Defense in Gorham case seeks to take steam out of strangulation charge

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Robert Gorham listens intently during his assault and riot trial at Strafford County Superior Court on Wednesday. Beside him is his defense counsel Kimberly Shoen. (Rochester Voice photos)

DOVER - The trial of a Rochester man accused in an assault during a melee at the Dover McDonald's drive-thru last year entered its second day on Wednesday with testimony centered again on who was the aggressor and whether or not a female victim had been strangled by the defendant or choked when being pulled by her own sweatshirt.

Robert C. Gorham, 33, of 809 Salmon Falls Road, is facing up to 15 years in state prison on felony riot and assault charges.

Two others from Rochester charged in that attack, Champion J. Sprague, 25, of 18 Stillwater Circle; and Megan L. O'Neill, 27, of Spruce Street who testified for the defense on Wednesday, pleaded guilty to all charges earlier this spring and were given suspended sentences.

Megan O'Neill during questioning in McDonald's assault trial in Strafford County Superior Court Wednesday.

O'Neill, who was testifying for the defense under subpoena, said she was close friends with Gorham and that she remembered him yelling back and forth with a truck that was behind them at the Dover McDonald's drive-thru not long before midnight on March 10 of 2018.

She said the truck had cut them off, and a woman, the 43-year-old female victim in the case, had yelled out her truck window that O'Neill's vehicle was going to get the wrong order.

O'Neill, under questioning from defense counsel Kimberly Shoen, said she replied with words to the effect that "They can figure it out," but by now yelling back and forth between Gorham and Sprague and the folks in the truck had erupted and tensions were rising.

O'Neill testified she never heard Gorham yell at the woman, "Show us your tits, bitch," but at some point all the people in both vehicles spilled out to meet as the altercation began.

O'Neill testified she went to try to get the female victim off of Gorham, who was on the ground with her son, but never grabbed her.

O'Neill said Gorham was bleeding pretty badly and her car's taillight was broken. She said after the parties separated her group went back to the Holiday Inn where they had a room and tended to Gorham. She said she didn't call police for personal reasons.

While under cross-examination it was learned the Gorham group in the Volkswagen had begun the night at Farmington House of Pizza celebrating a birthday and had ended up at Castaways Bar on Cocheco Avenue in Dover before heading to McDonald's for a cheeseburger.

During cross-examination Deputy County Attorney Tim Sullivan reminded the witness that she had already pleaded guilty to riot, which is causing tumultuous or violent behavior for the public by two or more people and to say she hadn't done anything violent was duplicitous.

O'Neill countered that in her mind she had pleaded guilty to "tumultuous," not "violent" behavior.

And while O'Neill had testified to Shoen that she hadn't grabbed the female victim, under questioning from Sullivan she said it was possible she may have put her hands on her during the fight.

"I was trying to protect Rob and Champ," she said.

O'Neill also testified how she made up stories to protect Gorham and Sprague, telling investigating Dover police officers initially that she and a female friend had met two guys - Mike and John - at the 603 Bar on Central Avenue and it was them that had participated in the drive-thru incident.

Later as investigators got closer and closer to identifying Gorham and Sprague, she convinced her two friends to give themselves up.

After O'Neill stepped down Judge Mark E. Howard instructed the jury that even though she had pleaded guilty to riot, that in no way could be taken into evidence in the case against Gorham.

Earlier in the day the jury heard from the 43-year-old female victim allegedly strangled by Gorham.

The South Berwick woman, who was at the McDonald's for a late-night meal after returning from Hong Kong with her husband, testified as her son got out of the car when Gorham began walking angrily back toward them, she yelled, "Don't touch him, he's a minor," because she thought it would make Gorham think twice about hitting him.

She said as her son, then 18, got out of the car she followed him to try to protect him, and immediately ran to separate him from Gorham as both were rolling on the ground. She said she was in sweats and flip-flops and may have fallen on the ice or snow, that she didn't really know how she fell onto them.

Under questioning by Sullivan, she said she yelled at Gorham, "Get your hand off him," and that soon after she said Gorham began "squeezing my throat."

At the same time she said the driver from the Volkswagen, O'Neill, was grabbing her by the back and yelling at her, "Fight me."

After a few moments, she said Gorham let go and her son put his hands up in the air, and everyone started going back to their own cars.

Once back in their Toyota truck, she said Sprague came up and smashed the truck's side-view mirror, saying to them words to the effect of, "'I'm gonna fuck all of you."

Shoen, in her cross-examination, recounted how the female victim told hospital staff she had no trouble breathing or speaking immediately following the incident.

She also queried the witness on who really instigated the violence, alluding that it was a case of road rage instigated by the female victim's 18-year son.

Shoen also brought up the possibility the strangulation may have been the result of the female victim being dragged by her sweatshirt.

The trial is expected to end on Friday.

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