AUBURN — A jury Wednesday found William True, 21, of Lewiston guilty of the murder of 20-year-old Romeo Parent.
The verdict, reached by a jury of nine men and three women in Androscoggin County Superior Court after five and a half hours of deliberation, followed nine days of testimony that included nearly two dozen prosecution witnesses offering testimony against True.
The jury also found True guilty of hindering apprehension or prosecution but not guilty of conspiracy to commit murder.
A murder conviction is punishable by 25 years to life in prison.
No sentencing date was set.
True’s head was bowed as the court clerk asked for verdicts of the jury forewoman, who stood as she answered.
Afterward, True’s attorney, James Howaniec, put a hand on his client’s back. True’s parents looked on from the back of the courtroom, along with his aunt.
Assistant Attorney General Deborah Cashman said she wasn’t surprised by the jury’s ruling.
“I think based on the facts that were represented in this case, this verdict makes a lot of sense,” she said.
Although the jury concluded that True hadn’t conspired to murder Parent, “they found he participated in the death of Romeo Parent,” Cashman said.
Two hours before announcing its verdicts in the courtroom, the jury had sent a note to the trial judge seeking guidance regarding the conspiracy charge and was told that it was related to the crime of intentional murder.
At closing arguments on Monday, the defense had all but conceded that the state had proved True had been at the scene of the disposal of Parent’s body the day after he was killed. That’s the action that triggered the hindering charge.
But, the defense argued the state had failed to prove True had been at the crime scene when Parent was killed and had, in fact, reacted a day later to the news of his death with surprise and sadness.
The jury reached a different conclusion.
“The jury had clearly put the thought and effort it needed into its deliberations, sorting through all of the testimony and more than 100 exhibits,” Cashman said. The jurors “paid attention, took their time and went through the evidence and they applied it as they saw it was appropriate.”
Howaniec said Wednesday he believes his client was not at the crime scene on the night Parent was killed.
“We fought very hard for him,” Howaniec said. “We continue to believe very strongly in his innocence.”
He said that he and co-counsel Richard Charest plan to pursue all avenues of post-conviction efforts to vacate the conviction.
“At some point the real truth in this case will come out,” he said, when evidence that hasn’t been discovered comes to light.
Howaniec said he is seeking to reconcile the jury’s acquittal on the conspiracy charge with True’s murder conviction. Judging by its verdict, the jury appeared to think that True wasn’t aware there was a plot afoot to kill Parent but, at some point, intended to kill Parent or helped murder him, Howaniec said.
Prosecutors told the jury that True was one of three men who went with the victim to Greene on the night of April 9, 2013. True and Michael McNaughton, 27, of Lewiston lured Parent down a path on a dead-end dirt road on the promise of burglarizing a camp for drugs.
Once in the woods, Parent was beaten, stabbed with a screwdriver at the base of the skull and fatally strangled with a homemade garrote fashioned from a bicycle wire and wooden dowels.
The next day, Morton drove True and McNaughton back to the crime scene where True and McNaughton stripped Parent’s body, bound his wrists and ankles and stuffed his body in the trunk of Morton’s 2007 black Volkswagen Passat, prosecutors said. He drove to Jug Stream in Monmouth, where True and McNaughton dumped Parent’s body in the stream near a dam.
Less than a week before Parent’s murder, he and True had committed a burglary together. Parent had told police about True’s involvement. Police arrested True and put him in jail over the weekend of April 6 and 7, 2013, while Parent remained free.
Parent was branded a “snitch” and the rumor circulated that “snitches need stitches.” A short time after True was released, Parent was dead.
Eric Leighton testified at trial that on April 10, 2013, True told him he had killed Parent and threatened Leighton not to tell anyone or he would be killed. Leighton said he gave True two garbage bags. A forensics specialist testified that a garbage bag recovered with Parent’s body came from the same package as those found in Leighton’s apartment.
A small drop of Parent’s blood was found on a pant leg of True’s jeans, scientists from the Maine State Police Crime Lab testified at trial.
For two and a half days, Nathan Morton, 25, of Greene testified at trial that he was the driver of the car that took True, McNaughton and Parent to the crime scene at about 8:30 p.m. on April 9, 2013. He said True went into the woods with McNaughton and Parent that night. At one point, Morton walked down the path and saw Parent’s dead body and said True was at the site.
Some witnesses testified that they had been asked to provide an alibi for True’s whereabouts at the time Parent was killed.
True did not testify at his trial. The defense called no witnesses.
During its deliberations, the jury asked that recordings of two 911 calls be played back in the courtroom. They listened to Leighton repeatedly tell a dispatcher that True had told him he killed Parent. The second call from Leighton was a plea for help when True had returned to Leighton’s James Street apartment building on the night of April 10, 2013, and tried to enter it.
Leighton whispered to police that True had threatened him earlier that day and that he was in hiding, his lights turned off. Police found True hiding on the roof of Leighton’s apartment building and arrested him.
At trial, a recording of True calling his girlfriend from Androscoggin County Jail opened with True saying, “Eric’s a snitch.”
Howaniec sought to impeach Morton’s testimony, pointing out inconsistencies in statements he made to police over the course of nine interviews as well as two earlier court proceedings. Morton had admitted lying to police repeatedly about events surrounding Parent’s murder, including True’s involvement. He implicated True in the murder more than a year after it happened and shortly before McNaughton’s July murder trial, at which time True had been scheduled to go to trial only on the hindering charge.
McNaughton was convicted by a jury after a three-week trial.
Howaniec sought to cast McNaughton as the lone killer, a psychopath with a penchant for weaponry.
Morton, who had been charged with murder, reached a plea agreement with prosecutors who dropped the murder charge in exchange for his guilty pleas to conspiracy to commit murder and hindering apprehension or prosecution. He was given a 20-year sentence, of which 10 years was suspended after agreeing to testify truthfully at court proceedings.
True’s girlfriend, Felicia Cadman, 21, of Mechanic Falls was arraigned in July on one count of hindering apprehension or prosecution in Parent’s death, a charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Sebastian Moody, 23, pleaded guilty to a charge of falsifying evidence in this case and was sentenced to 107 days, time he had already served in jail.