PORTLAND — The state’s highest court heard arguments Tuesday in the case of a Lewiston man who was convicted of stabbing his former girlfriend nearly two dozen times.

Cleveland Cruthirds, 27, was found guilty last summer of elevated aggravated assault, burglary and violation of conditions of release. He was sentenced to 28 years in prison on the assault charge, with six years suspended. The two other sentences, five years and six months, respectively, were to be served at the same time as the assault charge.

Cruthirds is seeking a new trial, claiming more than five errors on the part of the trial judge.

But members of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court focused on only a few of those points of appeal and appeared most interested in Cruthirds’ argument that Androscoggin County Superior Court Active-Retired Justice Robert Clifford should have instructed the jury that it could infer that evidence destroyed by police was favorable to Cruthirds.

“There are two fairly troubling aspects to this case,” Chief Justice Leigh Saufley told Cruthirds’ attorney, Lauren Wille. Police failed to preserve witness statements and only disclosed their existence at the time of the trial. Police also destroyed all of victim Naomi Swift’s bloody clothing except a shirt she had worn at the time of the attack.

Saufley asked Wille whether the clothes destroyed by police might have contained evidence that would have pointed to Cruthirds’ innocence.

“I think there’s plenty in the record that would lead the court to believe that,” Wille said.

“What was apparent about the evidence that was destroyed that was exculpatory?” Justice Andrew Mead asked.

A Lewiston police detective said that often during stabbings, assailants will cut themselves, Wille said. The bloody clothing may have contained the true assailant’s blood, which would lead to his identity through DNA analysis, she said.

“That blood could have potentially exonerated the defendant,” she said.

“You said potentially; I’m looking for apparent,” Mead said.

When it was his turn, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis was asked about the clothing.

“Let’s get right at the destruction of evidence,” Saufley said. Police destroyed four articles of clothing that belonged to the victim, who was covered in blood from a “savage” attack, Saufley said.

“How is it possible in this day and age in law enforcement that anyone would have made the judgment that those items should have been destroyed without testing?” she asked.

Matulis said police had other evidence that pointed squarely at Cruthirds.

Mead said: “It just seems extraordinary that a couple of police can say, ‘Well, you know, the case is pretty strong. It’s our judgment call. Let’s just destroy this bio-evidence’ … Are we giving too much prerogative to the officers?”

Justice Ellen Gorman said police also were missing statements from bouncers at a bar where Cruthirds said he had been in an effort to establish an alibi.

“Is there a problem with the Lewiston Police Department?” Gorman said

Matulis said police made a “bad decision” to destroy the victim’s bloody clothing but said police had other DNA evidence, including the fact that Cruthirds had the victim’s blood on his hands, which he was trying to destroy by licking them during his initial interview with police.

“Flaws” within the city’s police evidence collection process have since been addressed, Matulis said.

Among the “numerous and significant errors” made in the Cruthirds case, Wille said, was Clifford’s ruling that the defense couldn’t name an alternative suspect while questioning witnesses at trial. Defense attorneys had sought to have the father of the victim’s child included as a proposed alternative suspect, Saufley said.

When questioned on that point by members of the court, Matulis said there has to be enough of a connection between the alternative suspect and the crime to raise reasonable doubt before another suspect can be named by the defense. Otherwise, jurors could be confused and misled.

Wille also argued before the court that Clifford shouldn’t have admitted at trial a witness’ statement to police in a video recording that she later recanted.

Wille said there were major inconsistencies between that witness’ statements and the victim’s recollections.

The attack took place at Swift’s apartment at 174 Blake St. Swift was stabbed in the head, neck, face and right arm.

She called 911 and named Cruthirds to a dispatcher, even spelling out his name.

A jury found Cruthirds not guilty of attempted murder.

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