AUBURN, Maine — Cleveland Cruthirds was convicted Tuesday of felony elevated aggravated assault in the stabbing of his former girlfriend, Naomi Swift.
Cruthirds, 27, of Lewiston was also convicted of burglary and violation of bail conditions for breaking into Swift’s apartment at 174 Blake St. in Lewiston, but was acquitted of the most serious charge of attempted murder.
On the seventh day of the trial, the jury of nine women and three men deliberated for just under three hours to reach their decisions in Androscoggin County Superior Court. They were instructed to disregard charges of aggravated attempted murder and aggravated assault.
Swift was stabbed 21 times on Dec. 10, 2011; Cruthirds, who has no prior criminal history, was arrested hours later on Horton Street.
Swift, 23, was in the courtroom when the verdicts were read, and smiled as a court officer put handcuffs on Cruthirds. After the jury was dismissed, she thanked Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis for his work in the case, shaking his hand.
Defense attorney John Paul DeGrinney said he would appeal the verdict, based on the Lewiston Police Department’s flawed investigation, including what Active-Retired Justice Robert Clifford called the “negligent act” of the department losing alibi witness statements.
After court recessed, DeGrinney said, “We are undaunted by the turn of events” because the state originally demanded that Cruthirds plead guilty to the attempted murder charge, but Cruthirds wanted to fight the charge. “Which,” DeGrinney said, “we did. We fought for him and he was found not guilty of attempted murder.”
During his closing remarks to the jury, Matulis said he thought it was “truly amazing that (Swift) was able to come in here and testify” as she did Monday. She suffered “21 stab wounds and she lived,” he said, and “she was able to come in here and tell us the man who stabbed her was sitting right there.”
Matulis acknowledged “the Lewiston Police Department made some huge mistakes in this case. There’s no doubt about that,” he said, including not collecting blood evidence from Swift’s bedroom where the attack occurred, not collecting or testing bloody bedding, throwing away Swift’s blood-stained clothes and losing three witness statements that may have placed a cleanly-dressed Cruthirds at Club VYBZ at 347 Lisbon St. just minutes after the attack.
But, he encouraged the jury to take all of the eyewitness evidence that was presented in context, including the E-911 tape of Swift identifying Cruthirds as her attacker, screaming out at him to leave and then screaming in pain as she was being stabbed.
“You can hear her spelling his name prior to him stabbing her,” Matulis said, and when she used his first name to tell him he wasn’t supposed to be in her apartment, “he responds to it.”
Matulis also reminded the jury that Swift’s friend Karie Lessard was an eyewitness to the attack and that, although she was unsure of a statement she made to police on the night of the stabbing, she identified Cruthirds as the attacker from the witness stand.
He asked the jury to not put too much weight on the fact that Lewiston police were not able to find Cruthirds’ discarded clothes on the night of the attack, saying “there are thousands of places to hide stuff in the town of Lewiston” between Swift’s apartment and the Lisbon Street nightclub where he was later seen.
“This idea that they could not find the shirt (Cruthirds was wearing) or the knife should not be a surprise to you,” he said, because Cruthirds was familiar with the city and likely traveled the alleys between Blake Street and the nightclub.
And he suggested, the defense argument that blood found on Cruthirds’ ring was Swift’s menstrual blood lodged in its crevices while the couple had sex in the days before the attack was not likely. He suggested that the drops of blood landed on the ring during the stabbing and that “the defendant picked up his ring off of the nightstand after he stabbed her. That makes more sense.”
And finally, he said, the jury should also not weigh too heavily the discovery of two different male DNA chromosomes found on Swift’s bloody shirt on a spot near where she was stabbed. “You know she lived a rough life,” he said of Swift, “and had other sexual partners.”
Matulis argued that Cruthirds stabbed Swift in a fit of jealousy, striking her head, face, neck and right arm as she was trying to protect herself.
“This is a mutilation case. That’s what this is about,” he said, and Cruthirds’ motivation in stabbing Swift so many times was because “if he couldn’t have her, no one would.”
As he wrapped up his closing statement, Matulis played the first portion of the 911 tape and asked jurors to close their eyes and count how many times Swift identified Cruthirds to the dispatcher. It was more than a half-dozen times, repeating his first and last name multiple times and then spelling the last name at least twice.
The jury began its deliberations at 2:30 p.m. and after two hours asked for the portion of the 911 tape where Swift identifies Cruthirds to be replayed.
In his closing statement arguing to acquit Cruthirds, defense attorney Peter Richard Jr. said “there are so many doubts in this case” because of incomplete police records and failure to test evidence that the jury could not reasonably decide guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
He focused on the work of Lewiston Detective Lee Jones, saying that Jones quickly focused on Cruthirds as the only possible suspect and ignored other evidence that might have proved his innocence.
“We saw so many flaws in this investigation” that it was “painful to listen” to Jones’s testimony, Richard said.
Although Swift’s shirt was collected from the hospital after the attack, it was not tested until the defense requested the testing last month, more than 18 months after the attack. Jones didn’t respond to repeated emails from a police evidence manager asking whether to preserve evidence which was later destroyed, he did not know how many or where officers searched for the weapon, did not ask that swabs of blood taken from the scene be tested and did not take fingerprints or footprint castings at the scene. And, Richard said, Jones took pictures to document the crime scene but never examined the photos in detail.
“When was the first time the detective looked at those pictures? While he was on the stand,” Richard said, forcing the detective to develop a theory of the case in the courtroom and “on the fly.”
“I have trouble with the audacity in this case” shown by police, and the “failed follow-up of evidence” that could have revealed another suspect, Richard said. He called that “appalling.”
He questioned Matulis’ assertion that Cruthirds picked up the bloody ring after the stabbing and put it in his pocket because no blood was found on Cruthirds’ hand or in or around the pocket of his pants.
Richard also questioned how Cruthirds could have gotten Swift’s blood on the inside of his arm without also getting blood on his shirt or jacket. And he attacked Lessard’s witness statement, saying, “She gave a version of events that is completely different than the events Naomi gave.”
Richard saved his harshest criticism for Swift, saying she lied about where the stabbing took place and who was responsible, and asked the jury to consider why Swift would lie about Cruthirds’ involvement. Because, he said, the lack of Cruthirds’ blood found on a knife, on her clothes or at her apartment proves that the crime “didn’t happen the way she said.” And, because police never tested any blood evidence at the scene, there’s no way to know who may have committed the crime.
“She lied. She sat on the stand. She looked many of you in the eye and she told a bold-faced lie,” Richard said.
“She testified about stuff she really didn’t remember,” he said, and “testified she would say anything” to convict Cruthirds.
“I don’t believe a word that comes out of her mouth,” he said, and “that’s important when assessing her credibility.”
“Do you believe the forensic evidence or do you believe the eyewitness testimony of someone who lied to you?” he asked the jurors.
After the verdict was read, DeGrinney asked the court to poll the jury, and each juror confirmed the verdicts.
The aggravated assault charge was elevated because it involved the use of a dangerous weapon and the attack was intended to cause serious injury.
Cruthirds’ sentencing may be scheduled as soon as next week. He faces up to 30 years in prison on the elevated aggravated assault charge, and 10½ years on the remaining charges.