PORTLAND, Maine — A Scarborough man found guilty of beating a woman so severely she suffered what prosecutors described as permanent injuries was sentenced Monday to serve eight years behind bars.
Cumberland County Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler sentenced Eric M. Gwaro, 29, to 20 years in prison, with all but eight years suspended, for one count of Class A elevated aggravated assault.
She also imposed concurrent sentences of eight years for a Class B aggravated assault charge and six months for a Class E violation of bail conditions charge, and ordered him to pay 26-year-old victim Sherri York $5,632.29 in restitution.
Gwaro additionally was ordered to perform 100 hours of court-approved community service with people battling disabilities. He will face four years of probation upon his release from prison.
During the approximately one-week trial in July, defense attorneys Daniel Lilley and Tina Nadeau did not dispute the fact that Gwaro repeatedly hit York on the night in question — Aug. 30, 2012 — but they argued about the extent of the assault and his intentions at the time.
The jury agreed with the defense attorneys to a point, acquitting Gwaro, a former part-time Scarborough firefighter, on the most severe charge, Class A attempted murder.
The attack left York unable to communicate for nearly a month afterward, and she spent nine months in hospitals and rehabilitation centers relearning how to walk, feed and dress herself, prosecutors said.
The timeline seemingly accepted by attorneys for both sides in the case involved Gwaro leaving his job as a Cape Elizabeth bartender on the night of the crime, visiting several Portland-area bars for drinks and then attempting to pick up York outside the Big Apple convenience store at the corner of Washington and Cumberland avenues.
York allegedly offered to have sex with Gwaro for money, but defense attorneys argued that he refused, then became “enraged” when she stole cash from the center console of his vehicle and fled while stopped at a red light.
Gwaro, who is married with two children, suggested on the witness stand during the trial that he’d never previously met York, but found her attractive and hoped she’d join him for drinks and potentially a romantic encounter.
He said he circled the city in his vehicle looking for York after she ran away with his money and eventually found her near the Big Apple where he first met her. There, Gwaro admitted to grabbing the back of her collar and dragging her out of the convenience store parking lot — an action shown to the jury in convenience store surveillance video footage — and then hitting her with his hands approximately three times.
That’s where defense and prosecution accounts of the night diverge dramatically. Cumberland County Deputy District Attorney Megan Elam contended during the trial that Gwaro followed up the initial strikes by kicking and stomping on York’s head while she was unconscious on the ground, then carried her to a nearby Montgomery Street alley and dumped the nearly lifeless body.
Lilley and Nadeau countered that Gwaro was suffering from periodic blackouts on the night in question because of his heavy drinking, and didn’t remember what transpired after the first three strikes. Gwaro said from the witness stand he couldn’t have kicked or stomped on York’s head during the time of memory loss because “that’s not the person that I know that I am.”
Gwaro said the next thing he remembered after hitting York with his hands was running from police several minutes later.