AUBURN, Maine — A member of the state’s top court is expected to rule within a week whether a Greene man charged with murder will be allowed bail.
Nathan Morton, 24, was charged in the April 9 slaying of Romeo Parent, 20, of Lewiston.
Police said Morton drove Parent and co-defendant Michael McNaughton, 26, of Lewiston to a remote wooded location in Greene where McNaughton stabbed Parent with a screwdriver and strangled him with a makeshift garrote, fashioned from wire and wood. Police said Morton also helped move Parent’s body to a Monmouth stream.
Morton has been held without bail in Androscoggin County Jail since his arrest last spring. A trial judge ruled against Morton after a bail hearing, but Morton appealed that decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Justice Ellen Gorman, sitting in Androscoggin County Superior Court, considered evidence and testimony from the hearing that had started earlier in the month and was continued Monday.
Assistant Attorney General Deborah Cashman sought to show that Morton might not appear in court for future appearances if released on bail because he had, before he was jailed, sent a text message to a friend talking about leaving town, getting gas money and a new name.
Cashman said Morton had compromised the judicial process already by trying to hide, destroy or move evidence in the case and by seeking to have others do the same.
Morton would pose a danger to the community, if released on bail, because he displayed a callous and cavalier attitude after having played a role in Parent’s murder and disposal of his body, Cashman said. He also continued to engage in illegal drug transactions.
Morton’s attorney, George Hess, countered that his client eventually cooperated with police, helping them recover the body and discover the scene of the slaying.
Hess said Morton’s drug use stemmed from a 2008 motor vehicle accident in which Morton was badly injured and was treated with pain medication. He has no drug convictions, Hess said.
If allowed to live with his parents, Morton would be supervised, would have no access to illegal drugs and would have no independent access to transportation.
Cashman had the last word, though, pointing out that Morton was apparently able to elude close observation by his parents while living at home during the time Parent was killed, having sneaked out of their home after having checked in at night.
In Maine, defendants charged with a crime have a right to bail. Maine law also says that if a judge finds probable cause to believe that the defendant committed a formerly capital offense, such as murder, it has the discretion to allow bail unless prosecutors show clear and convincing evidence that there’s a “substantial risk” that the defendant:
* Won’t appear in court or otherwise pose a risk to the judicial process;
* Pose a danger to someone else or to the community; or
* Will commit a new crime.
At Monday’s hearing, prosecutors sought to present evidence of at least one of the three risks.
Morton also faces charges of conspiracy to commit murder and hindering apprehension or prosecution.
Maine State Police Detective Randall Keaten was questioned on the witness stand Monday about interviews he conducted with Morton and others in April about their involvement in the Parent slaying as well as illegal drug transactions. Keaton also read from transcripts of text messages about the slaying and drug transactions taken from cellphone records.
Maine State Police Detective Michael Chavez testified that a cellphone software program established that Morton was in Greene near where Parent had been killed at the time of the slaying. Police said he drove Parent and McNaughton to the spot and sat in his car while McNaughton walked Parent into the woods under the guise of burglarizing a camp.
Monday’s hearing was a continuation of a hearing earlier in the month because Hess needed time to create transcripts of statements made by witnesses interviewed by Maine State Police detectives and available only on audiotape, he said.
Justice Gorman said Morton and others acting on his behalf should explore the possibility of having him meet with his doctor and be refitted for leg braces that his mother testified on Monday no longer fit Morton because he had lost weight while in jail.