May 15, 2013

Convicted Maine killer seeks new trial or acquittal

Jason Twardus' attorney argues that police didn't share evidence that pointed to an alternative suspect.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND –  Jason Twardus, who is serving a 38-year prison sentence for the murder of his former fiancee in 2007, is asking Maine's highest court for a new trial or acquittal on grounds that new evidence that surfaced before and after his trial could have been used in his defense.

click image to enlarge

Jason Twardus, who was sentenced to 38 years for the 2007 murder of Kelly Gorham, has appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

2011 Press Herald File Photo / John Patriquin

Twardus has twice been denied in appeals at the Superior Court level. This third attempt is his final avenue of appeal in the state's courts.

His attorney, Daniel Lilley, and Deputy Attorney General William Stokes made oral arguments Wednesday before a panel of five justices of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. The justices' decision will be filed in writing.

Lilley told the justices that the prosecution never shared evidence indicating that someone else may have killed 30-year-old Kelly Gorham and framed Twardus. Evidence that came up after the trial adds to that theory, he said.

Authorities say Twardus, now 31, strangled Gorham at her home in Alfred and then buried her body on property that his father owned in northern New Hampshire.

Gorham was last seen alive at her home on the night of Aug. 7, 2007. Her body was found on Sept. 2, 2007, in Stewartstown, N.H.

Twardus, who lived in Rochester, N.H., was convicted after a three-week trial in 2010.

Lilley said Gorham's landlord, the late John Durfee, was one of two people who saw her on the night before she disappeared, and he made suspicious statements while she was missing that weren't investigated before Twardus' trial.

Before Gorham's body was found, Durfee was sent to the York County Jail in an unrelated case. Lilley said Durfee told a woman there that he would "bet" Gorham's body would be found on property in New Hampshire belonging to the family of an ex-boyfriend.

"How could this guy who is the last person to see her alive -- she lived at his house -- how could he know that she was dead, that she was buried, instead of thrown in the sea, let's say, and that she was buried in northern New Hampshire?" Lilley asked.

The woman, Charity Camire, who works for Maine Pretrial Services, told state police what Durfee had said, but police didn't follow up on it, Lilley said. Neither the defense nor the prosecution was told about it before Twardus' trial.

Stokes, the prosecutor, said Durfee had already told police that he believed Gorham was dead because she had been missing. He said the trial judge determined afterward that the information from Camire would not have changed the outcome of the trial.

"It was so out of character, so unusual, for Kelly Gorham to blow off work, her dogs, and not come home," Stokes said.

Durfee, who lived in Alfred and rented an apartment on his property to Gorham, died on Aug. 29, 2011, at the age of 67.

Lilley argued that Durfee's cellmate, Kenneth Villella, was not interviewed until after the trial and that his testimony could have helped Twardus.

According to Lilley, Villella told a detective that Durfee had made statements such as, "He could make people disappear pretty easy," he "helped put the body where it was," and "she deserved it," and had said that the blanket in which Gorham's body was wrapped belonged to Durfee's daughter.

Stokes disagreed, saying the evidence against Twardus was "overwhelming."

"We're talking about a very small piece of voluminous pages and pages of discovery," he said.

Stokes said cellphone data, banking transactions and surveillance camera images indicate that Twardus was in the area where Gorham was buried on the night she disappeared.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

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