November 30, 2012

Twardus denied request for second trial in Maine murder

His attorney had argued that evidence of other potential suspects had emerged after his trial.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

ALFRED — A judge has denied a request for a new trial from Jason Twardus, who was found guilty of murdering his former fiancee in 2010.

Jason Twardus is sentenced to 38 years in prison for the 2007 murder of Kelly Gorham at York County Superior Court in Alfred in this August 2011 photo.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer.

Superior Court Justice G. Arthur Brennan filed his eight-page written ruling in York County Superior Court on Thursday, nearly two weeks after hearing arguments on Twardus' second motion for a new trial.

Twardus's attorney argued that evidence of other potential suspects in the killing of 30-year-old Kelly Gorham emerged after his trial.

Twardus first sought a new trial after his conviction, but before he was sentenced. That request was denied in July 2011, and Twardus was sentenced in August 2011 to serve 38 years in prison.

Twardus, who lived in Rochester, N.H., strangled Gorham at her home in Alfred and then buried her body on property that his father owned in northern New Hampshire, prosecutors say. Gorham was last seen alive at her home on the night of Aug. 7, 2007.

Her body was found almost a month later, on Sept. 2, in Stewartstown, N.H.

Twardus's attorney, Daniel Lilley, argued that a new trial was necessary because a potential witness' jailhouse statements about other suspects were not investigated until after the trial.

Kenneth Villella was first interviewed in June 2011 at the York County Jail about John Durfee, Gorham's landlord, whom Lilley called an alternative suspect in her killing.

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

The fact that Villella was interviewed after Twardus's trial and that Durfee is now dead "put the defense at an extreme disadvantage," Lilley said at the hearing on a new trial.

Villella told police around the time of Twardus's first request for a new trial that Durfee had talked to him about Gorham's disappearance.

Lilley said in his motion for a new trial that 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 the blanket in which Gorham's body was wrapped belonged to Durfee's daughter.

Brennan said in his ruling that "Mr. Durfee's credibility was vigorously impeached at trial."

Also, Durfee's whereabouts in the days after Gorham's disappearance were "convincingly tracked" with cellphone records that put him more than 100 miles from the burial site, Brennan said.

Durfee and another resident of Durfee's property in Alfred, Calvin Degreenia, are the last people known to have seen Gorham alive. Lilley argued that the two men should be seen as alternative suspects.

Durfee and Degreenia met in jail, and Lilley claimed at Twardus's trial that they killed Gorham and framed Twardus.

Although Twardus lost his bid for a new trial, he still has a pending appeal, which was put on hold while the court considered his motion.

The prosecutor in the case, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, said Brennan's decision puts the appeal back in motion.

"The stay of the appeal will be lifted," he said.

Lilley said, "I'm very disappointed with the decision. I understand the nature of criminal courts today is very difficult to maintain because of the economic pressure of financing a trial and paying for a second trial."

Lilley said he expects new legal briefs may have to be filed to get Twardus's appeal back on the court docket, but arguments have already been made seeking a review of the trial.

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

sdolan@mainetoday.com

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