NH man gets 38 years for killing fiancee

Posted Aug. 16, 2011, at 5:26 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 16, 2011, at 7:06 p.m.
Jason Twardus, of Rochester, N.H., sheds a tear during his sentencing hearing at York County Superior Court in Alfred, Maine on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011.
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Jason Twardus, of Rochester, N.H., sheds a tear during his sentencing hearing at York County Superior Court in Alfred, Maine on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011.

ALFRED, Maine — A judge on Tuesday imposed a 38-year prison sentence on a New Hampshire man convicted of strangling a Maine nursing student who had broken off her engagement to him, then burying her body on his father’s property in northern New Hampshire.

In imposing the sentence, Justice G. Arthur Brennan rejected tearful pleas from the several of the victim’s family members who sought a life sentence for Jason Twardus of Rochester, N.H., who was convicted of murdering 30-year-old Kelly Gorham in 2007.

Defense lawyer Darrick Banda sought a 30-year sentence, saying there was no stalking or history of domestic violence. He noted that the Twardus had no criminal record, a loving family and a solid work history. Prosecutors had asked for a 45-year sentence, saying that Twardus never showed any remorse for a domestic violence murder.

Gorham’s family described her as an exuberant woman who loved animals, loved life and was pursuing a nursing degree. Kim Gooding, one of Gorham’s sisters, said Gorham’s personality allowed her to see the good in everyone, possibly allowing her to let people of questionable character into her life. “She was so focused on seeing good — any good in people,” she said.

Gorham’s family had little good to say about Twardus, who stared straight ahead in York County Superior Court as the victim’s family described their loss.

“This man is no longer a man,” said Katie Gorham, the victim’s younger sister, testifying that the family was torn apart. “He’s a monster and should be treated as such.”

The family of Twardus, 30, said it would be out of character for the former Methodist Church acolyte and Boy Scout to harm anyone. His family pleaded for leniency.

“He couldn’t hurt anyone. I know that deep down in my heart that he didn’t do this,” his father, Brian Twardus, told the judge.

Jason Twardus, whose stoic gaze gave way to a tear running down his cheek during his family’s testimony, chose not to address the judge.

Brennan conceded it was a difficult case for both families. “Both families are victims here. It has been an absolute nightmare for the families,” he said.

Twardus and Gorham lived together for two years before she broke off their engagement about two months before her death. She was living in Alfred, Maine, when she disappeared in August 2007. Her body was found a month later.

Defense lawyer Daniel Lilley, who said he’s appealing the case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, has suggested that Gorham’s landlord or another man who struck up a romance with her the week before she disappeared could have committed the crime.

But Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said that theory didn’t make sense, noting that a surveillance video from a convenience store put Twardus near the location where the body was found and that Twardus made up a phony story after being seen near Gorham’s home before she disappeared.

Stokes said Twardus was consumed with the loss of the relationship and did something out of character because he “couldn’t let go of Kelly Gorham.”

“As the judge says, intrinsically, he’s probably not an evil person but he engaged in very evil conduct, probably out of the fact that he couldn’t let go of the relationship,” Stokes said.

Pauline Gorham of Waterboro, the victim’s mother, joined in a call for a life sentence for Twardus. Life in prison is the maximum sentence for murder in Maine.

But she said afterward that she was satisfied with the outcome.

“It’s sad. You hate to see someone’s life wasted, but one has to be responsible for one’s actions,” she said.

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