Thursday, April 24, 2014
ALFRED - The attorney for the man who is in prison for the murder of Kelly Gorham in 2007 argued in court Friday that his client should have a second trial because prosecutors ignored new evidence in the case and investigators dragged their feet in looking into information that could have helped the defense.
Jason Twardus, who was convicted in October 2010 of murdering his former fiancee, filed a motion last year requesting a new trial, but it was denied.
His attorney, Daniel Lilley, argued in support of his second motion for a new trial before Judge G. Arthur Brennan in York County Superior Court.
Lilley said jailhouse statements made by a potential witness about one of the last people who saw Gorham alive were not investigated until after Twardus' trial.
Kenneth Villella, an inmate in York County Jail, was first interviewed by police in June 2011 about the late John Durfee, Gorham's landlord, whom Lilley called an "alternative suspect" in her killing.
Durfee, who lived in Alfred and rented an apartment to Gorham on the same property, died on Aug. 29, 2011, at the age of 67.
The fact that Villella was interviewed after the trial and Durfee's death "put the defense at an extreme disadvantage," Lilley said.
He called it "evidence lost because it was not developed. It was not followed up on in a timely fashion."
Arguing for the state, Deputy Attorney General William Stokes called the jailhouse statements by Villella "double hearsay" and said that if Lilley's alternative-suspect theory were legitimate, the case against Twardus would have been a frame-up of "epic proportion."
The judge made no immediate decision on the request for a second trial and said he won't get to the case again until the end of November.
Twardus, who lived in Rochester, N.H., was convicted after a three-week trial of strangling his 30-year-old former fiancee at her home in Alfred and then burying her on property owned by his father in northern New Hampshire.
He was sentenced in August 2011 to serve 38 years in the Maine State Prison.
He attended Friday's hearing, dressed in an orange prison uniform, clean shaven with close-cropped hair. He did not speak, other than to whisper to a member of his defense team.
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.
Durfee and another resident at 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' trial that they killed Gorham and framed Twardus.
Lilley said at Friday's hearing that Degreenia was arrested after the trial, in April 2011 in Nashua, N.H., and charged with trying to strangle his girlfriend.
In his first motion for a new trial, Lilley argued that Durfee made statements to a worker at the county jail, Charity Camire, that could have swayed a jury on whether to acquit Twardus.
Lilley said Camire told police that Durfee had told her on Aug. 20, 2007 -- while Gorham was still missing -- that he would "bet Gorham's body would be found on property in New Hampshire belonging to the family of an ex-boyfriend."
That information, Lilley argued, was never presented to the prosecution or the defense before Twardus' trial.
Lilley said Villella, Durfee's cellmate in 2011, approached authorities to relay a statement by Durfee that he had helped to bury Gorham's body.
"(Villella) made so much noise with the sheriff's department that someone had to interview him. And they put it in the drawer," Lilley said.
Lilley said Villella offered to seek more information from Durfee but police were cool to his offer, even though that information could have helped with Twardus' defense.
"Is it possible to impact the outcome of this trial? Our answer is yes," Lilley said.
Stokes argued that case law on granting new trials does not consider evidence that didn't exist at the time of the trial.
"Every case the Supreme Court has decided involves evidence that existed during the trial or prior to the trial that was not presented," Stokes said. "We're talking about evidence here that didn't exist and couldn't have existed until after the trial."
Stokes said there is no way now to know whether what Villella said is true.
"What you have is an out-of-court statement, double hearsay," Stokes said.
Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at: