PORTLAND — Eric Gwaro testified in his own defense Friday, admitting on the stand that he punched a woman several times but denying that he tried to kill her.
Jurors in the trial of Gwaro, a Scarborough volunteer firefighter charged with the attempted murder of Sherri York on Aug. 30, 2012, in Portland, heard him say that he punched York with enough force to knock her to the ground because she stole money from him, but denied that he tried to kill her or that he kicked or stomped her.
Jurors deliberated for 45 minutes Friday after hearing Gwaro testify in the morning and closing arguments by attorneys in the afternoon. They will resume deliberations Monday as the panel of seven women and five men considers the four charges against him: attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, aggravated assault and violation of conditions of release for breaking curfew while out on bail in this case.
Gwaro has been in jail since November after his arrest on the bail violation.
Gwaro, who testified on the fourth day of his trial in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court, said he was drunk after a night of binge drinking when he repeatedly struck York, angry that she had taken his money after he rejected her offer of sex for money.
“I was definitely drunk,” Gwaro said, describing a night of bar hopping in Portland’s Old Port.
Gwaro, 28, said he began going from bar to bar after he finished his shift as head bartender at the Inn by the Sea hotel in Cape Elizabeth on the night of Aug. 29 and into the early hours on Aug. 30.
He started by ordering a pitcher of beer at the Spring Point Tavern in South Portland, then drove to Sangillo’s in Portland, where he had two more beers and a shot of whiskey.
“After that, it gets kind of fuzzy. I started to lose track of time,” Gwaro said. He went on to drink another four beers and a shot of whiskey at three more bars in the Old Port before closing time, he said.
Gwaro said he doesn’t remember where he found his car afterward, but stopped at the Big Apple store on Washington Avenue to get gas. He ended up meeting York outside the store.
He said he invited York to join him for drinks at a friend’s house, she got in his car and they drove away.
“She said, ‘If your friend is going to be there, he’s going to have to pay, too,”‘ Gwaro said. “All of a sudden it dawned on me, ‘I think she thinks I picked her up to pay for sex.”‘
Gwaro said he rejected her offer and that she grabbed a handful of money that was in the center console of his vehicle, and got out of the vehicle.
“I recall being shocked, angry, embarrassed and confused, so I started to drive around trying to find her,” he said. “I tried to grab her, but it happened too quick.”
Later, he found York back at the street corner outside the Big Apple. She tried to run when she saw him, he said.
“I remember grabbing her by the back of the shirt and pulling her away from the Big Apple,” Gwaro said. “I pulled her over to the Cumberland Avenue Garage, and I asked her where my money was.”
Gwaro testified that he punched York twice and picked her up when she fell and struck her again when she told him she didn’t have his money.
The only time Gwaro lost his composure during questioning by his attorney, Daniel Lilley, was in answering questions about his parents, wife and children. He wiped away tears as he mentioned his sons, ages 4 and 2.
Gwaro kept his composure while answering questions from the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Megan Elam, responding politely but at times seeming confused.
Other witnesses during the trial had described seeing the victim being punched and stomped, but Gwaro denied stomping or kicking York.
“That night, you walloped her a couple times?” Elam asked, making a punching gesture with her arm and putting her shoulder behind it for the jury to see.
“Yes, I did,” Gwaro said.
Elam also asked Gwaro to identify himself in a video she played that was taken by surveillance cameras outside the Big Apple store that shows a man dragging a woman through the parking lot of the store.
“I was pulling her by the back of her shirt,” Gwaro said. “I wanted my money back.”
Elam, in her closing arguments, raised her knee, then brought down her foot hard against the floor, repeating the movement three more times as she stood in front of the jury, seated just feet away.
“I know that if I stomp on the head of someone lying on the pavement,” Elam said, before punctuating her sentence with the four stomps, “I can kill them. That I know.”
Lilley attacked the credibility of two eyewitnesses, Clifford Hethcoat and Megan Townsend, in his closing arguments. He said they have criminal records and were watching the attack from a fourth-floor apartment several hundred feet away in darkness at 3 a.m. when they claimed to be able to see someone stomping on another person.