BANGOR, Maine — The jury trial of an Eddington man charged with trying to kill his estranged wife and her new boyfriend before slitting his own throat nearly 16 months ago began Monday afternoon in Penobscot County Superior Court.
Ryan Witmer, 33, allegedly attacked his 37-year-old wife and a 42-year-old high school teacher and part-time karate instructor she was seeing in the early hours of Sunday, June 29, 2008, while three children were sleeping upstairs in the Witmers’ Orrington home. The children, then age 7 months to 9 years, were uninjured.
Witmer’s ex-wife suffered defensive wounds to her forearms, according to court documents. The male victim suffered 11 stab wounds to the back. Before both his lungs collapsed from the wounds, he managed to prevent Witmer from injuring his ex-wife more severely, according to police reports.
The defendant, who was living with his parents in Eddington at the time of the alleged attack, stabbed himself twice in the abdomen before drawing the knife under his own chin, according to court documents.
“To find the defendant guilty of aggravated attempted murder requires that you find his intent was to kill,” Michael Roberts, deputy district attorney for Penobscot County, told the jury in his opening statement. “As he attacked [the male victim], he said over and over again, ‘I’m going to kill you. I’m going to kill you.’”
The prosecutor also told the jury that Witmer refused treatment in the ambulance and expressed his feelings about his ex-wife’s new boyfriend.
“The defendant asked, ‘Is he dead?’” Roberts said. “‘I hope he’s dead. I want to die. I hope he’s dead. I hope he’s dead. I wish I’d been sober, I’d have done a better job.’”
Daniel Lilley, a well-known criminal defense attorney from Portland, told jurors that they would have to “get into [his] client’s head” to determine what his intent was that night. Lilley hinted that Witmer was defending himself rather than attacking.
“Fighting for your life is not a crime,” Lilley said. “Survival is an instinct. You can hurt someone, even kill someone, if you do it to survive.”
He also said that Witmer had two larger knives in his truck and a machete in his garage that he could have taken into the house rather than the smaller folding knife that was identified as the weapon used in the alleged crime.
“He could have taken from his vehicle much more lethal weapons,” Lilley said, holding up the larger knives found in Witmer’s truck. “Who needs a peashooter when he’s got this?”
Witmer’s ex-wife took the stand late Monday and testified that she met Witmer in 2001 when both were working as case managers at Community Health and Counseling Services in Bangor. The two were married in 2003 and two years later left CHCS to work at a local mortgage firm, she said. They also built the house in Or-rington where the attack took place, she testified.
The female victim said that Witmer moved out when she asked him for a divorce in April 2008. Witmer’s ex-wife said she filed for divorce the next month and that she and Witmer had worked out a property settlement and a visitation schedule for their daughter. The ex-wife also has two other children from a previous marriage.
Witmer’s ex-wife testified that she met the male victim in January 2008 when one of her children from her first marriage began taking karate lessons from him. The two did not begin seeing each other socially until a few weeks or so before the alleged attack, she said.
She is expected to continue testifying Tuesday when the trial resumes. The male victim, who now lives with her in the house in Orrington, also is scheduled to testify Tuesday, according to Roberts.
In an unusual development, a female juror, who is a teacher, was dismissed before the trial began by Superior Court Justice William Anderson after it was learned that she had one of the female victim’s children from a previous marriage in her class last year. The remaining four men and nine women, including one alternate instead of the usual two, are expected to begin deliberating by the end of the week.
Witmer was indicted by the Penobscot County grand jury on Aug. 8, 2008, on charges of aggravated attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, aggravated assault, burglary, violation of a protective order, domestic violence stalking and assault. Later the same month, he pleaded not guilty to them.
He has been held at the Penobscot County Jail since his arrest the day of the alleged attack.
If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison on the aggravated attempted murder charge and up to 30 years on the elevated aggravated assault and the burglary charges, Roberts said Monday after the trial recessed for the day.