June 18, 2018
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Key witness goes missing in hearing of man convicted of killing ex-fiancee

Jeff Lagasse | Journal Tribune
Jeff Lagasse | Journal Tribune
Jason Twardus (left) appears at York County Superior Court in Alfred on Monday. A new trial is being sought for Twardus, who was convicted of the 2007 murder of Kelly Gorham and sentenced to 38 years in prison.
By TAMMY WELLS, Journal Tribune

ALFRED, Maine — A testimonial hearing in a bid by convicted murderer Jason Twardus for a new trial will continue at an unscheduled date because the man considered a critical witness in the case cannot be located.

Calvin Degreenia, one of two men defense counsel Daniel Lilley had painted as “alternate suspects” in the 2007 murder of Kelly Gorham, didn’t show up in a New Hampshire courtroom for a hearing on a subpoena to testify in Twardus’ bid for a new trial. A warrant has since been issued for his arrest.

Meanwhile, Deputy Attorney General William R. Stokes, who prosecuted Twardus, the New Hampshire man convicted of killing Gorham in Alfred in 2007, was among those taking the stand Monday, answering questions posed by Lilley.

Twardus was sentenced last August to 38 years in prison for the Alfred strangulation killing of Gorham, a woman to whom he was once engaged. Arriving at York County Superior Court in prison orange, he changed to a dark suit by the time the hearing commenced. As he did for most of the trial, he sat with his hands folded in his lap, looking straight ahead.

Lilley’s first motion for a new trial was denied in June 2011, prior to sentencing. In his second motion for a new trial, Lilley said the state had failed to disclose evidence critical to his client.

In his motion, Lilley referenced what he characterized as a “confession” by John Durfee, Gorham’s landlord, allegedly made to fellow inmate Ken Villella while at York County Jail. As well, Lilley claimed the state failed to disclose that Calvin Degreenia, another trial witness whom he characterized as an alternate suspect along with Durfee, had attempted to strangle his girlfriend in Nashua, N.H. in March 2011, four years after Gorham was killed.

Durfee died Aug. 29, about three weeks after Twardus was sentenced. Lilley on Monday continued to characterize the two as alternate suspects.

In his examination of Stokes, Lilley questioned the veteran prosecutor about the length of time it takes for information to be disseminated.

Stokes said it can take “several weeks” before a transcript of an interview conducted by Maine State Police is forwarded to his office, but that recordings are received almost immediately.

Stokes said he forwarded information to defense counsel, called “discovery” in court parlance, within days of receiving it himself.

In one instance, the transcript of an interview conducted by Maine State Police in June was sent to Lilley in October. Stokes said he turned it over to Lilley’s office within days of receiving it himself. He said interviews conducted pretrial are treated with more urgency.

Degreenia was arrested in April 2011 for allegedly attempting to strangle his girlfriend in Nashua the previous month. Attorney Darrick Banda, who is assisting Lilley with the case, said during a break in the hearing Monday that Degreenia had pleaded guilty to the crime in New Hampshire and was released from custody after completing his sentence.

Lilley, during his questioning of Stokes, said the prosecutor should have sent him the information about Degreenia’s April 2011 strangulation attempt.

“You had as much access to the material as I did,” said Stokes, who pointed out that it was Lilley who had informed his office about Degreenia’s attempted strangulation of his girlfriend.

“Did you feel the evidence was favorable to the defendant?” asked Lilley.

“No, I didn’t, it had nothing to do with the Kelly Gorham case,” said Stokes, adding later, “I’m not going to do work you can do yourself.”

As to the information from Villella — who was interviewed in June by a Maine State Trooper, and then again in October by a Maine State Police detective — Stokes characterized much of it as an opinion Villella had derived by putting some of Durfee’s comments together.

One piece of information — that Villella apparently said Durfee had told him a comforter Gorham had been found in actually belonged to one of his daughters — was examined by the prosecution. Durfee’s daughters were shown the comforter or blanket and each said it hadn’t belonged them, Stokes said.

Stokes said he turned the information he received from the trooper and the detective over to Lilley as soon as he got it. He pointed out that Lilley had not called Villella to testify at the hearing.

Also among those testifying Monday was Maine State Police Sgt. Michael Zabarsky, who was the lead detective in the case.

Gorham, a nursing student, was last seen in Alfred on the evening of Aug. 7, 2007. Gorham’s remains were found in Stewartstown, N.H., 180 miles from her Alfred apartment, on land belonging to Twardus’ father, about one month after she disappeared.

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