Noah Gaston rests his head in his hands in Cumberland County Superior Court on Friday after a jury found him guilty of murder in the fatal shooting of his wife in their Windham home in 2016. Staff Photo by Gregory Rec

Alicia Gaston woke up before dawn on Jan. 14, 2016.

The young mother went downstairs, started the laundry and made a to-do list for a busy day for her family. She set her iced coffee, a jar of peanut butter and a spoon on a table in the living room of their Windham home.

She was climbing the stairs when her husband shot and killed her.

A jury declared Friday that Noah Gaston committed murder when he pulled the trigger of his shotgun on that cold and dark morning.

Gaston, now 37, was standing in the Portland courtroom when the foreman announced the verdict. He slumped forward and bowed his head, leaning on his palms on the table. An audible sign of relief was heard from the gallery where Alicia Gaston’s family sat.

The defense argued Gaston was acting in self-defense because he believed his wife was an intruder in the early morning darkness. The state said he intended to kill Alicia Gaston, or he at least knew he was firing at his 34-year-old wife. Jurors could have convicted him of murder or manslaughter, or neither.

Gaston returned to his chair and rested his head on the table until it was time for a guard to escort him out. He shook his head as he left the courtroom. “I’m trying to protect my family,” Gaston said as he passed through the exit.

Alicia Gaston Press Herald file photo

Meanwhile, Alicia Gaston’s family members began to cry and hold each other.

Gaston did not testify at his trial, and he will be sentenced at a later date. The possible penalty for murder is 25 years to life in prison.

The trial began last week in the Cumberland County Courthouse. The jury heard five days of evidence, then deliberated for about 12 hours over three days.

Assistant Attorneys General Meg Elam and Paul Rucha were grateful to the jurors and believed they came to the right verdict.

“We’ve all been involved in criminal prosecution long enough to know there is no magic formula about how long a jury takes, and clearly the length of time they worked shows how hard they worked and how carefully they considered the evidence,” Elam said. “And we’re grateful for that, and so is Alicia’s family.”

She noted that the family waited years for the resolution of the case.

“You can only imagine how difficult it’s been for them to wait these long four years to find justice for their daughter and their sister and their cousin,” she said.

Alicia Gaston’s family exited the courthouse in a tight knot. Her sister-in-law, Amy Ouellette, made a short statement to reporters.

“We’ll never have Alicia back, but we’re happy that justice was served,” she said.

Defense attorneys Rob Andrews and Jim Mason said they planned to appeal the conviction, but did not elaborate about the basis for the appeal.

“We’re obviously extremely disappointed,” Andrews said. “In the coming weeks, we’ll be filing some motions. Ultimately, there will be an appeal in this case.”

“How does he feel?” a TV reporter asked of Gaston, but the two attorneys walked away and did not answer.

Noah Gaston hunches over a table as jurors leave the courtroom Friday after finding Gaston guilty of murder. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Two women in the courtroom had huddled with the defense attorneys after the verdict, whispering with looks of shock on their faces and standing apart from Alicia Gaston’s family. They left the building without speaking to reporters.

The jury deliberates in secret, so it is not clear what questions they grappled with as they came to their verdict.

Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy emptied the courtroom Thursday afternoon so the jurors could take another look at a full-size replica of the staircase where Alicia Gaston died. The unusual model was built to the exact size of the top five stairs and the upstairs landing at the Gaston home, and it was too large to move into the small room where the jury convenes. By Friday, the wooden stairs were marked with dusty footprints from so much use during trial and deliberations.

Earlier in the trial, the jurors also visited the Brookhaven Drive home where the shooting took place.

“We decided that we wanted the jury to have the best possible evidence, to have the best possible perspective of what that house was like and how small that area was,” Elam said after the trial. “When the defendant claimed to have no idea who was coming up those stairs, we hope it was helpful for them. We thought it spoke volumes of how preposterous his story was about the intruder.”

A first trial took place in February but lasted just one day. On the day the state’s chief medical examiner was scheduled to testify, he said that he needed to change a phrase in his report, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial.

However, that confusion barely factored into the second trial. The only defense witness was Dr. Jonathan Arden, who has worked as a medical examiner and is now a private consultant. But Arden agreed with the autopsy findings of Maine Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Flomenbaum, and he primarily contradicted the ballistic analysis presented by a different witness for the prosecution.

“I think it’s been misunderstood by many people, including the media, what actually happened that caused the mistrial,” Elam said. “Clearly the defense thought they needed more time to consider what evidence they wanted to produce. But what became clear throughout the trial is that the medical examiner’s opinion had not changed, and in fact, the defense expert who is a medical examiner, completely concurred in all the findings.”

Elam declined to answer a question about whether the mistrial changed the state’s approach to the case.

Gaston was indicted on two charges: murder and manslaughter. The judge instructed the jury on the legal definitions of both crimes, as well the law related to self-defense.

A person who is guilty of murder has intentionally or knowingly caused the death of another person, while a person who is guilty of manslaughter has acted with recklessness or criminal negligence to cause that death.

Maine law allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense when they reasonably believe the other person is about to use deadly force themselves.

“There is rarely direct evidence of the operation of the human mind, but you may infer a person’s state of mind by the surrounding circumstances,” Murphy told them.

Before the jury came into the courtroom Friday morning, Murphy warned the crowded courtroom that there should be no outbursts in response to their verdict.

“The jury process in these sorts of cases can be very difficult,” Murphy said. “We have to really respect the fact that they deliberated so long in this case and obviously listened very carefully to the evidence in this case, and we have to respect their verdict, whatever it might be.”

When the foreman reported the verdict, the judge addressed the other jurors.

“So say you, so say you all?” Murphy asked.

They responded in a cluster of voices, but gave the same answer.

“Yes.”

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