Trial starts against Durham man accused of abuse


Thomas Wentworth, left, talks with his attorney, Justin Leary, as they wait for Wentworth’s trial to start in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn on Monday morning. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — The trial of a Durham man charged with abusing a tenant and sexually assaulting his dog got underway Monday.

Thomas Wentworth, 55, is facing charges of domestic violence assault and domestic violence terrorizing, both Class C felonies, each punishable by up to five years in prison. He also is charged with misdemeanor cruelty to animals, punishable by up to 364 days in jail.

Crystal Mata told authorities that she rented a small home from Wentworth on Pinkham Brook Road in Durham from June 2016 through the end of the year. While she was living there with her 15-year-old daughter, Mariela, Wentworth pushed her, causing her to fall, Assistant District Attorney Claire Andrews told the jury of 10 men and five women in Androscoggin County Superior Court.

The assault charge is not so much about injury as it is “about control,” Andrews said. She defined the term “assault” for the jurors as “physical injury or offensive physical contact.”

Wentworth also made statements to Mata that put her in fear of her life, Andrews said, defining domestic violence terrorizing as a threat to commit a crime of violence that may be dangerous to one’s life.

Mata witnessed Wentworth engaged in bestiality, a sexual act with an animal, Andrews said, when Wentworth sexually assaulted his “sweet dog named Sissy,” a black Labrador retriever.

Andrews planned to call as witnesses Mata, her daughter Mariela and Wentworth’s father to testify against Wentworth, Andrews said during opening statements at the trial.

“You’ll have to determine the credibility of these witnesses,” she said. “You’ll find that in determining credibility of people you speak to, you do that everyday of your life. And this is no different, no different at all.”

Andrews characterized Mata as a hardworking, underpaid mother doing the best she could in her hardscrabble life while living on Wentworth’s property for much of 2016 and engaging in sex with him for part of that time.

She said the jury must convict Wentworth of the three criminal charges against him if jurors believe they are “almost certainly true” based on the evidence, including testimony and exhibits, presented at his trial.

Justin Leary, Wentworth’s attorney, said Monday his client must remain innocent in the eyes of the jury unless or until proven guilty by Andrews beyond a reasonable doubt.

Leary urged jurors to bear in mind that “actions speak louder than words” as they consider the actions Mata took after Wentworth’s alleged criminal acts took place.

Leary presented to the jury the portrait of a man who fathered three children and operated his own tree service as a charitable person who offered a place to stay on his homestead to someone who, at the time, had few options in her life.

Leary said that Mata claimed to have seen a profoundly disturbing act involving a pet, yet couldn’t recall the date it happened. Similarly, she could name the date Wentworth allegedly had threatened to kill her.

Even after both incidents allegedly occurred, Mata didn’t move out, Leary said. And she continued to have a relationship with Wentworth. She even allowed her 15-year-old daughter to stay alone at night on Wentworth’s property. And it wasn’t until sometime later that Mata voiced her allegations against Wentworth, Leary said.

He urged the jury Monday to compare consistencies of the statements of Mata and Wentworth. When considering Mata’s credibility, Leary said keep in mind she had a felony charge pending against her and hadn’t disclosed to authorities her residence.

The trial is expected to wrap up Tuesday.

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Thomas Wentworth waits for his trial to start in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn Monday morning. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Thomas Wentworth, left, talks with his lawyer, Justin Leary as they wait for Wentworth’s trial to start in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn Monday morning. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)