ALFRED — Through the first 11 days of Jason Twardus’ murder trial, the jurors saw little emotion from the defendant as he sat quietly beside his lawyers on the opposite side of the courtroom.

That changed dramatically Tuesday when Twardus took the stand in his own defense.

The jury had a chance to see his sharp intellect and the certainty in his narrative as he fielded questions from his lawyer Daniel Lilley. They saw his anger and some confrontational sarcasm under intense cross-examination by the prosecutor William Stokes.

And, along with the crowd of about 100 people in York County Superior Court, the jury watched Twardus take several long pauses, appearing to hold back tears, as he was asked about the disappearance and death of his ex-fiancee, Kelly Gorham, three years ago.

“Did you kill her?” Lilley asked.

“No, I did not,” Twardus said.

Gorham, a 30-year-old nursing student, was last seen alive at her apartment in Alfred on Aug. 7, 2007. Police found her body three weeks later on a remote piece of land owned by Twardus’ father in Stewartstown, N.H.

Lilley asked Twardus what his reaction was when police told him that Gorham’s body had been found there.

“I couldn’t fathom how or why anyone would do that to her,” said Twardus, 29, a short, slightly built man who was dressed Tuesday in a dark suitcoat, a blue shirt and tie.

“I can’t fathom why she would be up there at all,” he said. “I was absolutely shocked.

“I knew I didn’t put her up there. I did not bury her,” he said.

The jurors will soon be asked to decide whether they believe the defendant, or whether they agree with prosecutors that Twardus strangled Gorham and buried her body under two feet of earth and a pile of evergreen branches in the forest of northern New Hampshire.

The final few defense witnesses are expected to take the stand today, with closing arguments on Thursday morning. Justice G. Arthur Brennan told the jurors that they will likely get the case for deliberation around lunchtime Thursday.

Lilley had said earlier in the trial that Twardus would make a “last-minute” decision about whether to testify.

There were gasps in the crowd Tuesday morning as Lilley called Twardus as the first witness of the day. Gorham’s mother, two sisters and other relatives – who once considered Twardus part of their family – watched his testimony from the front row behind the prosecution table. Gorham’s mother, Pauline Gorham, shook her head at some points as Twardus spoke.

The jury had previously heard several recorded police interviews of Twardus, in which he gave conflicting accounts of his activities during the week of Gorham’s disappearance. He also said on one of the tapes that his memory of those days might be hazy because he smoked marijuana that he believed might have been laced with a stronger drug.

His testimony cemented his version of what happened, particularly on Aug. 8, the day on which prosecutors say the murder and burial occurred.

Twardus said he went fishing alone at Rye Beach, N.H., on the night of Aug. 7, and stayed there well past midnight, arriving at the home he shared with his father in Rochester, N.H., around 5 a.m. on Aug. 8.

After lying in his bed for a while, he said, he drove to a nearby ATM to withdraw $100. Twardus said he was on vacation for the rest of the week, so he wanted to have some cash. Then, he said, he went back home and got into bed. He testified that later in the day he watched the History Channel and played video games, and was still at home when his father returned from work late that afternoon.

He said he had no motive to kill Gorham. They had lived together in the apartment in Alfred and were engaged to be married in August 2007. Gorham broke off the engagement around Christmas 2006, and asked Twardus to leave in June 2007. Twardus said that the breakup was amicable, that they were still good friends and that there had never been any violence between them.

Lilley asked Twardus if he had any idea who murdered Gorham.

“I have a few ideas from the testimony that has been put forth over the past two weeks,” Twardus said.

It was a clear reference to Gorham’s landlord, John Durfee, and another man, Calvin DeGreenia.

Throughout the trial, Lilley has positioned those two men as alternative suspects. Durfee and DeGreenia met in prison and Durfee gave DeGreenia a job on his paving crew in the summer of 2007. DeGreenia moved into Durfee’s pool house and struck up a romance with Gorham, who lived in a second-floor apartment above a garage on Durfee’s property.

Both men have testified they had dinner and drinks with Gorham on the night before she disappeared. They have denied any involvement in her death.

Twardus suggested that whoever killed Gorham must have used a map from her apartment to find his father’s land in Stewartstown, N.H. He said he and Gorham printed out a map for a trip they took there in 2006, and he wrote some landmarks and additional directions on the paper. Twardus said a three-ring binder found in Gorham’s apartment after her disappearance was missing about 25 to 30 pages of maps and notes about hikes they had taken together.

On cross-examination, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes challenged Twardus’ version of events.

Stokes asked Twardus why, if he loved Gorham so much and still cared about her after the breakup, he called her cell phone only once after she disappeared, on Aug. 9 at the request of Gorham’s mother.

“What reason would I have to?” Twardus said, adding that Gorham had not returned his message or a message he said he left on Aug. 6.

“Why weren’t you looking for her, the woman you loved?” Stokes pressed in a heated exchange. “You knew she was already dead, and that is why you didn’t call her, correct?”

“No, that is not correct,” Twardus said.

Stokes also focused on Twardus’ activities on the night of Aug. 6, 2007.

Twardus said he went fishing overnight at Biddeford Pool, and stopped on his way there on a road across from Gorham’s apartment. He said it was around 9 p.m. and he wanted to urinate and smoke marijuana. Investigators say that Twardus, upset that Gorham had not been in contact with him, may have gone to the property to spy on her.

Stokes asked Twardus why he didn’t tell detectives about that stop in Alfred until detectives received information from a state trooper who had seen Twardus’ car parked unattended.

Twardus gave multiple responses. He said that the stop had slipped his mind, and that he had not thought it was an important fact. He also said he was uncomfortable telling police about the marijuana, but he denied deliberately withholding the information.

Stokes also revisited a critical piece of the state’s evidence: a surveillance video recorded around noon on Aug. 8, 2007, at the Big Apple store in Colebrook, N.H., the closest town to Stewartstown.

Prosecutors say the tape shows Twardus and his car at the store, at a time when he says he was at home in Rochester. Some witnesses have testified that they are sure the person is Twardus; others have said they are sure it is not.

Twardus said he was not in northern New Hampshire that day, and the man on the tape is someone else.

“That is not me,” he said.

 

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