayer Police were not able to produce any notes, reports, or statements from interviews with Nichols, despite the fact that a meeting between Nichols and Taylor was documented in a police log, and Nichols turned out to be the centerpiece of their case.