December 20, 2012

Wife pleads for Scarborough man accused of vicious beating

Eric Gwaro is accused of attempted murder in an attack that left a woman with a brain stem injury.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The wife of a Scarborough man who is charged with attempted murder in the beating of a Portland woman made a tearful plea in court Thursday to have him released on bail and allowed to return home.

Eric Gwaro, 28, was in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court for a hearing before Justice Joyce Wheeler on a motion filed by his attorney seeking a bail amendment.

Gwaro's wife, Jennifer McDonnell, had said previously that if Gwaro were released and returned to their home, she and their children would move out.

Maine Pretrial Services subsequently declined to accept the duty of supervising Gwaro as a condition of his release.

McDonnell now says she wants Gwaro to return home and help her raise their two sons, a 3-year-old and a toddler.

"I need help taking care of them, and they miss their father," McDonnell said.

"He was the primary caregiver to the baby on certain days of the week."

McDonnell, often wiping tears from her eyes on the witness stand, described Gwaro as "an excellent father."

Gwaro, in an orange prison uniform, seated next to his attorneys, used one cuffed hand at a time to wipe each of his eyes.

He was arrested and charged with attacking the 25-year-old woman near Montgomery Street in Portland during the early morning of Aug. 30 and leaving her unconscious in the street.

The woman remained unresponsive at Maine Medical Center long after the attack, but has since regained consciousness.

Deputy District Attorney Megan Elam told the judge that the victim's condition has improved somewhat, but she suffered a brain stem injury in the beating.

"She still can't walk. She will undergo a surgery so that she may be able to walk," she said.

Elam said that because of the woman's "horrible injuries" from the beating, her memory has been affected and she cannot be interviewed about what happened on the night of the attack.

Elam had said previously that the attack was captured on video and seen by witnesses.

Gwaro was seen on surveillance footage dragging the woman by the hair in a parking lot, Elam had said, and witnesses saw him punching her and repeatedly stomping her head.

Gwaro was released on $50,000 cash bail before his indictment. His wife posted $10,000 cash, and his parents posted $40,000, Elam said.

But after Gwaro's release, his wife didn't want him living in their home.

Gwaro rented an apartment at 37 Smith St. in Portland.

Soon after that, police charged him with violating conditions of his release for being out after curfew, Elam said.

Gwaro was indicted in early November on charges of attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, aggravated assault and violation of conditions of release.

At a hearing Nov. 19, after his indictment, Wheeler revised his bail, leaving the $50,000 cash his family had paid but adding a requirement that he have a contract with Maine Pretrial Services before he could be released again.

Maine Pretrial Services has declined to supervise Gwaro, and he has remained in jail.

Gwaro's attorney, Daniel Lilley, argued in his motion that Maine Pretrial Services should be ordered by the court to supervise Gwaro after his release.

"The court felt this defendant was a candidate for release," Lilley said. "I hope we don't get bogged down in our own procedure and deny this man his freedom."

Elizabeth Simoni, executive director of Maine Pretrial Services, testified that her agency vacillated on whether to agree to supervise Gwaro. Initially, McDonnell's refusal to live in the same house as her husband influenced that indecision.

But ultimately, Simoni said, the supervisors of Pretrial Services decided that the office, which is independent of the court, had no way to gauge the risk Gwaro posed and couldn't accept the supervisory role.

"There would need to be a considerable change in circumstance, and I'm not sure what that would be," Simoni said.

At the end of the hearing, the judge declined to order Maine Pretrial Services to take on the case and acknowledged its independence from the court.

"The court accepts that decision and leaves Mr. Gwaro's bail as is," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said she would issue a scheduling order in Gwaro's case on Friday, setting a timetable for motions leading up to his trial.

 

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

sdolan@pressherald.com

 

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