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Ayer seeks to toss civil-rights suit by wrongfully-imprisoned man

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BOSTON — Ayer police are asking a federal judge to reconsider his decision to keep alive a civil-rights lawsuit brought against Ayer and Lowell.

In November, U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns found that Dennis Maher, of Tewksbury, can pursue his claim that he was wrongly convicted of raping a woman and sexually assaulting another in Lowell and raping a woman in Ayer in 1983.

Stearns wrote that he was “not attempting to prejudge” the case.

Maher was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. DNA testing proved he wasn’t the rapist, and he was freed in April 2003 after 19 years behind bars.

Maher contends that former Lowell police Superintendent Edward Davis, now the police commissioner in Boston, and Ayer police officers altered evidence and manipulated witnesses.

In a motion filed this month, Ayer officials request that the issue of summary judgment, which would dismiss the case, be reconsidered because the liability involving Ayer depends on whether there was probable cause to arrest Maher.

Attorney Gregg J. Corbo, of Kopelman and Paige, argued that Stearns didn’t address the issue of probable cause in the November decision.

Stearns wrote that Maher can succeed in his lawsuit if he can show that retired Ayer police Officer Nancy Taylor-Harris, who investigated the Maher case, knew the victim’s identification was fabricated or induced by improper suggestion and was concealed by Taylor-Harris from the magistrate.

But Corbo argued that Taylor-Harris and the victim testified at a deposition that Maher’s identification wasn’t fabricated and was the “product of her good-faith belief that he was the attacker.”

He also addressed the issue of a so-called “deal” between Taylor-Harris and the victim regarding the dismissal of unrelated criminal charges of assault and battery. Ayer police agreed to drop pending charges against the victim for her truthful cooperation in the rape investigation, but the existence of such a deal is immaterial for the purpose of a summary judgment.

No hearing date has been scheduled.