SCHENECTADY — When police arrested him in April 1996 and charged him with the murder of 17-year-old Suzanne Nauman, Keith Gauvreau was floored.
"It blew my mind," Gauvreau told The Daily Gazette. "I didn't know what to think: 'Are you for real? You aren't out there trying to find the real guy?'"
Nauman's body had been found nearly a year earlier on the edge of the Schenectady Municipal Golf Course driving range. Gauvreau had known the troubled teen for more than a year and considered her his girlfriend.
"They were obsessed with me," Gauvreau said. "I was the only prime suspect. The evidence didn't even stack up, line up, nothing like that. They just still wanted it to be me for some reason."
Golf course workers discovered Nauman's lifeless, nearly naked body on the morning of May 30, 1995, with a shoelace tied around her neck.
Though police arrested and charged Gauvreau, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney decided not to prosecute or even indict him. Evidence — including the size 8 1/2 laceless shoe found at the crime scene — left the prosecutor convinced the police had the wrong man.
At a news conference earlier this month, Carney announced that a cold case review finally turned up "the real guy." More than 21 years after being publicly accused of Nauman's killing, Carney fully and completely cleared Gauvreau.
Now, Gauvreau said he's considering a lawsuit targeting authorities for the treatment he received in the wake of Nauman's death.
"I think they violated every constitutional right that I had over a belief," Gauvreau said. "Not even solid proof, only a belief. They believed that I did it."
Gauvreau recalled that treatment during an interview last week outside his Schenectady residence.
Suzanne Nauman (left) and Stanislaw Maciag. (Photos provided)
Investigators reached out to him prior to the Oct. 16 press conference — at which they revealed DNA evidence had confirmed Sanislaw Maciag was the person who killed Nauman. Maciag killed himself while he was serving prison time in another case back in 1997.
On the one hand, Gauvreau said he feels some closure in the wake of the public apology. The case is over. Everyone now knows who did it. But he also believes that, had he not been charged in the Nauman case, his life ever since would have been much different.
Though arrested and charged with murdering Nauman, Gauvreau never served time in custody due to the accusations. Upon his arrest, he was also charged with the beating death of a man named Kenneth Martin on Oct. 17, 1995. Carney's office did move forward with that case, and Gauvreau later pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter, for which he received a sentence of 3 to 9 years in prison. He was released in 2005.
He later spent more time in prison on a weapons conviction.
The gravesite of Suzanne Nauman in Vale Cemetry in Schenectady. (Marc Schultz)
As Carney noted at the press conference, Gauvreau has committed crimes, and he has paid for them. And, Carney said, police did not arrest Gauvreau without the required probable cause.
Addicted to drugs, Nauman worked as a prostitute. At 17, she already had an infant child. At least two witnesses reported that Gauvreau was upset with Nauman and made threats the night before she was killed, and Gauvreau was also the last person with which witnesses saw Nauman.
Gauvreau always maintained Nauman left him on Albany Street that night, getting into a car with a man who had solicited her for sex.
The primary piece of evidence police relied on in arresting Gauvreau was an expert's opinion that bite marks found on Nauman's body matched Gauvreau's teeth, Carney said. After Gauvreau's arrest, prosecutors said they heard from two inmates who claimed Gauvreau admitted to them he killed Nauman.
Carney saw weaknesses elsewhere in the case, including inconsistent accounts from witnesses. A second bite mark expert at the time found the bite analysis inclusive, and over the two decades since, the bite mark evidence was completely discredited. The inmates' claims of a jailhouse confession also included no information about Nauman's murder that was not publicly known.
For Carney, it all came down to the shoes.
"I talked about the sneaker to everybody that looked at that case, including the detectives, and I said, 'How do you get by that?'" Carney recalled during an interview last week.
Gauvreau wore size 11 shoes. The shoe found at the crime scene — which police determined was worn by Nauman's killer, and from which the shoelace was taken to strangle her — was way too small to have belonged to Gauvreau.
Carney said he sees the case as an important example of the role of the prosecutor's office as an independent judge of the evidence. Carney, who has been Schenectady County's district attorney for nearly 30 years, said Gauvreau is one of three defendants — all of whom were arrested in the 1990s — who were never tried under his tenure. Gauvreau's is the only one of those cases Carney chose not to put before a grand jury at all.
For his part, Gauvreau wonders if investigators' focus on him for Nauman's slaying impacted their approach toward putting him away for Martin's death. Martin choked to death on his vomit after he was beaten up by Gauvreau.
"Aw man, they jumped all over it," Gauvreau said of his arrest after Martin died. "I couldn't get a fair deal."
Police initially charged him with second-degree murder in that case, too, though prosecutors later allowed him to plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter.
After Gauvreau's arrest, then-Assistant Police Chief Greg Kaczmarek recounted how police had been watching Gauvreau closely for the better part of the previous year.
"He was on the top of the suspect list from the beginning," Kaczmarek told reporters at the time, "and when this other tragedy happened (Martin), we started being real careful."
The key to determining that Maciag was Nauman's actual killer, however, came after a cold-case investigator linked her murder to the April 1995 murder of Phyllis Harvey, also a prostitute. Maciag was being held in prison on an unrelated charge, but authorities indicated the mounting evidence strongly suggested he killed Harvey and they were building a murder case against him when he killed himself.
A Daily Gazette editorial published after the discovery of Harvey's body noted similarities between her case and Nauman's, and a copy of that editorial made it into Nauman's case file.
Cold case investigator Kevin Noto, with the state police, found the editorial, pushing the investigation in a new direction. Earlier this year, they found enough evidence to exhume Maciag's body to compare his DNA to DNA found under Nauman's fingernails and on the shoe found at her murder scene.
The DNA evidence — Maciag also wore size 8 1/2 shoes — was conclusive: Stanislaw Maciag killed Suzanne Nauman.
Gauvreau, once a drug user himself, recalled Nauman as a good and smart person, but someone who was in the wrong scene.
"I actually feel a little closure because the case is over," Gauvreau said. "We know who did it exactly. So they got the right person, instead of the wrong person."
But the closure comes 22 years after the fact, and he said he feels the police department is responsible.
"I'm just looking for somebody to help me," Gauvreau said. "They made me suffer all this time. All I want to do is make them suffer one time, and that's out of their pocket."