Published Date Written by Marge Niblock
The remainder of Portland Police Det. Scott Dunham's videotaped interview with Eric Gwaro began the third day of Gwaro's trial in the beating of Sherri York, an incident on Aug. 30, 2012, which left York brain damaged.
The final witness of the day in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court was Gwaro's wife, Jennifer McDonnell, who said that she had called him around 2 a.m. on the morning of the incident because he had not returned home yet. She said it was clear he was intoxicated when she spoke to him.
"What he was saying made it clear to me he was incoherent," McDonnell testified in court, as her husband faced attempted murder and related charges.
McDonnell said his problem was "he didn't know when to stop drinking." She referred to Gwaro as more of a binge drinker.
She said sometimes he'd come home drunk but in the eight years they'd been together he had never been violent. McDonnell said she'd seen the video of her husband's interview and she noticed "signs of intoxication."
Dunham said his interview with Gwaro began at 4:30 a.m., about an hour and a half after the incident.
Officer Victor Cote, an evidence technician with the Portland Police Department, was called to the stand Thursday and was questioned regarding his involvement in the matter. On that early morning nearly a year ago, Cote said he was called at home at 3 a.m. and asked to come to the Big Apple gas station at Cumberland and Washington avenues.
Yellow barrier crime-scene tape was placed around various areas nearby. Cote said he collected two black flip-flops in the parking lot of the convenience store and photographed what appeared to be blood drops on the pavement. All stain marks in the area were photographed and evidence was collected for DNA analysis, which would be sent to the Maine State Police Crime Lab.
Cote said he took samples with swabs and also took photos of Gwaro, his clothing and appearance from that evening, and any injuries he might have sustained. The items taken included jeans, shirts, a T-shirt being worn under another shirt, sneakers, socks, shorts and a wristwatch.
Cote testified that the toe of the right sneaker appeared to have significant blood staining.
He went to the hospital and photographed York in the Special Care Unit and also photographed her clothing from that evening. Photos were also taken of the interior and exterior of Gwaro's vehicle.
Cote stated that Gwaro's cell phone hadn't been located, but it was then found on the ground in the backyard of 12 Montgomery Street.
Joseph Thornton — a licensed private investigator used by attorney Daniel Lilley, in that field for 38 years — offered evidence as well. He said he has worked for Lilley and has also been a personal friend for that same amount of time.
He went to the apartment at 9 Montgomery Street to take photographs of the view from three rooms facing Cumberland Avenue. (He mistakenly referred to a third-floor apartment, which in fact was a fourth-floor apartment.) Thornton testified that trial witnesses Megan Lichterman and Ryan Townsend (who are now married) refused to speak to him because they didn't want to help him or his client. They wanted Gwaro "to go away for a long time," according to his testimony. He characterized Lichterman as "impolite" and "adamant."
When asked whether Clifford Hethcoat had spoken to him, Thornton replied that he had but he said Hethcoat was reluctant to talk. There was some discrepancy in what Hethcoat testified to in court and what he told Thornton.
Hethcoat had testified under oath that he saw Gwaro punching and stomping a woman who was yelling, "Somebody help me! He's going to kill me!" Hethcoat said the man was punching and stomping her chest and face. He said he had gone outside the apartment and saw Gwaro at the tree line near Peppermint Park and said to him, "What the f--- did you do?" He said the man replied, "Where'd he go?"
Thornton was questioned on Thursday as to what Hethcoat said to the investigator. When Thornton had asked the witness if he'd observed any kicking, Thornton said, "No," testifying that Hethcoat told Thornton somebody was being punched by a dark-skinned person.
Thornton was then asked whether Hethcoat had ever used the word "stomp," and he said, "He did not."
When Officer Daniel Hondo was called to testify he said that he knew York by name and by face but when he saw her that night in an alleyway with Officer Jacob Titcomb, her face was unrecognizable and he did not know it was York he was seeing.
In a strange interchange that seemed to pop up out of nowhere, attorney Lilley presented a motion to ask the court why the state had stricken a particular juror. He said, "She was a black woman." He wanted to know the basis for her exclusion.
Deputy District Attorney Meg Elam seemed to be taken aback by the motion, and said, "If he had asked me, I would have told him." She then stated that she perceived the woman to be Asian and that the reason for her exclusion was she had a criminal history, including terroristic threats and driving after revocation of her license.
Then Lilley said, "The only reason we have a trial is because the state has overcharged Eric Gwaro," and he moved for a judgment of acquittal on the charges of attempted murder and elevated aggravated assault. Judge Joyce Wheeler was taking these issues under advisement and was expected to rule on them Friday morning.