AUGUSTA — Defense attorney James Howaniec told members of the state’s highest court Tuesday that it was a “pretty rare circumstance” that led him to appear before them on the appeal of his client’s murder conviction.

“As the court may be aware, this is a somewhat unusual deal, I would argue, in that we basically reached something of a plea bargain after William True was convicted of murder,” Howaniec said, addressing the Maine Supreme Judicial Court at the Capital Judicial Center. “I don’t know if the court has ever seen that before.”

Howaniec said his client, William True, 23, of Lewiston had filed a motion for a new trial after a jury convicted him in December 2014 of hindering apprehension or prosecution and of the murder of 21-year-old Romeo Parent of Lewiston.

In his motion in Androscoggin County Superior Court, Howaniec argued last year that key state witnesses had lied while giving testimony on the stand that resulted in denying True his constitutional right to a fair trial.

Before the trial judge had ruled on that motion, however, Howaniec had withdrawn it and True was sentenced to 25 years in prison on the recommendation of prosecutors.

True later changed his mind and told Howaniec he wanted to pursue a new trial after all. Sixteen days after his sentencing, True filed a notice of appeal to the high court.


“We truly believe that William True is innocent,” Howaniec said.

“We’re asking the court to take a close look at this case because we think there are some really serious problems,” Howaniec said. “We argue that there is substantial perjury in this case” due to “overzealous prosecution.”

Howaniec suggested the court could conduct an “innocence project-type of analysis” involving court clerks.

Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, who served as a prosecutor at the trial, told justices Tuesday that True had given up his right to argue for a new trial when he had negotiated his sentence and withdrew his motion to appeal in the lower court.

As for Howaniec’s argument that the state’s witnesses had committed perjury, Alsop gave numerous examples of corroborating testimony from witnesses that backed up accounts of those witnesses called into question by Howaniec.

At trial, Howaniec had ample opportunity to attack the credibility of the state’s witnesses on cross-examination, Alsop said. It was up to the jury to determine what testimony from which witnesses it should believe, Alsop said.


“The jury in the True case found that the state’s witnesses were credible,” he said.

Alsop said at least two witnesses had heard True admit to killing Parent a day after his murder.

Howaniec focused largely on the statements and testimony of Nathan Morton, 27, of Greene.

Morton implicated True in the murder more than a year after the April 8, 2013, slaying by telling investigators that True was at the scene the night of the murder as well as a day later to dispose of Parent’s body in a stream in Monmouth. Morton said he drove True, Michael McNaughton, 29, of Lewiston and Parent to the murder scene the night Parent was killed and then drove McNaughton and True back to the scene the next day.

Morton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and hindering apprehension or prosecution in exchange for his trial testimony. A murder charge was dropped. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison with half of that time suspended.

Howaniec noted that it was during Morton’s 11th interview with investigators that he put True at the murder scene. Howaniec said Morton “had lied literally hundreds of times to the state police.”


Later, in jail, Morton had bragged that he had lied about True’s involvement, Howaniec said.

Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley said once Howaniec withdrew the motion for a new trial in order to assure a 25-year cap on True’s sentence, “is there anything for an appellate court to do? Should you not simply have proceeded to obtain a new trial?”

Howaniec said the decision to accept the state’s offer on sentencing was aimed at “managing risk.”

“I absolutely understand the calculus, counsel,” she said. “But you’re saying … this is an innocent man and the judge was going to give you a new trial at which that innocence could have been presented and he declined that very thing that the system would have provided him.”

She asked him whether he had told the trial judge at the time of sentencing that he planned to seek a new trial on appeal to the high court.

Howaniec said he hadn’t.


“So how does that preserve his right to seek a new trial when he affirmatively gave it up?” she asked.

Justice Donald Alexander said Howaniec is asking the high court to decide the types of issues — such as witness perjury — that a trial judge normally would determine.

“At best for you, our rule would be to review the transcript to evaluate the number and quantity and quality of inconsistencies among the witnesses to determine if as a matter of due process the conviction was wrongful,” Justice Jeffrey Hjelm said.

Prosecutors at trial said True and McNaughton had lured Parent down a path on a dead-end dirt road on the pretense of burglarizing a camp for drugs.

Alsop said investigators always believed that McNaughton had been the primary instigator in the case. He is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.

Once in the woods, Parent was beaten, stabbed with a screwdriver at the base of the skull and fatally strangled with a homemade garrote fashioned from a bicycle wire and wooden dowels.


The next day, Morton drove True and McNaughton back to the crime scene where True and McNaughton stripped Parent’s body, bound his wrists and ankles and stuffed his body in the trunk of Morton’s 2007 black Volkswagen Passat, prosecutors had said. He drove to Jug Stream in Monmouth, where True and McNaughton dumped Parent’s body in the stream near a dam.

Less than a week before Parent’s murder, he and True had committed a burglary together. Parent had told police about True’s involvement. Police arrested True and put him in jail over the weekend of April 6 and 7, 2013, while Parent remained free.

Parent was branded a “snitch” and the rumor circulated that “snitches need stitches,” according to trial testimony. A short time after True was released, Parent was dead.

The high court is expected to take True’s appeal under advisement before it makes a ruling.

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