Eddington man gets 4 years for stabbing assault

Posted Dec. 29, 2009, at 8:47 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The defendant’s ex-wife burst into tears.

The man Ryan Witmer stabbed 11 times on June 28, 2008, heaved a sigh of relief.

The victims’ family and friends quietly cheered Tuesday as they left the Penobscot Judicial Center courtroom after a Superior Court judge sentenced Witmer, 33, of Eddington, to four years in prison.

A Penobscot County jury on Nov. 2 found Witmer not guilty of aggravated attempted murder, elevated aggravated assault, aggravated assault and burglary after a 5½-day trial. After deliberating for two hours, the jury of four men and eight women found Witmer guilty of the lesser charges of simple assault on his ex-wife and violation of a protection from abuse order.

Superior Court Justice William Anderson on Tuesday also revoked Witmer’s post-conviction $20,000 surety bail and ordered him to begin serving his sentence immediately after his defense attorney asked that Witmer remain free on bail while the sentence was appealed.

He faced up to five years in prison on the violation of a protection from abuse order because it included an assault, and up to a year in prison on the assault conviction.

Witmer’s ex-wife told Anderson that she had received many phone calls from women who expressed outrage over the verdict. Some of them, she said, asked whether she thought the verdict was just.

“I said yes because the jury based its verdict on what it was allowed to hear,” the woman said. “But I know in my heart, your honor, that you heard more than that.”

She did not ask the judge to impose a specific sentence.

“What I must weigh is how this crime stacks up compared to other ways in which protection from abuse orders could be violated, and this is one of the more serious ways,” Anderson said. “He had to know when he entered the house — and he forced his way into the house — that it was not going to go smoothly.”

Witmer did not react to the verdict and was cooperative with jail personnel as they handcuffed and removed him from the courtroom.

“We have been deeply disappointed in the verdict of this trial,” the male victim, whose lungs collapsed as a result of the stab wounds, said in an e-mail after the sentencing. “Today at sentencing, the judge did an excellent job of placing blame where it belongs … The judge also demonstrated that Ryan is a threat, and has no re-gard for the law, by sending him directly to jail to serve his prison time. We are thankful to the judge for his decisions today.”

It is the practice of the Bangor Daily News not to name victims of crimes.

Penobscot County Deputy District Attorney Michael Roberts recommended Witmer be sentenced to five years in prison with one year suspended and two years of probation — the longest term allowed by law for a Class C crime.

Portland defense attorney Darrick Banda, who attended Bangor High School with Witmer, urged the judge to sentence his client to between 1½ and two years in prison with all but the 16 months the defendant spent in the Penobscot County Jail while awaiting trial suspended. That would have allowed Witmer to remain free.

Those 16 months will be applied to his four-year sentence.

Banda said after the sentencing that his client would appeal the bail revocation and the sentence.

“This sentence appears to reflect the judge’s disagreement with the jury’s verdict,” he said.

Witmer was accused of attacking his 37-year-old wife and her boyfriend, a 42-year-old high school teacher and part-time martial arts instructor she was seeing, late on the evening of June 28, 2008, while her three children were sleeping upstairs. The children, then ages 7 months to 9 years, were not injured.

The boyfriend, who has a black belt in tae kwan do, a Korean self-defense system, suffered 11 stab wounds to his back. Witmer’s ex-wife suffered superficial cuts to her forearms, according to court documents.

Witmer stabbed himself twice in the abdomen before drawing the knife under his own chin and slitting his throat, according to trial testimony.

The boyfriend and the ex-wife, who testified last month that they planned to marry, told the jury that Witmer broke into the house and attacked the boyfriend with a knife when he tried to defend her. The boyfriend said that he did not realize Witmer had a knife until after he had been stabbed.

Witmer told the jury that he went to the house that night to see his then-7-month-old daughter because he had an overwhelming feeling that “something was wrong,” after drinking with a friend. He testified that he pulled his knife out of his pants pocket and stabbed the teacher because he had him in a chokehold and Witmer was on the verge of passing out.

On Tuesday, Witmer also pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer as he was being taken to an ambulance the night of the stabbing to be treated for his self-inflicted wounds.

In addition to the four years for violation of the protection order, Anderson sentenced Witmer to six months for assaulting his ex-wife and six months for assaulting the police officer. All three sentences are to be served concurrently.

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