ALFRED — Jason Twardus had once been welcome in the lives of Kelly Gorham’s family. He was the man she had planned to marry, a regular presence at family celebrations and the guest of honor at a surprise birthday party they organized for him.

On Tuesday, family members described how Twardus had betrayed them, and implored a judge to sentence him to life in prison for her murder. Twardus was convicted of strangling Gorham, a 30-year-old nursing student, in her Alfred apartment four years ago and burying her at a remote New Hampshire property owned by his father.

“Jason stole the greatest part of our family. He stole Kelly. He destroyed our family’s lives and took the most special person from our world,” Katie Gorham, one of Kelly Gorham’s sisters, said during his sentencing hearing in York County Superior Court.

Justice G. Arthur Brennan sentenced Twardus, 30, to 38 years in prison on the murder charge. Twardus’ face showed no emotion when Brennan announced the penalty, as was the case for most of the hearing.

Twardus had faced a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. Brennan explained that the crime didn’t fit the criteria for a life sentence under Maine law.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has spelled out the elements that can qualify a defendant for a life sentence. They include pre-meditation, sexual assault, torture, multiple homicides or killing a police officer in the line of duty, said Deputy Attorney General William Stokes.

Brennan said the only circumstance arguably present was pre-meditation, but that he didn’t believe evidence showed Twardus plotted to kill Gorham.

Brennan said he agreed with the prosecution’s recommended base sentence of 40 to 45 years. He said a modest reduction was warranted because of mitigating factors, such as Twardus’ previously clean record, productive work life and high level of family support.

Twardus’ lawyers, Daniel Lilley and Darrick Banda, had recommended a base sentence of 30 years.

A jury convicted Twardus, of Rochester, N.H., in October after an emotional three-week trial.

The state argued that Twardus could not accept that Gorham had broken off their engagement, and that he was jealous when she became involved with another man. The defense maintains that Twardus was framed and pointed to two alternate suspects: John Durfee, Gorham’s landlord, and Calvin DeGreenia, an employee of Durfee who lived on the same property as Gorham.

Gorham was last seen at her apartment on Aug. 7, 2007. She was reported missing the next day when she didn’t show up for her part-time job at Maine Medical Center. Her body was discovered three weeks later in a shallow grave on land owned by Brian Twardus in Stewartstown, N.H., near the Canadian border.

Jason Twardus had testified he was fishing alone at Rye Beach, N.H., on the night of Aug. 7. The next day, he said, he went to an ATM and then was home watching the History Channel and playing video games.

Prosecutors presented surveillance video that they said showed Twardus was in Colebrook, N.H., around noon on Aug. 8. Defense witnesses said it was not him on tape.

During the hearing Tuesday, Twardus’ supporters asked Brennan for leniency. They spoke of his caring nature and his involvement in church and community activities, and denied that he was violent.

“We all love Jason,” said his mother, Rosemarie Chagnon. “We all want him home with us.”

Twardus chose not to address the court. He did not speak to reporters after the hearing as he was being led from the courthouse to a sheriff’s department cruiser.

Stokes said he was satisfied with the sentence. Gorham’s family said they had realized Twardus might not receive a life sentence and that they were pleased with the outcome.

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]