AUBURN — A Maine judge and former prosecutor said in court Wednesday that he didn’t remember gesturing or mouthing answers in view of jurors at the end of a murder trial in 2012.

Andrew Benson, a newly appointed judge at Maine District Court, was called as a witness in Androscoggin County Superior Court to testify about his demeanor during closing arguments at the trial of Buddy Robinson, 32, of Lewiston at which he served as lead prosecutor.

Robinson was convicted in the 2011 beating and drowning death of 22-year-old Christiana Fesmire, who lived downstairs from his Highland Avenue apartment. He was sentenced in October to a 55-year prison sentence.

The direct appeal of Robinson’s conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court is pending.

Robinson’s new attorney, Adam Sherman, filed a motion for a new trial claiming Benson prejudiced jurors during closing arguments at Robinson’s trial.

Under questioning by Deputy Attorney General William Stokes about accusations that Benson pointed at Robinson and mouthed, “He did (it,)” Benson answered: “I have no recollection of doing anything like that.”

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Jason Dionne, a Lewiston defense attorney, testified Wednesday morning that he was sitting near the back of the courtroom at the end of the trial when he saw Benson lean back in his chair near the front of the courtroom, gesture with a hand pointing at Robinson and mouth the words, “He did” or, “He did it.”

Dionne said Benson was answering a question posed rhetorically to the jury by defense attorney Edward “ Ted” Dilworth III. Dionne said Dilworth was asking which suspect would have known that the victim had been planning to attend a family reunion that was scheduled to occur shortly after she was killed.

Dilworth held a small wooden box that contained slips of paper during his closing arguments. On each slip, he had earlier written a question regarding evidence and testimony presented during trial. Dilworth withdrew one slip at a time, posing questions designed to raise doubt about the state’s case.

Dilworth’s defense was to cast suspicion primarily on Robinson’s twin sister, Brandi, and draw attention away from the defendant.

Dionne wrote in a sworn statement in April that he had “observed the lead prosecutor gesturing with his hands and mouthing favorable responses to each question in such a manner that the jurors could easily observe.”

Dilworth’s back was turned to Benson at the time, so he apparently was unaware of Benson’s behavior, Dionne wrote. He saw at least five jurors watching Benson as he mouthed the answer to Dilworth’s question, Dionne wrote.

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Justice MaryGay Kennedy asked Dionne and other witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing to step down from the witness box and demonstrate where they were sitting during the trial. She also asked them to mimic Benson’s gestures.

Dionne said Benson was animated during Dilworth’s closing argument to the jury, at times sitting forward and giving an “incredulous look.”

Dionne said he thought Benson’s actions were “inappropriate.”

Another defense attorney, Maurice Porter, had sat with Dionne during the closing arguments at Robinson’s trial; Porter was representing Brandi Robinson, the defendant’s twin sister.

Porter said Wednesday that a sworn statement he had written earlier, describing Benson’s courtroom antics, was wrong. He testified Wednesday that he had misremembered events during the trial.

A former detective for the Maine State Police, who sat next to Benson during closing arguments at Robinson’s trial, said Wednesday that he didn’t remember Benson gesturing or mouthing words as Dionne had described.

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Benson said he would clasp his hands in front of his face and close his eyes at times during the trial, but not to signal anything to the jury.

Sherman told Kennedy that Benson’s courtroom behavior during the trial amounted to prosecutorial misconduct. He continued to communicate with the trial jury after his turn to speak, Sherman said. 

Stokes said the two witnesses for the defense who sat together at trial couldn’t agree on what they saw or even where they sat. He said Kennedy, who had the best view of the proceedings at trial, hadn’t been bothered by Benson’s behavior.

Kennedy reminded Stokes and Sherman that, after closing arguments at Robinson’s trial, she had instructed the jury before deliberations to analyze the evidence, which didn’t include what the attorneys said.

“What’s the point of that instruction?” Kennedy asked. She said she would put her decision in writing.

Kennedy can either deny Robinson’s motion or certify to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that she would grant the motion but would leave it to the high court to take action.

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