ALFRED – The jury foreman said the single word, “guilty,” and in the front row of the courtroom Pauline Gorham didn’t believe it.

It wasn’t until a few minutes later, as the crowd cleared out, that the mother of Kelly Gorham took some 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 murder. The jury ruled that he killed the 30-year-old nursing student in the early morning of Aug. 8, 2007, at her apartment in Alfred. He now faces 25 years to life in prison. His sentencing has not been scheduled.

Pauline Gorham said she felt numb for a moment after the verdict was read Friday morning in 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, after about 4½ hours of deliberation Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

The verdict capped a dramatic and emotionally draining three-week trial that matched a prominent Portland defense attorney, Daniel Lilley, against the state’s top criminal prosecutor, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes.

In the end, the jurors found the state’s evidence to be overwhelming against Twardus, and they didn’t buy Lilley’s theory that two other men killed Gorham and framed his client. Gorham was strangled and buried on a remote piece of land owned by Twardus’ father in Stewarts- town, N.H., near the Canadian border.

Twardus, who testified earlier this week and told the jury that he was innocent, showed no emotion as the verdict was read about 10:15 a.m. He stood next to his lawyers and stared straight ahead. Wearing a black suit coat, a white shirt and a tie, he remained expressionless as he was escorted out of the room by court officers.

Behind Twardus in the courtroom, some of his family members appeared to be in shock, while others cried and buried their faces in their hands.

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

In an interview outside the courthouse, 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 were 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 was motivated to kill her because she was moving on with her life without him.

On the night of Aug. 6, 2007, Twardus said, he drove from his home in Rochester, N.H., to go fishing overnight at Biddeford Pool. The next night, Aug. 7, he said he went fishing by himself at Rye Beach, N.H.

Gorham was reported missing on Aug. 8, when she didn’t show up for her part-time job at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Gorham planned to finish her nursing courses that fall and get her state license. Police found her body three weeks after she was last seen alive.

Detectives interviewed Twardus several times in the days after Gorham disappeared. He initially did not tell them that on Aug. 6, supposedly on his way to Biddeford Pool, he had parked his car for at least half an hour on a secluded road within half a mile of Gorham’s apartment. Twardus came forward with that information only after he was told that his unattended vehicle had been checked on by a state trooper.

Twardus claimed that he was urinating and smoking a marijuana cigarette. Prosecutors said that he was spying on Gorham, and that he returned to the property the next night, when he ended up killing her.

Another key piece of evidence was a surveillance tape from a Big Apple store in Colebrook, N.H., recorded about noon on Aug. 8, 2007. Prosecutors said the tape showed 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 at the time, as he told police.

On the witness stand, Twardus said it was not him on the tape, and several other defense witnesses agreed.

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

“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.”

The jury foreman gave credit to Stokes, saying the prosecutor’s closing argument on Thursday helped line up all of the state’s evidence. After the verdict, Stokes said he had a sense that the jury was almost ready to vote when it adjourned on Thursday night.

“We always thought this case was a very strong case. The evidence was very powerful,” Stokes said.

He said the Gorham family showed incredible strength and patience as the legal process ran its course.

“I feel good for them. Obviously, it doesn’t bring Kelly back,” he said, adding that he felt bad for the Twardus family.

Lilley was not available immediately after the verdict, and he could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

He claimed during the trial that investigators ignored a trail of circumstantial evidence pointing to two alternate suspects: John Durfee, who was Gorham’s landlord, and Calvin DeGreenia, an employee of Durfee’s who lived on the same property. DeGreenia struck up a romance with Gorham in the week before her disappearance.

Durfee and DeGreenia, who met in prison, testified about having a cookout and drinks with Gorham on the night before she disappeared. They admitted on the stand that their memories of August 2007 were hazy.

They initially told police that they had seen Gorham at the property in Alfred several hours after the time when detectives believe she was dead and buried. Both men backtracked on that story while testifying, claiming that they must have seen another woman. Both denied any involvement in Gorham’s disappearance and murder.

Dinneen said jurors considered Durfee and DeGreenia to be legitimate alternate suspects. But they ultimately decided that the evidence pointed solely to Twardus, and that there was no way the other two men could have devised such an elaborate frame-up, Dinneen said.

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 Durfee.

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

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

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

 

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