AUBURN — A judge has denied a Lewiston man’s bid for a new murder trial.

Buddy Robinson, 32, appeared in Androscoggin County Superior Court last week where his attorneys argued he should be given a new trial because the prosecutor improperly influenced the jury to convict him.

Justice MaryGay Kennedy wrote in a nine-page decision Wednesday that defense attorney Adam Sherman hadn’t met the burden of demonstrating that then-Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson’s conduct during closing arguments at the trial caused “a harmful prejudicial error such that substantial justice has not been done.”

Kennedy wrote that it is “highly probable that the jury’s determination was unaffected by the prosecutor’s conduct.”

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

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

Sherman presented two witnesses who said Benson had gestured inappropriately while defense attorney Edward “Ted” Dilworth III was facing the jury and had his side or back to Benson, who was seated.

The testimony of one of the witnesses, defense attorney Maurice Porter, was “unreliable,” according to a footnote in Kennedy’s decision.

Porter had written an affidavit that was included in Sherman’s motion for a new trial. In that affidavit, Porter had described seeing and hearing Benson ridicule Dilworth during his questioning of witnesses. Porter testified last week that he had been wrong in his recollection. He also said under oath that his memory was “terrible.”

By contrast, Kennedy found the testimony of defense attorney Jason Dionne to be “forthright.” Dionne said he watched the closing arguments with a good view of Benson. Dilworth used a small wooden box as a prop as he stood facing jurors. He fished slips of paper from the box and read the lines printed on them, aimed at highlighting testimony and evidence from the trial that Dilworth believed raised doubt about the state’s case against Robinson.

Dionne said he remembered Dilworth posing a question to the jury that referenced a family reunion Fesmire had planned to attend. Dilworth had asked the jury rhetorically which of the suspects in the case would have known about the event. Dionne testified that Benson had responded by leaning back slightly in his chair, turning his head in Robinson’s direction and pointing casually at the defendant. At the same time, Benson silently mouthed the words: “He did” or “He did it,” according to Dionne’s testimony.

Dionne said he saw five jurors turn their heads at that moment and watch Benson.

Kennedy, who presided over the trial, wrote that she hadn’t observed Benson gesturing or mouthing any words during the closing arguments.

“In fact, at the beginning of jury instructions, the court thanked both … (attorneys) for their professional conduct and their courtesy to each other and to the court throughout this trial,” Kennedy wrote.

None of the state’s witnesses, including a Maine State Police detective who sat next to Benson during closing arguments, said they remembered seeing Benson gesture or mouth words inappropriately during closing arguments.

Despite her confidence in Dionne’s “veracity,” Kennedy wrote, “It is possible the discrepancies among Mr. Dionne’s recollection, those of state’s witnesses and the court’s overall impressions and observations at trial are simply examples of several individuals witnessing an incident, but hearing and seeing it differently.

If Benson had behaved as Dionne recalled, that behavior would have been improper, Kennedy wrote. But, she concluded that it was “highly improbable” that it would have affected the jury “at that late stage of the proceedings.”

Kennedy also wrote in her decision that she instructed the jury after closing arguments to focus on the evidence presented at trial — testimony and physical evidence. Their recollection of that evidence and the perspective they developed during deliberations was what counted, she told the jury. What the opposing lawyers said during trial was not evidence, she said.

Deputy Attorney General Bill Stokes, who argued against the motion for a new trial, said Thursday that he believed Kennedy’s decision was well-reasoned and “pretty thorough.”

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.