AUBURN — During his third day on the witness stand, Nathan Morton said murder defendant William True had told him he punched and kicked Romeo Parent at the time he was killed.
Nathan Morton, 25, of Greene testified at True’s jury trial Monday that he drove True, 21, of Lewiston, Michael McNaughton, 27, of Lewiston and then-20-year-old Parent to a wooded area in Greene the night of April 9, 2013. True and McNaughton led Parent down a path where McNaughton stabbed him with a screwdriver and strangled him to death, Morton said.
Morton told Maine State Police on June 30 that True had been at the scene of Parent’s slaying and had participated by assaulting the victim. Shortly after that interview, True was charged with murder in Parent’s killing.
A week later, McNaughton’s murder trial in that case was underway. He was convicted by a jury three weeks later.
Prosecutors are hoping Morton’s testimony placing True at the crime scene that night, coupled with supporting testimony from others who provide circumstantial evidence, will be enough to persuade the jury of True’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
But defense attorney James Howaniec spent most of the day Friday and most of Monday morning cross-examining Morton. He got Morton to admit that he lied repeatedly to police during most of his nine interviews, right up until his final round of questioning that happened five days after he signed an agreement with prosecutors. That agreement secured his court testimony in exchange for a dismissed murder charge and a 20-year-sentence, with half of that time suspended on charges of conspiracy to commit murder and hindering apprehension or prosecution.
For more than a year after Parent was killed, Morton had denied True’s involvement in Parent’s killing. He hadn’t shared that information with his friends, either. Morton had told police on several occasions that True had been involved only in helping to move Parent’s body from the Greene crime scene to Jug Stream in Monmouth, where authorities recovered Parent’s body, which had been stripped and bound.
Morton said Monday in Androscoggin County Superior Court that he didn’t think he had to tell the truth about what happened to Parent until he had signed an agreement with prosecutors on June 25. Until that time, Morton said he had lied, made up information and provided police with partial facts. If he were to lie in court, however, his agreement with prosecutors would be nullified, he said.
Howaniec used a transcript of Morton’s testimony from McNaughton’s trial to try to trip up the state’s star witness Monday.
At that trial, Morton had been asked about when he arrived at South Mountain Road in Greene at the entrance to the path that led into the woods. He said his Volkswagen Passat sedan became bogged down in mud and had to be pushed out. He testified at the July trial that McNaughton and Parent had pushed him out. He didn’t include True. On Monday, Morton said True also had helped to push his stuck car.
“I misspoke then,” Morton said of his earlier testimony.
Morton gave two reasons for keeping mum about True’s involvement in the murder. He said he had been good friends with True’s girlfriend, Felicia Cadman, and didn’t want to see her boyfriend go to prison. Morton also had a crush on McNaughton, who instructed Morton to keep quiet about True’s involvement so that “Mike could blame it all on Will, and Mike would get off.” McNaughton didn’t share with Morton how he planned to do that, Morton said Monday.
Asked why Morton eventually implicated True, Morton answered simply: “Because he was there.”
The prosecutor on Monday also called to the witness stand Katie Mae Brown of Auburn, who said McNaughton and Morton had been at her Lewiston apartment earlier in the the day that Parent was killed, talking about the need for Parent to be beaten because he had “snitched” on True a week before after the two had burglarized an apartment.
McNaughton showed Brown a screwdriver he nicknamed “Pokie” and demonstrated three ways to kill a person with it. She identified the screwdriver found at the crime scene that police said was used to stab Parent at the base of his skull at the time he was killed. She also said she overheard Morton talking to a mutual friend about Parent’s slaying and heard him include True’s name.
Diana Jack testified that she had run into Parent on the street in Auburn as he was headed to her boyfriend’s apartment. She joined him and they had walked to Denny’s restaurant together, she said. She and Parent had been “really good” friends and had gone to the same school, she said. She also had been friends with True, she said.
Parent had planned to move into the apartment with Jack and her boyfriend, Eric Leighton, she said.
When they were at Denny’s, they saw Lynda Gagnon, who was in a car. She told them to go to the CVS that was across the street. Shortly after they arrived at CVS, NcNaughton and Morton showed up in his car, she said. Parent told Jack he had to do something and would meet her later at Leighton’s apartment, she said.
When she got back to Leighton’s apartment, which was one block from CVS, True was there. He said he was supposed to go with Morton and McNaughton. Jack told him that Parent had left with them. True then left the apartment, she said.
The next morning, Jack said True was at Leighton’s apartment. He looked like “he’d been up all night,” she said. True asked for two trash bags, Jack said. Authorities would later recover trash bags with Parent’s body.
After True left, Jack said she told Leighton he needed to call the police. She said True was arrested when he came back to the apartment again.
Gagnon testified Monday that Morton had told her he’d been seeking Parent on April 9, 2013, the day he was killed. When she ran into Parent and Jack at Denny’s, she called Morton to tell him she’d found Parent. She told Parent to wait for Morton. He and McNaughton asked Parent to get into Morton’s car at CVS, Gagnon said. Parent told her he loved her and said he’d see her later. She never saw him again, she said.
Morton testified that he and McNaughton had lured Parent to go with them to Greene under the ruse that they would steal drugs there.
Morton called Gagnon later that night to tell her that Parent had gotten out of his car in Lisbon because he was angry. She testified that that wasn’t the kind of thing Parent would do.