Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Gorman gets 60 years as victim’s father sentences him to hell

Published in the Current and the American Journal

Jeffrey “Russ” Gorman, 23, who lived in Scarborough and spent time working and socializing in Westbrook, was sentenced Monday to 60 years in prison for murdering Amy St. Laurent after a night of dancing and drinking in the Old Port Oct. 21, 2001.

His attorney plans to appeal the conviction and the sentence on grounds that the judge allowed inadmissible material to become evidence at trial.

The prosecution had asked for a life sentence – or 65 years at a minimum – on the basis of Gorman’s “anti-social personality,” lack of remorse and a psychological evaluation placing him “at significant risk to reoffend,” according to Assistant Attorney General Fernand LaRochelle.

Gorman’s attorney, Clifford Strike, had requested a 38-year sentence, arguing that despite the psychological evaluation, “this is a person who is capable of making gains.” Strike blamed much of the situation on Gorman’s difficult upbringing.

Before Justice Nancy Mills handed down the sentence, St. Laurent’s family spoke to the court. Her father, Dennis St. Laurent, threatened Gorman. “If you ever come out from behind those walls, I’ll send you to hell myself,” he said. St. Laurent asked for the death sentence – not a possibility in Maine.

Amy’s sister Julie, through tears, told of her anguish at how close she was to Amy in her sister’s time of need. The night Amy disappeared, Julie was “around the corner in the Old Port.” And for seven weeks while the family searched for Amy’s body, Julie drove County Road from Gorham to Portland – past the shallow grave where Amy was buried – multiple times a day. “She was right there the whole time,” Julie said.

Amy’s mother, Diane Jenkins, spoke eloquently of her older daughter, showing photos and telling stories of ways Amy helped friends in need. Thinking of Amy’s last moments, “the fear, pain and horror,” Jenkins said, “invades my thoughts, wakes my sleep and breaks my heart.”

Asking for a tough sentence, she told Mills, “please show him the compassion that he showed my daughter when he put a gun to the back of her head and pulled the trigger.”

Clutching a framed picture of Amy, Jenkins turned to face Gorman and said, “this is my daughter. And this is now how I get to hold my daughter.”

Gorman’s mother, Tammy Westbrook, spoke as well. In a disjointed plea for clemency, she told Mills her son is a good man. “He is not evil. He is not a monster.” And while she said she felt bad for the St. Laurent family, “no one ever thinks about being in my shoes.”

Gorman then sent Strike over to ask Westbrook to stop. When she would not, Gorman spoke up. “Just sit down, mom,” he said. She refused, turning the podium over to her daughter, Gorman’s sister Brittany, who professed her brother’s innocence and told the St. Laurent family, “I know that you guys are unhappy too and I’m really sorry.”

Mills then spoke to explain her sentence. “I expect that no one in the courtroom will be pleased with what I do,” she said. “I do not consider this to be a life sentence case.”

Mills concluded that the evidence did not support allegations that Gorman sexually assaulted St. Laurent, nor that the killing was premeditated.

Mills recounted Gorman’s troubled past, starting with his deceit of police investigating the St. Laurent disappearance, and including a juvenile conviction in Florida, drug use starting at age 12, and fathering two children for whom he does not now provide.

Mills told Gorman he could not hide behind an excuse of a bad life and had “chosen not to make those gains” that could have helped him improve his life.

“You have shown absolutely no remorse. To this moment you remain defiant,” Mills told Gorman as she told him he would have to spend 60 years behind bars.

After the sentencing, Strike told the American Journal he would appeal. One problem he had with the trial was that Mills allowed Westbrook’s grand jury testimony to become evidence without being challenged by defense attorneys.

During Gorman’s trial in January, Westbrook claimed she had no memory of speaking with her son after St. Laurent’s body was found and did not remember telling a grand jury about the conversation, in which Gorman allegedly confessed the crime.

Deputy Attorney General William Stokes said the appeal would likely not go to oral arguments until January 2004.