Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Gorman appeals conviction

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Jeffery “Russ” Gorman has appealed his conviction for the murder of Amy St. Laurent, asking Maine’s Supreme Court to grant him a new trial. His appeal asks for a judge to exclude damaging testimony from his mother about the killing.

In January 2003, Gorman was convicted of the “intentional and knowing” murder of Amy St. Laurent following a night out in Portland’s Old Port and at a house on Brighton Avenue in Portland.

The key issue in the appeal is the testimony of Gorman’s mother, Tammy Westbrook. She testified at a grand jury hearing that resulted in Gorman’s
indictment for the murder. At the grand jury, she testified that Gorman had called her Dec. 9, 2001, the day after St. Laurent’s body was found buried in a wooded area off Route 22 in Scarborough.

In that conversation, Westbrook told the grand jury, Gorman confessed to the crime and told his mother something nobody but the killer knew – that St. Laurent had been shot once in the head.

During the criminal trial, Westbrook testified she had no recollection of testifying before a grand jury and no memory of any conversation with her son about St. Laurent. She also testified that she was receiving psychiatric treatment for delusions and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The prosecution argued that an audio tape recording of Westbrook’s grand jury testimony should be presented as evidence during the trial. Superior Court Judge Nancy Mills agreed.

The evidence figured strongly in the prosecution’s case against Gorman, and jurors in the criminal trial asked to see a transcript of the recording during
their deliberations. That was not permitted, but they were allowed to hear the tape played again.

After five hours of deliberation, the jury unanimously convicted Gorman of the murder.

He was later sentenced to spend 60 years in prison, following a prosecutor’s sentencing recommendation that claimed Gorman tried to rape St. Laurent and killed her to cover it up.

Gorman’s new lawyer, Chris MacLean, told the Current allowing the tape of Westbrook to be played to the jury was unfair because it prevented Gorman’s trial attorney, Clifford Strike, from confronting Westbrook about her taped claims.

The right to cross-examine witnesses is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Westbrook could not be effectively cross-examined because she did not
recall making the statements, or any discussions regarding the case, MacLean said.

MacLean makes two additional arguments in the appeal filing. He says Westbrook should not have been allowed to testify at all because she was not mentally competent to do so.

He also says the jury’s conviction was in error, arguing that evidence presented by the prosecution was not sufficient to convict Gorman of “intentional and knowing” murder. The filing asks for the conviction to be overturned and for the case to be sent back for a new trial.

MacLean told the Current there may have been enough evidence, depending on how the state Supreme Court views the case, to convict Gorman of manslaughter, but not murder.

The case is scheduled for oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Portland on Friday, Feb. 13. A decision could take months.