AUBURN — Eric Leighton testified Wednesday that murder defendant William True told Leighton he killed their mutual friend, and that he would kill Leighton if he told anyone.
Leighton, 19, was living in an apartment on James Street on April 10, 2013, the day after Romeo Parent had been killed in a wooded area in Greene. The 20-year-old Lewiston man had been punched, stabbed and strangled to death, prosecutors said.
Leighton was the only witness to take the stand in Androscoggin County Superior Court on the sixth day of the murder trial of True, 21, of Lewiston. Leighton, who had been friends with Parent and True, said he was awakened by True around noon on April 10, 2013.
True had entered Leighton’s apartment though a second-floor kitchen window that he had reached by a fire escape, Leighton said. True asked Leighton for a duffel bag, but settled for a couple of industrial-size trash bags when Leighton said told him that was the closest thing he could find.
Leighton asked True what was happening because True appeared to be upset. Leighton said he asked the whereabouts of Parent, to whom Leighton had given door keys and had expected to spend the previous night at his apartment but never showed up.
True “grew more emotional and told me he killed Romeo,” Leighton said Wednesday.
Leighton asked True if he were serious.
“He told me to shut the f— up or he would kill me,” Leighton testified.
After True left Leighton’s apartment with the trash bags, Leighton shared True’s confession with two other residents of his apartment who had been in the living room and hadn’t overheard Leighton’s conversation with True in the kitchen. They advised Leighton to call police, which he did.
Jurors listened to that 911 call that Leighton made from a neighbor’s home in hopes that he would remain anonymous. But police told him they needed his name and he later was interviewed about True’s actions and words that day.
“I didn’t want to get involved but knew what I had to do,” Leighton said Wednesday.
Police would later match trash bags from Leighton’s apartment as belonging to the same batch as the two recovered along with Parent’s stripped and bound body at Jug Stream in Monmouth.
True returned to Leighton’s apartment around midnight and tried to enter through the window, but Leighton had locked it after True had threatened him, he said. True shouted Leighton’s name and tried the front door to the building, Leighton said. He called police to report True’s presence. Police came and arrested True on bail violations and took him to Androscoggin County Jail.
The jury listened to a recording of that police call Wednesday as well as a phone call made by True while in jail, in which he called Leighton a “snitch.”
Leighton said he was afraid of True and others involved in Parent’s death because the motive given for his killing was that he had informed to police on True a week earlier after Parent and True had burgled an apartment. Word on the street was that “snitches get stitches,” witnesses in the case said. Only True had gone to jail after Parent implicated him in the burglary.
Leighton testified Wednesday that he felt “freaked out and unsafe.”
He said he later went to a friend’s apartment in Lewiston to take drugs. At that apartment was Michael McNaughton, 27, of Lewiston, who told Leighton how “we” killed Parent, having used a screwdriver to stab him in the base of the skull and strangle him repeatedly with a homemade garrote. McNaughton circled the chair in which Leighton sat, touching his shoulders and neck as he described the slaying, Leighton said. McNaughton made the killing sound like a group effort, he said.
McNaughton was convicted of murder at a three-week jury trial in July.
McNaughton had found a business card from a Maine State Police detective that Leighton had in his pants pocket, he said Wednesday. The card was ripped up and thrown away and he was asked whether he was wearing a recording device, Leighton said.
When he finally escaped the apartment at a run, he met two local police officers at a teen drop-in center on Lisbon Street in Lewiston and was taken to the Lewiston police station to be interviewed about what he had just learned, he said.
Before Parent was killed, he had told Leighton that he and True had resolved their dispute, but True hadn’t signaled to Leighton a sense of reconciliation.
Defense attorney James Howaniec grilled Leighton during cross-examination, catching him in several lies to police. Howaniec also quizzed Leighton about his heavy drug use and what effect it had on his memory and feelings of paranoia.
Leighton said he had been abusing Suboxone, marijuana, a synthetic form of marijuana called Spice and, occasionally, morphine.
At the time of True’s confession, Leighton told Howaniec that he was “groggy” from the effects he continued to feel from the drugs he had consumed the night before.
Howaniec pointed to inconsistencies between Leighton’s testimony Wednesday during direct questioning by Assistant Attorney General Deborah Cashman and statements he made to police during interviews and during his testimony at McNaughton’s trial.
Leighton said Wednesday that True spoke in “hushed” tones at Leighton’s apartment, but told local police that True had yelled his confession. He contradicted his earlier testimony when describing the distance between his kitchen and living room, Howaniec noted.
When Leighton was assaulted on the train trestle bridge that spans the Androscoggin River several days later by one of McNaughton’s friends, he first told police he didn’t know the identity of his assailant.
That was a lie, he said Wednesday, later explaining that his assailant had told him he would be beaten again and again because he had talked to police.
He also told police he had been stabbed by another man, but admitted Wednesday that, too, had been a lie.
And he told police he had seen True in the area of his apartment the night before the trestle attack, but True had been in jail at that time.
Leighton told Howaniec that, unlike McNaughton, who had several scratches on his neck, face and arms after the night of April 9, 2013, True didn’t appear to have any defensive wounds. When recounting Parent’s killing, McNaughton never mentioned True by name, Leighton said. In fact, McNaughton had told him that “the evidence would end up saving Will” and that he had been the “front guy” for Parent’s murder. Leighton said he understood McNaughton to mean that he had been the one to kill Parent.
“Did he implicate Will True in the murder of Romeo Parent?” Howaniec asked.
“No,” Leighton said.