More than three years have passed since Noah Gaston shot and killed his wife in their Windham home.

Now a jury will finally decide whether Alicia Gaston’s death was a crime.

The 34-year-old mother died from a single shot from a shotgun in the stairwell on the morning of Jan. 14, 2016. Her husband, now 36, said he mistakenly thought his wife was an intruder when he pulled the trigger.

Alicia Gaston

But police have pointed to inconsistencies in his story from the start, and Gaston was arrested within two weeks of her death. He pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and manslaughter, and he has been held without bail at the Cumberland County Jail ever since.

After repeated delays, his trial will begin Monday.

Because Gaston immediately admitted to shooting his wife, legal experts said a central issue for jurors will be whether he knew what he was doing that early winter morning.

“The real question is state of mind,” said Jim Burke, a clinical professor at the University of Maine School of Law.

Defense attorneys Rob Andrews and James Mason declined to comment on the case.

“Because of the sensitive nature of the issues in this case and the need to select an unbiased jury, we will not be commenting prior to jury selection,” Andrews wrote in an email. “It is imperative that Mr. Gaston receive a fair trial and we intend to do everything in our power to see that he receives one.”

A spokesman from the Maine Attorney General’s Office also declined to comment on the case. The office resolved 16 murder or manslaughter cases in 2018, but only nine went to trial.

Alicia Gaston’s family has rarely spoken about her death, but released a written statement in advance of the trial.

“Initially it was very difficult to process what happened,” her sister-in-law, Amy Ouellette, wrote in an email. “As a family, we decided to hold off judgement until the facts came out. Once the facts came out, it was clear to us that the intruder story wasn’t true. It’s been three years since he took Alicia from us. The grief is very difficult, but the process being dragged out for three years because Noah’s refusal to take responsibility for his actions is unbearable. It is our hope that legal system will make sure that the truth comes out so that there can be closure.”

Court documents hint at the evidence that will be presented this week.

The defense team requested that Gaston undergo a mental evaluation, which took place last fall. In particular, his lawyers wrote that he could have been in an abnormal state of mind at the time of the shooting. The findings of that evaluation are not part of the public record.

“The discovery materials and interviews with Mr. Gaston have raised the possibility that his upbringing led him to be more vigilant than the normal reasonable person,” Andrews wrote in his request.

Justice Michaela Murphy addresses Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam during a motion hearing in the trial of Noah Gaston at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland on Jan. 22.

If a person is found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity, he or she is typically committed to the care of the state Department of Health and Human Services for mental health treatment. An abnormal state of mind defense is different, however. That strategy attempts to raise reasonable doubt about a person’s ability to act in a culpable state of mind – intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or negligently. Murder is defined as intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another person, while manslaughter is recklessly or with criminal negligence causing the death.

The defense could also argue a mistake of fact – Gaston’s repeated claim that he believed the person on the stairs was an intruder.

Police arrested Gaston in part because of his inconsistent statements about how close he was to his wife when he fired the gun, which could contribute to whether he recognized her. The jury is likely to hear evidence about the lighting in the stairwell, as well as forensic evidence about Alicia Gaston’s location on the stairs when she was shot.

But proving that he truly believed his wife was an intruder does not necessarily mean that shooting her was not a crime. Maine law does not allow homeowners to shoot intruders in all circumstances.

“It’s an interesting defense because, as a primary issue, it is often difficult to prove that you had the right to use deadly force in the first place,” said Thea Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Maine School of Law.

Both sides spent the last two weeks debating whether certain evidence should be admitted at trial.

Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy has ruled that song lyrics Gaston was working on at the time of his wife’s death are admissible as they relate to state of mind. During a car ride with men from his church, Gaston talked about the song and described it as prophetic, according to a police affidavit.

“I’ve known sin that was great, held the stone, felt the weight,” he wrote in one verse. “Among brothers, I know I am the lesser.”

Defense lawyers had argued the lyrics are prejudicial, but the state had hinted that it will use the words to show intent.

As of early last week, Murphy had not yet ruled on two other evidentiary questions. The state has asked to bring the jury to the house where Alicia Gaston died, but the judge said she would wait until the trial to decide.

The defense also cited what’s known as religious privilege in asking the judge to block the testimony of two potential witnesses who knew the Gaston family from their church.

The two men picked up Gaston at the police station on the day of his wife’s death, according to court documents. They later told investigators that he recounted the shooting, including seeing the figure he believed to be an intruder. Gaston then told them that was the only story he could tell if he wanted to see his kids again, according to the police affidavit.

Gaston’s attorneys have argued that the two men are leaders in their church group, and those conversations should be excluded from the trial, citing religious privilege. The Maine Rules of Evidence allow a person to protect confidential communications made to a member of the clergy acting as a spiritual adviser. But Assistant Attorney General Meg Elam said the state does not consider the men to be members of the clergy, and the privilege should not apply to them.

The judge had taken that motion under advisement, and had not issued a ruling at the start of last week.

Murphy made significant early rulings on evidence, finding the case cleared the legal hurdle required to bring a murder charge but rejecting a claim by police that the couple’s then-8-year-old daughter heard her parents arguing before the shooting.

Megan Gray can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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