Thursday, December 12, 2013
PORTLAND — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has denied an appeal by Jason Twardus, who is serving a 38-year prison sentence for the murder of his former fiancee in 2007, rejecting his request for a new trial or acquittal on grounds that new evidence which surfaced before and after the trial could have been used in his defense.
Press Herald File Photo/John Patriquin
Appeals by Twardus have twice been denied at the Superior Court level. This third attempt was his final avenue of appeal in the state's courts.
A panel of five supreme court justices agreed unanimously in the decision written by Justice Warren Silver to deny the appeal.
"The trial court did not err or abuse its discretion in concluding that nothing presented in support of Twardus's two motions for a new trial, considered cumulatively, would probably result in a different verdict or create a reasonable probability of a different result, so as to undermine confidence in the jury's verdict," Silver wrote in the decision issued Tuesday.
Twardus' attorney, Daniel Lilley, told the justices during oral arguments in May that the prosecution never shared evidence indicating that someone else may have killed 30-year-old Kelly Gorham and framed Twardus. Evidence that came up after the trial adds to that theory, he said.
Authorities say Twardus, now 32, strangled Gorham at her home in Alfred and then buried her body on property that his father owned in northern New Hampshire.
Gorham was last seen alive at her home on the night of Aug. 7, 2007. Her body was found on Sept. 2, 2007, in Stewartstown, N.H.
Twardus, who lived in Rochester, N.H., was convicted after a three-week trial in 2010.
Lilley said Gorham's landlord, the late John Durfee, was one of two people who saw her on the night before she disappeared and made suspicious statements while she was missing that weren't investigated before Twardus' trial.
Before Gorham's body was found, Durfee was sent to the York County Jail in an unrelated case. Lilley said Durfee told a woman there that he would "bet" Gorham's body would be found on property in New Hampshire belonging to the family of an ex-boyfriend.
The woman, Charity Camire, who works for Maine Pretrial Services, told Maine State Police what Durfee had said, but police didn't follow up on it, Lilley contended in the appeal. Neither the defense nor the prosecution was told about it before Twardus' trial.
The prosecutor, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, said during oral arguments that Durfee had already told police that he believed Gorham was dead because she was missing. He said the trial judge determined afterward that the information from Camire would not have changed the outcome of the trial.
Stokes said it was out of character for Gorham to miss work, not attend to her dogs or not come home.
Durfee, who lived in Alfred and rented an apartment on his property to Gorham, died on Aug. 29, 2011, at the age of 67.
Lilley argued that Durfee's cellmate, Kenneth Villella, was not interviewed until after the trial and that his testimony could have helped Twardus.
According to Lilley, Villella told a detective that Durfee had made statements such as, "He could make people disappear pretty easy," he "helped put the body where it was," and "she deserved it," and had said that the blanket in which Gorham's body was wrapped belonged to Durfee's daughter.
Stokes disagreed, saying the evidence against Twardus was "overwhelming."
Stokes said cellphone data, banking transactions and surveillance camera images indicate that Twardus was in the area where Gorham was buried on the night she disappeared.
Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: