AUBURN, Maine — “Twenty-one stab wounds. That’s how many stab wounds Naomi Swift had in her when Lewiston police officers found her,” Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis said.
Swift was attacked in December 2011 and Cleveland Cruthirds, her former on-again off-again boyfriend, is on trial, charged with attempting to murder her at her Blake Street apartment in Lewiston.
The trial started Tuesday in Androscoggin County Superior Court.
One of Cruthirds’ attorneys, Peter Richard Jr., of Portland, said when Swift was attacked in her apartment, Cruthirds wasn’t there. He also said when Cruthirds was interviewed by police, he became agitated by the accusation that he harmed Swift and said, “’I didn’t do this. I wasn’t there. You have the wrong guy.’”
In his opening statement, Richard said Cruthirds was seen at a Lisbon Street nightclub very close to the time of the attack. He also asserted that much of the state’s evidence will be called into question, including the credibility of Swift and her friend Karie Lessard, who was a witness to the attack.
Cruthirds, 27, grew up in Mississippi and had recently moved to Lewiston when Swift was attacked. He was living at 260 Park St. He and Swift met in October 2011, when Cruthirds was 25 and Swift, 21, and developed a sexual relationship.
According to police affidavits filed after Cruthirds was arrested, he was angry with her for talking by phone with her husband, who was in prison, and also because he found out she was talking to an ex-boyfriend online.
In making the state’s case, Matulis said Cruthirds acted in anger by breaking into her first-floor apartment at 174 Blake St. and yelling at Swift, stabbing her in the hands, arm, chest, face and the top of her head.
He “plunged that knife into Naomi again, and again and again,” Matulis said.
On the day Swift was attacked, Cruthirds was out of jail on bail on a charge of domestic violence assault against Swift, who said that on Nov. 30 he punched her several times in the face. One of his bail conditions was that he have no contact with her. The defense team acknowledged he violated the no-contact condition to have sex with Swift, but not on the night she was attacked.
On Dec.10, 2011, Lewiston police were called to Swift’s apartment just before 9 p.m. on a complaint of a bail violation.
When patrol officer Brian Beauparlant arrived at the apartment building, he found a trail of blood starting just outside Swift’s apartment and leading up the stairs, according to Matulis. He followed the trail to the fourth floor and found Swift on the floor in the hallway, hysterical and screaming, her clothes saturated with blood. When the officer asked Swift who harmed her, “she said Cleveland Cruthirds,” according to Matulis.
Beauparlant reiterated those details when he testified later in the morning.
Lewiston Sgt. Randy St. Laurent was the second officer at the scene and he testified that the wounds were so extensive “we didn’t know what to do. Where to apply pressure.”
As the officers waited for an ambulance to arrive, St. Laurent said Swift was screaming that she “didn’t want to die,” and the officers watched her skin turn white and then gray before EMTs arrived.
“I believed she was going to expire,” St. Laurent said.
A friend of Swift’s is prepared to testify that she saw Cruthirds coming into Swift’s apartment and holding a 13-inch knife over her. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after seeing her father stabbed to death, and ran from the apartment before Swift was injured.
According to Matulis, when Swift’s attacker started banging on her door, she called 911 and the entire attack was recorded.
That 911 tape will be played for the jury of 11 women and four men. On the tape, Swift is heard crying for help and screaming at her attacker, then spelling out Cruthirds’ name loud enough for the dispatcher to hear.
Matulis said Swift has limited memory of the entire attack, but remembers Cruthirds holding the knife, curling up to protect herself, and being aware of the first cuts.
Swift spent six days at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston for treatment of her injuries. She has permanent nerve damage and is deaf in one ear where she was stabbed.
According to Matulis, Cruthirds was arrested on Horton Street several hours after the attack. During his videotaped police interview, Cruthirds told Detective Lee Jones he hadn’t seen Swift in more than a week, and was abiding by his bail conditions. When asked about a cut on his hand, Cruthirds said it was an old cut.
Shortly after, Jones left the room but the videotaping continued. On that tape, Cruthirds can be seen licking the cut, then taking a ring out of his pocket and licking the ring.
When Jones returned to the room, he took the ring from Cruthirds, noticed red spots on it and asked Cruthirds to disrobe. When he did, Jones noticed more red spots on the inside of his elbow and the inside of his jeans. The spots, Matulis said, were “consistent with blood.”
That evidence was tested and found to be Swift’s blood.
The jury will be shown that police videotape during the state’s presentation, a case that Matulis said would be loaded with forensic evidence.
According to Richard, the science will be an important part of the defense, because the police were never able to recover any physical evidence that Cruthirds was in Swift’s apartment that night. No hair, no footprints, no DNA, no blood, he said.
“You’re going to see a number of inconsistencies throughout this trial,” he said, that will call the state’s evidence into question.
He also suggested that the jury will question Swift’s credibility and that of her friend Lessard, and the “reasons they may have to lie or fabricate their statements.”
And, Richard said, jurors will also hear that the Lewiston Police Department destroyed some physical evidence, including unknown and untested blood samples.
“DNA was found on (Swift’s) shirt, but it wasn’t Cleveland’s,” he said, suggesting an unidentified attacker is responsible for Swift’s injuries.
In closing his remarks to the jury, Richard asked them not to consider race in reaching their verdict. Swift is white and Cruthirds is black.
Richard noted that Cruthirds had an economically disadvantaged upbringing in Mississippi, and a hard life for a young black man. Turning toward Cruthirds, Richard described him as having below average intelligence and then apologized directly to him for saying that aloud.
Cruthirds was evaluated and was found mentally competent to stand trial.
Richard and co-counsel John Paul DeGrinney are the third defense team to represent Cruthirds; his previous attorneys each withdrew from the case. Richard and DeGrinney were appointed last November.
The state’s presentation will continue through the week, including testimony from Swift and Lessard. The defense case is expected to last well into next week.