Former Scarborough firefighter Eric Gwaro was sentenced Monday to eight years in prison for a brutal attack in Portland in 2012 that left a woman permanently injured and incapable of fully caring for herself.
Gwaro, 29, beat and stomped on Sherri York on Cumberland Avenue in Portland’s East End in the early hours of Aug. 30, 2012, and then carried her while she was unconscious to a nearby alley to hide her after the commotion woke up neighbors.
Justice Joyce Wheeler said determining a fitting sentence in the case was difficult because she had to weigh the brutality of the attack and degree of York’s injuries against descriptions of Gwaro by friends and family as an otherwise model father, family member and caring, college-educated person who tried to hide his alcoholism.
“My sentence is based on an attempt to punish and encourage rehabilitation,” Wheeler said, addressing Gwaro at his sentencing hearing in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court. “The sentence I’m going to impose will probably seem too lenient to the York family and too harsh to your family.”
Wheeler imposed a 20-year sentence with all but eight years suspended. Gwaro was ordered to serve four years of probation following his release, serve 100 hours of community service and pay up to $5,632.29 in restitution toward expenses York’s family has incurred during her recovery.
Gwaro was convicted by a jury in July of elevated aggravated assault and aggravated assault, both felonies, and one misdemeanor bail violation. The jury found him not guilty of the most serious count of attempted murder.
Gwaro testified at the trial that he met York, a prostitute, at the Big Apple store on Washington Avenue after a night out drinking at various bars in Portland. He said he invited York into his vehicle before realizing she was a prostitute and that she stole cash from the vehicle’s center console after he rebuffed her offer of sex for money. He said he tracked down York after she fled and dragged her to Cumberland Avenue in an attempt to recover his money. Other witnesses testified at the trial that they saw Gwaro kick and stomp on her while she was on the ground.
Gwaro was arrested shortly after the attack by police who chased him down an alley.
York’s mother, Michele York, spoke at the sentencing hearing about being called to Maine Medical Center on the night of the attack and being able to identify her daughter only by her curly hair because the injuries to her face were so severe.
“She was beaten so bad I didn’t recognize my own daughter,” Michele York said.
Sherri York, 26, did not attend the trial or Monday’s hearing. Her mother, who now cares for her and her 3-year-old son, said that Sherri York no longer has full control of her bodily functions, walks with a limp, trembles and has slurred speech as a result of her injuries. She’s prone to frustrated outbursts and has attempted suicide, her mother said.
“She said she’d rather be dead than go on living like this,” Michele York said.
Gwaro also spoke at the hearing, turning at times to face York’s family in a tearful apology and to his own family – his parents, three siblings, his wife and mother-in-law.
“I am sorry for all the distress I have caused the York family and my family. I am truly appalled at the way I treated her that night,” Gwaro said. “I just pray that one day the York family can forgive me.”
Dressed in a light gray suit and tie, Gwaro read at times from written notes, his hands shaking.
“I can assure everyone that I will never, ever behave in such a fashion again,” Gwaro said. “Being in this jail has opened my eyes to the fact that I am truly an alcoholic.”
The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Megan Elam, rejected Gwaro’s claim that his actions were a result of being intoxicated and sought a 20-year prison sentence with four years of probation.
“Sherri will never be the same,” Elam said. “When I heard Mr. Gwaro’s testimony, I thought it was the most concocted pile of lies I had heard from a defendant for a long time.”
Gwaro’s attorneys, Daniel Lilley and Tina Nadeau, asked for a two-year prison sentence with four years of probation, saying he needs rehabilitation to address his alcoholism more than he does punishment.
Lilley quoted from a report by a state-hired psychologist that said “the primary factor that has led Mr. Gwaro into this criminal behavior and to this point in his life in general is alcohol.”
Wheeler said that in arriving at an eight-year prison sentence, she acknowledged that Gwaro has already served 14 months of that and is likely to benefit from an early release program before serving his full term. She ordered Gwaro to refrain from alcohol and undergo counseling.
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