AUBURN — A jury began deliberations in the murder trial of William True, 21, of Lewiston on Tuesday afternoon.
Nine men and three women were instructed on the law by Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy after Assistant Attorney General Deborah Cashman and defense attorney James Howaniec wrapped up their closing arguments in the morning.
Prosecutors had called nearly two dozen witnesses over nine days of testimony before resting their case Monday. True declined to take the witness stand in his own defense. Howaniec called no witnesses.
Cashman took an hour and a half to connect the dots of her witnesses’ testimony that tied together the state’s theory of the case.
She said True and two other men drove 20-year-old Romeo Parent of Lewiston to a secluded area in the woods of Greene on April 9, 2013, where True and another man beat, stabbed and strangled Parent.
The next day, True returned to the site to help strip and move Parent’s body to Jug Stream in Monmouth, where authorities later recovered his remains.
Whether True was the one who inflicted the lethal injury that night in Greene or was merely helping Michael McNaughton, 27, of Lewiston, True is still guilty of murder, Cashman said.
McNaughton was convicted of murdering Parent at a July jury trial that lasted three weeks.
True offered no alibi for his whereabouts at the time Parent was killed. Moreover, Parent’s blood was found on the pant leg of True’s jeans, Cashman reminded the jury.
The only motive offered in the case was that Parent had implicated True in a burglary a week earlier and True had spent the weekend in jail stewing about it before he was released. A short time later, Parent was dead.
Howaniec painted a different picture of events for the jury, accusing prosecutors of seeking to fit a “square peg into a round hole” in an effort to make the evidence fit their conclusions.
He pointed to the state’s “impressive” forensics “dog and pony show” that he said nevertheless fell short of proving True was at the crime scene when Parent was killed.
The state’s witness who placed True at the crime scene had lied repeatedly to police about True and other matters and was offered a “sweetheart deal” of 20 years with half of that time suspended if he agreed to testify at trial, Howaniec said.
Howaniec pointed the finger at McNaughton, a “psychopath,” as Parent’s real killer.
In addition to murder, which carries a sentence of 25 years to life, True was charged with conspiracy to commit murder, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and hindering apprehension or prosecution, a Class B crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Kennedy told jurors that they don’t need to conclude that True struck Parent’s fatal blow in order to find him guilty of murder. Under Maine law, he could be found guilty if he acted as an accomplice.
After mulling the case for a couple of hours Tuesday, jurors asked to hear played again in court the tapes of two 911 calls made by Eric Leighton, who testified that True had confessed to killing Parent the day after he was murdered. Leighton could be heard telling a dispatcher that True had killed a friend, then had taken from Leighton’s apartment trash bags that would later be found at the site where Parent’s body was recovered.
Leighton told the dispatcher several times that True had confessed to killing Parent and added that True threatened to kill Leighton if he didn’t keep quiet.
The second 911 call played back for the jury on Tuesday was Leighton’s call informing police that True had come back to his apartment that night to see him. Leighton had turned off the lights in his apartment and could be heard whispering into his phone in an effort to elude True. Police arrived during the call and arrested True on the roof of the James Street apartment building outside Leighton’s locked window.
Jurors are expected to resume deliberations Wednesday morning.