ALFRED — Under the guard of court officers Monday morning, 29-year-old Jason Twardus walked toward the barn-style building where he once lived with his fiancee Kelly Gorham.

He glanced up at the windows of the second-floor apartment.

On the lawn nearby, 12 jurors and four alternates looked toward that same building, set back a few hundred yards from the traffic buzzing past on Waterboro Road. It will be their job to decide what happened on the property on the night of Aug. 7, 2007, and into the next morning.

Did Twardus, as prosecutors allege, strangle Gorham here, then drive her body away and bury it on a remote tract of land owned by his father in northern New Hampshire? Was he motivated by the fact that the 30-year-old nursing student had broken off their engagement and had started a relationship with another man?

Or will the jury find reasonable doubt in the state’s theory? Will they agree with Twardus and his attorneys that he was nowhere near Alfred at the time police say he committed the crime, and that someone else framed him by leaving Gorham’s body in a shallow grave that was meant to be discovered?

Those are the central questions facing jurors as they listen to the testimony in Twardus’ murder trial, which opened Monday in York County Superior Court and is expected to take two weeks.

Before opening statements, a bus took the jurors from the courthouse to the property owned by John Durfee, about half a mile away.

Justice G. Arthur Brennan showed the group the main house, a detached pool house, and the barn-style building at the rear of the property where Gorham lived from early 2005 until she was reported missing on Aug. 8, 2007. Her body was found three weeks later.

Aside from the jury and Twardus, the lawyers on both sides and several reporters took the tour led by Brennan. The judge also conducted a brief tour of a road and a hiking path on the other side of Waterboro Road. Twardus’ presence in that area, one day before Gorham was last seen alive, is expected to be a point of controversy during the trial.

Brennan told the jury that the tour is not evidence, but was arranged to give them visual reference points. “Our objective here is that you’ll have a better idea, a better perspective when witnesses are testifying,” he said.

Around 10:30 a.m., after the jury had been bused back to the courthouse, the lawyers presented opening statements.

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said Gorham and Twardus planned to marry on the Durfee property on Aug. 4, 2007. But Gorham called off the engagement around Christmas of 2006. She continued to let Twardus live in the apartment in Alfred until June 2007, Stokes said. At Gorham’s request, Twardus left and moved in with his father in Rochester, N.H.

In early August 2007, Gorham started a new relationship with Calvin DeGreenia, who had moved into the pool house on Durfee’s property.

“Kelly was ready to move on,” Stokes said. “The defendant, on the other hand, wanted to maintain some type of relationship.”

The evidence against Twardus, Stokes said, will include inconsistent statements he gave to investigators about his whereabouts on Aug. 6, Aug. 7 and Aug. 8. He revised his story continuously as investigators confronted him with new information from other sources, Stokes said.

He said surveillance footage from a Big Apple store near the Twardus family land in Stewartstown, N.H., shows Twardus at the store around noon Aug. 8. That was the day Gorham did not show up for work at Maine Medical Center in Portland, and Twardus told detectives he was at home all day in Rochester, Stokes said.

One of Gorham’s hairs was found in Twardus’ trunk, and his fingerprint was found on an item in the grave where Gorham was buried, Stokes said.

Investigators found a mound of recently disturbed earth on Sept. 1, 2007, on the land of Jason Twardus’ father, Brian Twardus.

An excavation the next day revealed Gorham’s body, draped with a comforter. There was a box of photographs belonging to one of Gorham’s sisters, three pairs of her underwear, a bra, the SIM card of her cell phone and a plastic baggie containing powder from medication prescribed to Brian Twardus.

Stokes said Jason Twardus was familiar with the land and had taken Gorham there one year earlier, when they were still a couple.

“When all the evidence is in, the state of Maine will have proved that this defendant is guilty of murder,” Stokes said.

Twardus’ lead defense lawyer, Daniel Lilley, said the circumstantial evidence points in many directions. He said the jury should question the credibility of Durfee and DeGreenia, who have criminal records, met in jail and were on probation at the time of Gorham’s disappearance.

Lilley said the evidence will show that the two men partied and drank with Gorham on the night of Aug. 7, 2007, and into the next morning, the time when the state says Twardus committed the crime.

Lilley said Gorham’s killer meant for her grave site to be discovered on Twardus family land, and placed photographs of Gorham and Twardus there to frame his client. Gorham had directions to the New Hampshire property in her apartment, but those directions and other maps from outings she took with Twardus have disappeared, Lilley said.

“Beware the perfect murder,” Lilley told the jury. “The perfect murder is the one in which an innocent man is convicted of murder, then the real murderer never has to worry again about being caught.”

Durfee, DeGreenia and another man, Garth Steffens, initially told police that they saw Gorham at the property in Alfred on the evening of Aug. 8, Lilley said. They described what she was wearing and said she was carrying a bag and got into a red car. The men later said they could not be sure the woman they saw was Gorham.

“That’s six hours after my client was supposedly burying her body,” Lilley said of the sighting. “Unanswered questions we call reasonable doubts in my business.”

The state’s first two witnesses were Gorham’s supervisor at Maine Medical Center and Gorham’s mother.

Pauline Gorham of Waterboro said Kelly was the oldest of three girls. She described her as a kind person who loved horses and outdoor activities such as hiking, and had found her niche in nursing. Kelly Gorham had finished all of her classroom work at Southern Maine Community College and was getting ready to take her clinical practicum and the state exam to become a licensed nurse.

“We were best friends,” Pauline Gorham said, recalling how she talked with her oldest daughter all the time, sometimes a dozen times a day.

Pauline Gorham said she used her key to get into Kelly’s apartment on the morning of Aug. 9, 2007, after trying unsuccessfully to reach her for the entire previous day. Kelly Gorham’s four dogs were unharmed but they had defecated on the floor, and her keys were on the kitchen table.

“I knew right then and there that something bad was going on,” she said.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today.

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]