ALFRED – Giovanni Whiteman says he and his stepfather, Winston George, were happy and upbeat on the afternoon of June 19, 2008.

Giovanni, 13, had just finished eighth grade, and he was excited about leaving the next morning for a month-long visit with cousins in New York City.

Winston George had just bought a sports car. He took Giovanni out for lunch and gave him money to buy new sneakers before heading off to Sanford, where George worked the second shift at a manufacturing firm.

About 12 hours later, George was fighting for his life.

Two men ambushed him in his family’s home on Smithwheel Road in Old Orchard Beach. His wife, Darlene George, and her son, Giovanni, listened to the fight from a bedroom, where they were tied up.

Giovanni recalls whispering to his mother. He told her that he could easily get out of the bedsheets that were wrapped around his wrists, then he could help Winston George or barricade the bedroom door with a dresser.

“She said no, that would be too dangerous,” Giovanni, now 15, testified Wednesday in York County Superior Court.

He said the house was silent after the fight, and he never saw the faces of the attackers, who wore nylon stockings over their heads.

George had been strangled with a rope, suffocated with a plastic bag and left dead on the carpet in the basement.

According to police and prosecutors, the home invasion was a ruse and Giovanni was used by his mother as a pawn. Investigators say the two men were Jeffrey Williams, Darlene George’s brother, and Rennie Cassimy, a man with whom she had been having a long-term affair.

Darlene George and Williams are on trial for murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Cassimy has pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge, and he is expected to testify today against his former lover and her brother.

With his stepfather dead and his mother in jail, Giovanni is in the care of a foster family. The thin teenager wore glasses and a white shirt and tie in court Wednesday. He was composed and articulate during his testimony.

He occasionally looked toward his mother, who was sitting at the defense table, and during breaks he shook hands with Winston George’s relatives.

Giovanni, along with his mother and stepfather, moved from New York to Old Orchard Beach in 2002, the year Winston and Darlene George married. The home on Smithwheel Road was generally happy and peaceful, Giovanni told the jury. His parents never argued in front of him, and he heard them fight only a few times, at night.

Darlene George was a loving, involved mother who took good care of him, Giovanni said. Winston George worked six days a week, but they had fun together when he wasn’t working, the boy said. Giovanni called him “Pop.”

Lawyers for the prosecution and the defense appear to agree that both Winston George and Darlene George were having affairs in the months leading up to the killing, but the sides disagree about the impact of those relationships.

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea has said the infidelity was what prompted Darlene George to arrange her husband’s death.

Giovanni provided the key testimony Wednesday, the third day of the trial, which is expected to run into next week.

He provided a timeline of events, from his perspective, on June 19 and into the morning of June 20, 2008. He gave no opinions about who he believes is responsible for Winston George’s death, and neither side asked him that question.

After Winston George went to work on June 19, 2008, Giovanni played video games at home until his mother got back from her job, between 5 and 6 p.m. She was going to take him to volunteer at a soup kitchen that night, but Giovanni said those plans changed at the last minute.

The mother and son decided to go shopping and out to dinner at TGI Friday’s.

They returned home around 11 p.m. As he walked toward his bedroom, Giovanni thought he saw two men peeking out from rooms down the hall. He turned on a bathroom light so he could see better, and one of the men rushed out, grabbed him and forced him to the floor. Giovanni said the man wore latex gloves and had a knife that looked like one of the family’s kitchen knives.

The second man grabbed his mother. They were tied up in the parents’ bedroom, and the men asked them repeatedly where they could find drugs and money, Giovanni said.

At one point, Giovanni told Darlene George that he could free himself and use his cell phone, which was in his pocket, but she told him that would be too risky.

After the confrontation between Winston George and the men, Giovanni said, he and his mother decided to stay put and wait for the sun to start rising.

Around 5:45 a.m., Darlene George freed herself and used her son’s cell phone to call 911.

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

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