AUBURN — A hearing featuring fiery exchanges between the state’s prosecuting attorneys and the defense attorney for William True — one of two men convicted of murder in the April 2013 death of Romeo Parent, got underway in Androscoggin County Superior Court on Thursday.

True, via his lawyer, James Howaniec, asked the state to either dismiss the conviction or hold a new trial in an attempt to show he was not there the night Parent was killed in Greene.

On Thursday, Justice MaryGay Kennedy heard additional testimony from several witnesses, including a state crime lab DNA analyst and a lineup of state prison and county jail inmates, including Michael McNaughton, who was also convicted of murder in the Parent slaying.

Also taking the stand was Nathan Morton, who pleaded guilty last year to charges of conspiracy to commit murder and hindering apprehension or prosecution, after he struck a plea deal with prosecutors to drop the murder charge he was facing. He was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison with all but 10 years suspended. He is being held at the state prison in Windham, which is known for holding individuals who become state’s witnesses.

Morton largely admitted to driving McNaughton, Parent and True to a remote area in Greene where he said McNaughton choked and stabbed Parent to death while True stood by. All three men later returned to the scene to strip Parent’s body and move it to Jug Stream in Monmouth were it was later discovered by state investigators.

But True maintained he only helped in moving the body and didn’t take part in the slaying the night before.

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Howaniec argued that state prosecutors knowingly allowed Morton and other witnesses to commit perjury and that they failed to inform defense attorneys of an issue involving the state’s DNA analyst. According to Howaniec, the analyst failed to note an error she made in handling DNA samples involving sperm from a suspect in a 2009 sexual assault case, which subsequently ended in a mistrial. 

State prosecutor were notably irritated by Howaniec’s repeated suggestions of prosecutorial misconduct. Assistant Attorney General Deborah Cashman said there was no proof in the court record of the allegations of perjury.

“There is nothing in the record other than anecdotal conversation, maybe on the record and maybe in (the judge’s) chambers, but that’s not evidence,” Cashman said. She said prosecutors had “repeatedly heard from both attorneys about the rampant perjury that has happened. I have asked for a page and line citation to compare what their reference is.”

Kennedy agreed that was a burden the defense team would have to meet and said she was not going to be the one to compare the court transcripts from the trials of McNaughton and True.

Prosecutors also argued that the information about mishandling of evidence was not germane to the facts in the convictions of True and McNaughton although part of the state’s evidence against True was a blood sample from his jeans that matched Parent’s DNA.

During a break from the hearing, Howaniec said a pattern of problems with the way the state’s crime lab handled evidence, along with a repeated failure to disclose errors to defense attorneys, concerned him.

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He suggested there may be other cases that were wrongly prosecuted and innocent people may unfairly be serving time for crimes they may not have committed.

“That’s absolutely the implications we are trying to make,” Howaniec said.

But prosecutors, including Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, said the errors Howaniec referred to were rare and procedures have been changed to protect against those types of errors being repeated. Alsop also noted that none of the mistakes had anything to do with the technical analysis of the actual evidence and were instead more “mechanical” in nature.

On Thursday, Morton, who was a key witness for the state in the prosecution of both True and McNaughton, denied he bragged about his light sentence to other inmates or that he masterminded Parent’s slaying.

He also denied telling several others, who testified after him Thursday, that he carefully calculated how much of his prison sentence would be reduced for good time or that he ever told anyone that True was not involved in Parent’s murder.

But two other prisoners, one who is being held at Androscoggin County Jail on bank robbery charges and another serving time for robbery and burglary at the state’s correctional facility in Charleston, said Morton bragged to them about getting True convicted and even called True his “get-out-of-jail-free card.”

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One inmate said both Morton and McNaughton told him True was not present when Parent was murdered.

Meanwhile, in a somewhat bizarre exchange, McNaughton, who also has a pending appeal of his conviction, took the stand even after Kennedy and his defense attorney, Verne Paradie, advised him that anything he said could affect the future outcome of his appeal or sentence.

But McNaughton was quickly dismissed from the hearing. After being sworn in, he answered only three questions from Howaniec, repeating the same answer each time.

McNaughton simply gave his full name and his Social Security number until Kennedy put a stop to the questioning, informing McNaughton that he was not a prisoner of war and the proceedings were not a military tribunal.

McNaughton, an Army veteran, was led back to Androscoggin County Jail, where he is being held awaiting his sentencing and appeals in the case.

The hearing, which lasted from about 9:30 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m. ended when attorneys broke protocol by charging one another with misdeeds in the open courtroom.

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Kennedy, after reminding the lawyers that she would make the determination of what was proper, noted that all involved had become “a little punchy at this point.”

The lawyers then met with Kennedy briefly in her chambers and set a new conference date of Sept. 17, when they would determine when the hearing would continue and what else would be under review before Kennedy rules on whether True should receive a new trial.

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