Maine’s highest court Tuesday upheld the murder conviction of a Lewiston man found guilty in the 2013 brutal slaying of 20-year-old Romeo Parent.

A lawyer for Michael McNaughton, 29, argued in May before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that the judge presiding over his 2014 trial mistakenly failed to block from a jury statements McNaughton made to police during an interview and photographs taken by police of his injuries.

Defense attorney Verne Paradie also argued before the high court that the trial judge should have granted McNaughton’s appeal of his conviction because prosecutors knowingly allowed perjured testimony by their witnesses.

But a unanimous Maine Supreme Court affirmed Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy’s decision on McNaughton’s conviction appeal on all three points.

First, the court determined that during McNaughton’s initial interview with police and most of his second interview, “none of these statements was sufficiently clear to convey — in an objectively unambiguous manner — a desire for police questioning to cease.” 

McNaughton had repeatedly responded to questions with his name and a nine-digit number, as a soldier in the U.S. Army might give his name and serial number in response to questioning by an enemy inquisitor. McNaughton had served in the military.

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He also told police “no comment” and that he wanted to answer some of their questions but was unable to.

Police didn’t interpret McNaughton’s responses as him invoking his Fifth Amendment right.

As for the seizure of McNaughton’s clothing by police before he was served with a warrant, the high court cited the existence of exigent circumstances because detectives had learned that McNaughton was planning to leave the state soon. The injuries (believed to have been inflicted by the victim during a fatal struggle) to McNaughton were in plain sight and, for that reason, could be photographed without the need of a warrant, the high court justices agreed.

Finally, the issue of perjured testimony by state witnesses was settled by the high court in an earlier appeal by McNaughton’s co-defendant, William True, 24, of Lewiston, who also was convicted of murder in Parent’s killing.

The burden was on McNaughton to prove that the testimony of state’s witnesses was perjured and not just inconsistent with other statements made by those witnesses, the justices concluded.

“A showing that trial testimony is inconsistent with other testimony or evidence does not, standing alone, demonstrate that evidence presented to the fact-finder contained intentional inaccuracies or that there had been a knowing use of false testimony,” the high court had written in its ruling on True’s appeal. “Such inconsistencies present issues of credibility and call for the weighing of conflicting or inconsistent evidence — a task that falls solidly within the province of the jury as the fact-finder.”

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Parent, a Lewiston resident, was stabbed and strangled to death by McNaughton. Parent’s body later was stripped of clothing, bound and dumped in a Monmouth stream.

Two hearings were held in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn on McNaughton’s motions for a new trial in 2015. Among other arguments, McNaughton claimed prosecutors failed to provide discovery in a timely manner and presented perjured testimony to support “inconsistent theories” when prosecuting McNaughton and True, McNaughton’s co-defendant and an alternative suspect who was convicted of Parent’s murder in December 2014, five months after McNaughton. True was sentenced to 25 years in prison. McNaughton was sentenced to life.

Prosecutors had downplayed the defense’s appeal claim, saying the after-trial evidence wouldn’t have resulted in a different verdict. Justice Kennedy largely agreed with that assessment.

Parent had implicated True in a burglary before Parent was killed. The apparent motive for Parent’s killing was that he had informed police of True’s involvement in the burglary. True had been charged in that crime; Parent had not.

Nathan Morton, 28, of Greene admitted at trial to driving McNaughton to the wooded area in that town, where Parent was killed. Morton testified at McNaughton’s trial that he admitted stabbing Parent in the back of the neck with a screwdriver and choking Parent to death with a homemade garrote. But Morton later told police that True also had been at the scene of the murder. Morton, who at first had been charged with Parent’s murder, agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for his testimony and a 20-year prison sentence, with half of that time suspended.

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