AUBURN, Maine — A Lewiston man was sentenced on Friday to 28 years in prison, with all but 22 suspended, plus four years of probation in the stabbing of his former girlfriend.
Cleveland Cruthirds was convicted last week of felony elevated aggravated assault for the stabbing of Naomi Swift, 23, in December 2011.
Cruthirds, 27, of Lewiston also was convicted of burglary and violation of bail conditions for breaking into Swift’s apartment at 174 Blake St. in Lewiston, but was acquitted on the most serious charge of attempted murder.
An attorney for Cruthirds promised to appeal both the conviction and sentence.
Androscoggin County Superior Court active retired Justice Robert Clifford called the stabbing a “very, very serious crime” that was committed in “brutal” fashion.
Facts, including that the victim was attacked in her home while a court order was in effect prohibiting Cruthirds from having contact with Swift, aggravated the scale of the crime, Clifford said.
Swift was hospitalized for nearly a week for her 21 stab wounds. She lost hearing in one ear and lost feeling in her face because of nerve damage. She said she experiences nightmares and flashbacks and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder since the attack.
Clifford said he also factored public safety into the sentence he imposed.
Swift began reading a statement to the judge, but couldn’t continue after a couple of minutes. A friend stood beside her and finished reading the three-page letter.
“I have a really hard time being around people or even going into a store … my oldest son, who was 2 at the time, had to see me with staples all through my body, black eyes, tubes in me, no hair. It traumatized him. He’s constantly worrying someone is going to hurt Mama again.”
Swift said she had met Cruthirds at a rough time in her life when she was drinking excessively. He had become controlling and wouldn’t allow her to spend time with anyone else. She rejected him and that’s what triggered the attack, she wrote.
Since then, she said she has stopped drinking, but lives in fear and in a constant state of anxiety.
“No one should ever have to go through something like this and I would really like to see him get as much time as possible. Someone who is capable of such a horrific crime shouldn’t be allowed on the streets,” she wrote.
Clifford said he took note of the number of stab wounds and, while the attack wasn’t premeditated, that it was a deliberate act and was not committed in a sudden moment of passion. Cruthirds walked to a drawer in the kitchen, removed a knife and stabbed Swift repeatedly, Clifford said.
Cruthirds tried to hide evidence by licking a wound and a ring that had traces of Swift’s blood on it.
In Cruthirds’ favor were some mitigating factors that included his lack of a criminal record. Clifford also noted Cruthirds’ relative youth and family support, as presented in letters from Cruthirds’ sisters and a grandmother. Growing up in Mississippi, he learned welding and has held jobs utilizing that skill.
Clifford said he believed efforts should be made to rehabilitate Cruthirds.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Matulis was seeking a 30-year sentence with all but 25 years suspended.
Defense attorney J.P. DeGrinney argued for a 10-year sentence with all but six years suspended.
He said the crime could have been carried out in a more heinous way, one in which children or elderly were victims and one that might have resulted in amputation or paralysis.
Matulis had characterized the stabbing as a mutilation intended to disfigure the victim; DeGrinney pointed out that Swift suffered only one cut on her face. If his client’s intention had been to disfigure Swift, he might have used acid as a more effective means.
DeGrinney also noted that the stab wounds were not so deep as to pierce organs, calling them “superficial,” and that Swift had not suffered a “major loss of blood.”
After a week of testimony, the Androscoggin County Superior Court jury reached its verdict in under three hours.
Swift was stabbed in the head, face, neck and right arm on Dec. 10, 2011; Cruthirds was arrested hours later on Horton Street.
DeGrinney said he would appeal the verdict based on the Lewiston Police Department’s flawed investigation, including what the trial judge called the “negligent act” of the department losing alibi witness statements.
“It’s a lengthy sentence,” DeGrinney said, promising an appeal of it as well.
The Police Department failed to collect blood evidence from Swift’s bedroom, where the attack occurred; didn’t collect or test bloody bedding; threw away Swift’s bloodstained clothes; and lost three witness statements that may have placed a cleanly dressed Cruthirds at Club VYBZ at 347 Lisbon St. just minutes after the attack.
But the evidence against Cruthirds included a tape of a 911 phone call made by Swift who identified Cruthirds as her attacker, screaming out at him to leave and then screaming in pain as she was being stabbed. She spelled his name for the dispatcher. A male voice can be heard in the background.
An eyewitness to the attack identified Cruthirds from the witness stand. And Swift’s blood was found on his ring.
The charge of elevated aggravated assault is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The remaining charges against Cruthirds totaled 10½ years at most.
Clifford also sentenced Cruthirds to five years for burglary and six months in jail for violation of bail conditions, both to be served at the same time as the assault sentence.