July 24, 2013

Witnesses describe screams, stomping in Gwaro case

His attorney concedes Eric Gwaro hit Sherri York, but he says he was provoked and wasn't trying to kill her.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Opening arguments were presented Tuesday at the trial of Eric Gwaro, 28, who is accused of aggravated assault and attempted murder.

Photo by Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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The first witness for the prosecution, Craig McKenzie, points to the area where his apartment is located near the scene of the alleged crimes that occurred on the block bordered by Cumberland Avenue, Washington Avenue, Congress Street and Montgomery Street.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Lilley challenged Hethcoat's credibility as an eyewitness during cross-examination, asking him, "You didn't see anything, did you?"

Hethcoat, an ex-convict who has served time in federal prison, insisted he was telling the truth, though he never wanted to be involved in the case.

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Megan Elam, said in her opening statement that evidence at the trial would show Gwaro dragged York down the street from the Big Apple store at the intersection of Cumberland Avenue and Washington Avenue and beat her until she was unconscious.

"He kicked her and stomped her until she was lifeless and then hid her body," Elam said.

Gwaro's trial is expected to last about a week. The prosecution had listed 31 potential witnesses, including 15 police officers and 16 civilians, including York herself.

York, identified in court papers as a prostitute and drug user, had been in a coma immediately after the attack. Though York has partially recovered from her injuries, Elam said she remains mentally and physically impaired as a result of the attack.

Elam called seven witnesses on Tuesday, including the first two police officers to arrive at the scene and another officer who had spoken to Gwaro at a traffic stop about an hour before the alleged attack and Gwaro's subsequent arrest.

Hannah Emery, who was working at the Preble Street Resource Center on the night of Aug. 29 and 30, testified that she confronted Gwaro around 2 a.m. that night after she saw him get out of his car, stumbling, and walk around the center, which provides services for Portland's needy, and return zipping up the fly of his jeans.

Gwaro drove off after Emery confronted him, but she called police because Gwaro appeared "really drunk," she testified.

Portland police pulled over Gwaro's vehicle shortly afterward on Cumberland Avenue, but Officer Michael Galietta testified that Gwaro didn't seem intoxicated to him and that he was wearing a different color shirt than Emery had described to the police dispatcher.

Galietta also arrived at the scene of York's attack about an hour later and recognized Gwaro as the man police arrested after a foot chase.

Video surveillance taken from the Big Apple store on Washington Avenue shows York at the store around 2 a.m. Prosecutors showed video taken from store cameras while a store worker, Michael Clark, was testifying.

The video shows the woman come into the store, then leave and get into the passenger side of a vehicle in the parking lot afterward. The video then shows her returning to the store around 2:30 a.m.

Clark testified that when she returned, her face was red and puffy and that she had a bloody $20 bill.

York then left the store again. Surveillance video shows her getting dragged by her hair through the store parking lot by a man shortly before 3 a.m.

The jury is made up of eight women and five men, including an alternate.

Gwaro's attorneys, Lilley and Tina Nadeau, have six people on their potential witness list, including Gwaro.

At a hearing before Wheeler in December, Gwaro's wife unsuccessfully sought to have him released on bail so that he could return home and help her raise their two young sons.

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

sdolan@mainetoday.com

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Additional Photos

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Eric Gwaro's attorney, Daniel Lilley, tells the jury that his client is guilty of aggravated assault but not elevated aggravated assault and attempted murder.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Deputy District Attorney Megan Elam presents the prosecution's case in opening arguments at the trial of Eric Gwaro on Tuesday morning in Cumberland County Unified Court.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

 


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