ALFRED — The jury foreman said the single word, guilty, and in the front row of the packed courthouse Pauline Gorham still didn’t believe it.

It wasn’t until a few minutes later, as the crowd was clearing out, that the mother of murdered nursing student Kelly Gorham took a few big breaths and began to cry, hugging her two other daughters.

The wait was over.

Kelly Gorham’s ex-fiance, Jason Twardus, had been convicted of killing her in the early morning of Aug. 8, 2007.

 

“I felt numb,” Pauline Gorham said of the reading of the verdict this morning at York County Superior Court. “I thought, I better wait and make sure this is real.”

“We’re just really pleased that the judicial system worked so well,” she said. “Three years of anxiety. It has been very difficult.”

The jury convicted Twardus, 29, of Rochester, N.H., after a total of about 4½ hours of deliberations on Thursday afternoon and this morning. The verdict capped off a dramatic and emotionally tolling three-week trial that matched prominent defense attorney Daniel Lilley against the state’s top criminal prosecutor, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes.

In the end, the jury found the state’s evidence to be overwhelming against Twardus, and they weren’t buying Lilley’s theory that a pair of alternate suspects killed Gorham and framed his client. Gorham was strangled to death and buried on a remote piece of land owned by Twardus’ father in Stewartstown, N.H., near the Canadian border.

As the verdict was read around 10:15 a.m., Twardus showed no emotion. He stood next to his lawyers and stared straight ahead. The defendant, wearing a black suitcoat, white shirt and tie, remained expressionless as he was escorted out of the room by court officers.

The jury foreman, Mike Dinneen of Saco, said it did not take long for the seven men and five women to agree on Twardus’ guilt.

In an interview outside the courthouse this morning, Dinneen said Twardus’ testimony was a key piece of evidence. He said Twardus came off as “a little cocky,” and the jurors felt he was lying.

“He had tons of detail on the stuff he actually did,” Dinneen said. “He had much less detail about the stuff when there was no corroboration.”

Twardus and Gorham had been engaged to be married, but she broke up with him several months before the killing. Prosecutors said Twardus could not get over his ex-fiancee, and he was motivated to kill because she was moving on with her life without him.

“It’s sad. It looks like two good families. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy in general,” Dinneen said. “He didn’t seem to be a super violent person, but there seemed to be some obsession.”

Another key piece of evidence was a surveillance tape from a Big Apple store in Colebrook, N.H., recorded around noon on Aug. 8, 2007. Prosecutors said the tape shows Twardus and his car at the store, proving that he was just a few miles from the spot where Gorham was buried, and not at home in Rochester, N.H., as he told police. On the witness stand, Twardus said it was not him, and several defense witnesses said the tape was inconclusive.

Dinneen said the jury believed the man on the tape was Twardus.

The jury foreman also gave a lot of credit to Stokes, saying the prosecutor’s closing argument on Thursday helped line up all the state’s evidence.

Twardus’ family members consoled each other after the verdict, and some of them were in tears as they left without speaking to reporters.

His lawyer, Lilley, was not immediately available for comment.

Pauline Gorham said it was difficult to listen to some parts of the trial, especially when the defense team suggested Kelly Gorham had traded sexual favors for a break on rent from her landlord, John Durfee.

Lilley positioned Durfee, an admitted PCP addict whose memory of August 2007 was not clear, as the leading alternate suspect. Durfee and another man, Calvin DeGreenia, had dinner and drinks with Gorham on the night before she went missing. Lilley suggested Durfee or DeGreenia killed Gorham after their dinner party had somehow gone bad.

“My daughters and I just held to the fact that we knew Kelly very well and that was not Kelly,” Pauline Gorham said of Lilley’s theory.

She said Kelly Gorham should be remembered for her beautiful personality, an animal lover and a natural helper.

“Anyone who needed help could count on Kelly,” her mother said.