Thursday, December 5, 2013
PORTLAND — Eric Gwaro closed his eyes and exhaled sharply after the jury foreman read the verdict: not guilty of attempted murder in his attack on a woman last summer that left her permanently impaired.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer Eric Gwaro reacts as the jury reads the verdict of not guilty on the charge of attempted murder at the conclusion of his trial Monday, July 29, 2013, in Cumberland County Court. Gwaro, however, was found guilty on a charge of aggravated assault, which carries a similar sentence.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer Attorney Daniel Lilley consults with his client Eric Gwaro, Monday, July 29, 2013, after Gwaro was found guilty of aggravated assault, but not guilty of attempted murder.
Gwaro showed little reaction after that as the foreman delivered guilty verdicts on the three other charges against him: elevated aggravated assault, aggravated assault and a bail violation.
The jury deliberated for less than two hours in all, 45 minutes Friday and an hour Monday, after hearing witnesses testify for four days last week in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court.
Gwaro, 28, a former volunteer firefighter in Scarborough, was the trial's last witness, testifying in his own defense Friday and admitting that he hit Sherri York on Aug. 30, 2012, with enough force to knock her to the ground, then picked her up and hit her again.
Gwaro testified that York, a prostitute, had stolen money from his vehicle after he rebuffed her offer of sex for money. He said he tracked York down after she fled and dragged her to Cumberland Avenue in Portland's East End, trying to recover his money. He denied stomping her or trying to kill her.
Gwaro's attorney, Daniel Lilley, said he was pleased that his client was acquitted of attempted murder but disappointed that he was convicted of elevated aggravated assault. Both crimes are felonies, punishable by as much as 30 years in prison.
"The maximum sentence could be 30 years, but it won't be, I assure you," Lilley said. "We believe the elevated aggravated assault (conviction) is very flawed. We feel it will be reversed."
Gwaro admitted that his actions met the level of aggravated assault, punishable by as much as 10 years in prison. But the jury rejected Gwaro's claim that he didn't kick or stomp York.
Two witnesses testified that they watched from a fourth-floor apartment on Montgomery Street and saw the woman on Cumberland Avenue being punched and stomped.
A Portland police evidence technician, Victor Cote, testified that York's blood was found inside both of Gwaro's sneakers and on the toe of his right one. However, Cote testified that he had no way of knowing whether blows from feet or hands caused York's most serious injuries.
Lilley said York's most substantial injuries must have been caused by kicking or stomping to uphold Gwaro's conviction for elevated aggravated assault.
"We think the charge has a 50/50 chance of being flipped on appeal," Lilley said. "We think, without expert testimony, you can't tell those injuries were caused by a shod foot."
Lilley said Gwaro intends to file an appeal immediately after his sentencing, which has not yet been scheduled.
"Even though it's a mixed bag, we think it's mixed in our favor," Lilley said of the verdicts.
The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Megan Elam, would not comment on the verdict.
York's family members, who attended each day of the trial, declined to comment as they left the courthouse. York did not attend the trial and did not testify.
York, who was 25 at the time of the attack, was hospitalized at Maine Medical Center for a month and a half before being transferred to a rehabilitation facility. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and had to relearn how to walk, talk and dress herself, according to a statement read by the judge to the jury.
Justice Joyce Wheeler said she would like to see Gwaro have a forensic analysis before his sentencing. He had one as he prepared his defense, but Wheeler said she wants a second analyst's report.
"There is a question of whether intoxication plays a factor in his behavior or if he simply lost it," Wheeler said.
Gwaro testified that he was drunk from a night out in South Portland and Portland on Aug. 29-30, 2012, leading up to the attack. He said he went to five bars and drank as many as eights beers and two shots of whiskey before he drove to the Big Apple store on Washington Avenue, where he met York.
Gwaro has been in jail since his arrest in November on the bail violation.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: