DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A daughter tearfully recalled Wednesday finding her mother’s battered body in late 2008 and fighting the urge to remove a plastic bag that had been secured over her head.
Melanie Eastman of Atkinson was the first witness to take the stand in the jury-waived trial of her uncle Michael Toby, 54, who was indicted on a murder charge in the slaying of Rosalie Shedd, 70, his elderly sister and Eastman’s mother. Justice William Anderson is presiding over the trial, which will continue today in Piscataquis County Superior Court.
Eastman said that when her mother did not answer the door of her Dover-Foxcroft home on Oct. 23, 2008, after she had pounded on it and hollered her name, she called her mother’s neighbor, who had a spare key. The pair entered the apartment and found Shedd’s body crouched on her knees on a bedroom floor. Her mother’s arms were folded under her head and a plastic bag was tied over her head, Eastman testified.
“I wanted to reach down and rip open the bag because I wanted her to breathe,” Eastman said, but she added something stopped her from doing so. She left the room, summoned her husband and called 911, she said.
Police say Toby, who moved in with Shedd after he lost his longtime job in the Augusta area, got into a fight with his sister in the late evening of Oct. 22 and ended up striking her repeatedly on the head with a piece of wood, strangling her with a vacuum cleaner cord and tying a plastic bag over her head. He reportedly left Shedd’s home after the killing and stayed the night in a nearby rental cabin.
As Eastman recounted the incident Wednesday, Toby did not show any emotion. Represented by court-appointed attorney Chris Smith of Dover-Foxcroft, Toby has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Smith called the event “very tragic” and said Toby’s actions made no sense considering the fact he had no history of violence. Toby was not able to control his actions that night, he said.
Jonathan Siegel of Bangor, a clinical forensic psychologist who evaluated Toby three times since the slaying at Smith’s request, said he found Toby competent for trial but pointed out that Toby had a schizoid personality. He said Toby can’t form relationships, is reclusive and appears to have led an impoverished emotional life. He said it was clear Toby was not suffering from a mental defect — he was aware of what was going on and knew it would lead to a certain outcome.
Siegel said he found that Toby had become angry, frustrated and desperate since he lost his job. He said Toby’s coping skills were no longer adequate. Toby wanted to resolve the situation by killing himself after his sister’s death, he said.
Siegel testified that Toby told him he had an “argument” with himself about whom he was going to kill that October day — Shedd or himself. “This was an internal struggle that no one can plumb the depths of,” he said. Siegel added that there was a “very substantial impairment” in Toby’s ability to control his functions. Toby believed that an act of violence like this would restore some stability; he had an acute sense of paranoia, the psychologist said.
But Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson told the judge that Toby was “completely oriented” and knew it was wrong to kill his sister. He said Toby was down on his luck, was suicidal, had no job and no place to live. Family members, he said, had the perception that Toby was “mooching off” his sister, and that caused tension.
Toby has the absolute obligation to prove he was insane when he killed Shedd, Benson said.
He said Toby told police that he took a rope with him after his sister was dead, intending to kill himself, because he was so wracked with remorse. He said Toby may have been mentally ill but he was not psychotic when he placed the plastic bag over Shedd’s head after beating her over the head and strangling her with the vacuum cleaner cord.
“Mr. Toby is the one who made the decision to kill his sister, and at the time he did it, he knew exactly what he was doing,” Benson said.
Based on vapor droplets observed inside the plastic bag, Shedd had been breathing after the plastic bag was placed on her head, Dr. Marguerite DeWitt, deputy chief medical examiner, testified Wednesday.
An autopsy revealed six lacerations to Shedd’s scalp and a contusion on the back of her head, all caused by a blunt-force object, DeWitt said. Shedd also had injuries to her hands and her wedding ring was bent, and those, DeWitt said, were most likely defensive injuries. In addition to shoulder injuries, Shedd also had a ligature mark around her neck, the doctor said.
Detective Darrin Crane of the Maine State Police Criminal Investigation Division said a stick with a reddish brown stain on it was found next to a recliner in the living room, and that the other half of the stick, also with a reddish brown stain, was found in the bedroom.