Jury hears closing arguments in Tilton rape case

LACONIA — A superior court jury is expected to begin deliberations today in the case of a former Tilton man accused of having oral sex with a disabled man.

The case of Thomas Gardner, went to the jury after closing arguments Monday, capping a week-long trial in Belknap County Superior Court.

Gardner's lawyer told the jury that his client was being falsely accused of a crime by two career criminals whose purpose for being at Sherryland Park in Tilton on Jan. 17, 2013 was "no good."

"They were trespassing," defense attorney Wade Harwood said. "They were sneaking around. They had no right to be there and that's why they had a motive to lie."

Gardner, 57, is charged with one count of aggravated felonious sexual assault and one count of indecent exposure or lewdness.

Harwood emphasized for the jury the criminal record of Mark Corente – the man who initially called 9-1-1. He said he has two convictions for lying to police about a crime in and one for lying about his identity to get services from a hospital without paying for them.

He also tried to poke holes in the Tilton Police Department's investigation, saying that the one detective who testified really didn't do much of an investigation. Harwood said Det. Nathan Buffington's entire investigation — which included an interview with Corente, one with Joseph Ernst who was with Corente, and a visit to Sherryland Park — lasted about 15 minutes.

He noted that Buffington testified that he never checked Corente's criminal record nor did he ask why Ernst was on probation, even though Ernst told him he was.

Harwood pointed out what he said were inconsistencies between the stories the two men told as well as inconsistencies between what each man initially told police and what they testified to in court.

As to what Ersnt said he saw, Harwood took a chair and demonstrated that if he was standing outside the car like he said he was, then he never could have seen what he said he saw – a man with an erect penis receiving oral sex from what he thought was a boy.

He also noted for the jury that when he saw what he alleged, he made no effort to stop it, but only asked if Gardner knew anything about any trailers for sale.

Harwood also said that both Ernst's and Corente's testimony about seeing the trailers for sale on line was fabricated because both the former owner and his property manager said there were never any advertisements for trailers for sale. The owner testified that in January 2013 the entire park was subject to a purchase and sales agreement that included all of the empty trailers in it.

Deputy Belknap County Prosecutor Carley Ahern told the jury that when all of the pieces of the puzzle are put together they would come determine Gardner was guilty.

Ahern said the two didn't know him and rather than make up a story, risked calling attention to themselves by reporting what the saw to the police.

As to some discrepancies in their testimonies, Ahern said, "They're probably not the smartest guys."

As to Corente, she reminded the jury that he "came before them as a felon" and likely his witnessing a sexual assault by someone he thought was a man upon a child led him to put aside his own past behavior.

She said they were both cooperative with the police.

Ahern also said that both of them described the alleged victim, and Corente said it's a face he will never forget. Although neither recalled he had a mustache, she said it wasn't a thick conventional mustache.

She said Gardner admitted he was there with the alleged victim.

"The defense would have you believe they concocted a story," Ahern said, noting they called the police immediately when it became practical.

She said Corente's and Ernst's stories about what they saw in the car would be different because Corente saw what he saw from the driver's seat, while Ernst got out of Corente's car and approached Gardner's vehicle.

As to the claim of indecent exposure, she said Gardner was exposed in a public place in the middle of the day.

"He put himself in that position," she said.

"The defendant did what he needed to do to gain (the alleged victim's) trust," she said.

"This was a horrible crime and I've given two witnesses to it," she said in closing.

The jury began deliberations at 3:45 p.m. and recessed shortly after that. Deliberations begin again at 9 a.m. today.