Thursday, February 14, 2002

Neighborhood carries on as Gorman is charged with murder

Published in the Current; co-written with Brendan Moran and Kate Irish Collins

A grand jury indicted Jeffrey Gorman, 22, of Scarborough, for the murder of Amy St. Laurent Feb. 8, nearly two months after searchers discovered her body less than a half of a mile from his house.

Even though a small corner of Scarborough has become the center of an investigation into a murder police have called “sadistic” and “vicious,” neighbors say it hasn’t changed the way they feel about their neighborhood along County Road.

“We’re not that far from Portland,” said David Knight, who lives a half mile west of where the body was discovered. “Nothing really surprises us anymore.”

Knight’s family owns Smiling Hill Farm, which borders the Westbrook town line on County Road. He used to fish down at the pond where police spent weeks searching for evidence.

A yellow strand of police tape is still strung across the narrow dirt road that leads back into the vacant, wooded lot. The road is now buried under a deep layer of snow.

When asked if he will still fish back at the pond, Knight doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, yeah,” said Knight, “actually, I’ve been back there since.”

Knight’s mother owns land adjacent to the wooded area. One day their curiosity got the best of them. Knight and his mother walked toward the pond to see how close it was to her land.

But for one neighbor, the woods are too close. Wanda Donovan lives right next to the woods where St. Laurent’s body was discovered.

“I’m trying not to think about it too much,” she told the Current in December.

Most of the neighbors were as surprised as anyone by the discovery. They saw the searchers and heard the helicopters flying low above their neighborhood. But the police hadn’t told them why they were searching the area.

The next thing they knew it was all over the news. Television news crews were stopping along County Road to get footage of the wooded\ lot and the house at 68 County Road, where Gorman lived with his mother.

His mother has refused all requests for interviews. The house has since been posted with “keep out” and “private property” signs.

“I haven’t really thought of it that much,” said Don Cook, the owner of the First Stop convenience store, a half of a mile east of 68 County Road. “The news is right full of it. It’s too bad it’s happened.”

Cook recognized Gorman when he saw him on the news. Cook gave Gorman a job a couple years ago. It didn’t last long. After a couple of weeks, Gorman either didn’t show up or was fired. Cook can’t remember which.

The murder hasn’t altered Cook’s perception of the neighborhood where he’s done business for years. “Pick up the morning paper. It’s everywhere. It could have just as easily happened here as in-town Portland.”

Gorman, who spent most of his life in Alabama until moving to Scarborough two years ago, appeared in court on murder charges Tuesday. He walked into the courtroom shackled and wearing a yellow jumpsuit, the color worn by maximum-security prisoners. He slouched low in his chair until he was called in front of Chief Justice Nancy Mills to enter his plea of “not guilty.”

Later this month, Gorman will return to court for a bail hearing. He is being held without bail until around March 3 for violating his probation on unrelated charges.

His lawyer, Clifford Strike, has yet to see any of the evidence against Gorman. On request from Strike, Mills granted Gorman permission to change his plea once he has seen the evidence against him, leaving open the possibility that Gorman could change his plea.

Police have withheld much of the evidence against Gorman. Questions remain: How was St. Laurent killed and where? Did Gorman act alone? What were police searching for in the pond?

“This was a horrible, sadistic, vicious murder of Amy St. Laurent,” said Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood. When the cause of death is released, “the public will be outraged.”

“It’s not part of the process to make this information public and I want to keep it that way,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Stokes.

Chitwood told the Current in December that the police were looking for a murderer and others who may have helped conceal the crime. But Friday, he said the police now believe Gorman acted alone.

State Police Sgt. Matthew Stewart refused to comment on whether police had any other suspects Tuesday. “I’m not going to make any comment about the investigation,” said Stewart. “At this point, Mr. Gorman is the only one that’s being charged in the case.”

“I know the public is very interested in this case,” said Stokes. “But they have to be content to let the judicial process take its course. The process we have may not be as quick as people may want it to be.”

Stokes said that his team is trying hard to get murder cases to trial between nine and 12 months. “We should be bringing the case toward the end of this year, the first of next year,” Stokes said.

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