May 23, 2018
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Witness: Man appeared too drunk to drive night of Orono hit-and-run

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The man accused in the hit-and-run death of a University of Maine student 18 months ago appeared to be too drunk to drive when he left 38 Middle St. in Orono shortly before 3 a.m. Jan. 30, 2010, a witness told jurors Friday.

Laura Hackney of Orono testified that she was living at an apartment house down the hill from 15 Middle St., where the body of Jordyn Bakley, 20, of Camden was found about 5:30 a.m. that same day by a newspaper carrier. Hackney, whose hometown is South Berwick, said she was in the kitchen of an apartment at 38 Middle St. with her stepbrother, Colin Kelsey, 22, of South Berwick, cooking eggs about 2:30 a.m. that day when Garrett Cheney walked in.

Cheney, 23, of South Berwick, is charged with manslaughter, aggravated criminal operating under the influence of intoxicants, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in serious bodily injury and criminal operating under the influence of intoxicants in connection with Bakley’s death.

His trial began Tuesday at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.

“[Cheney] seemed like he had been drinking,” Hackney told jurors. “It seemed like he was stumbling. We offered to let him spend the night on the couch, but he said no.”

Under cross-examination, Hackney said that she did not know if Cheney, whom she had met for the first time the day before, left on foot or if he had driven away. She also did not know whether he was holding car keys when he left. In addition, she testified that she did not remember seeing a truck or notice what types of vehicles were parked in the apartment house parking lot during the evening hours of Jan. 29, 2010, or the early morning hours of Jan. 30, 2010.

Cheney was in Orono on Jan. 29 into the early morning hours of Jan. 30 visiting his cousin Nathan Messier, 22, of South Berwick to celebrate Messier’s 21st birthday, according to an Orono police affidavit filed at the time of Cheney’s arrest on April 16, 2010.

Messier is a friend of Kelsey’s, Hackney testified Friday.

After allegedly hitting Bakley, Cheney headed south on Interstate 95. His Chevrolet Silverado went off the highway about 3:30 a.m. in Etna, according to the affidavit. The damaged pickup was towed to the storage lot of a Newport towing firm.

Cheney was not injured but was charged with drunken driving. His blood alcohol level was 0.15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit, two hours after his truck left I-95, according to the affidavit.

Two women who were at a party with Bakley a few hours before she died also testified Friday. They described Bakley’s relationship with Chester Ruth, the victim’s longtime boyfriend, as a bit less ardent than he did in his testimony Thursday afternoon.

Emily Fortin of Winthrop said Friday that Bakley referred to Ruth, 21, of Lincolnville as “her ex,” but said that the two remained friends.

Alyssa Phinney of Waterboro told jurors that it was her understanding Bakley and Ruth still were seeing each other and remained close.

Both women told jurors that they heard Bakley on the phone with Ruth several times while the women were at a party on Oak Street in Orono, a few blocks from Bakley’s apartment at 27 Middle St. Phinney, who wept throughout her testimony, said that Bakley planned to get together with Ruth after the party. She also told the jury that she had planned to walk Bakley home to her apartment but left alone when Bakley seemed to be taking too long gathering up her coat and other belongings.

In his testimony Thursday, Ruth described Bakley as his “best friend” and the woman he loved. He said they dated their freshman year in high school and broke up a year later. Ruth testified that they reconciled in their junior year at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport when they worked together on a water quality monitoring project.

When asked Thursday by Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy how their relationship was during their college years, Ruth said, “Great. Wonderful.”

Fortin and Phinney, however, both testified that Bakley had told them she had a crush on a fellow University of Maine student named Zack, but the friends testified that they did not know him or his last name.

In answer to a question from Almy, Phinney said Bakley never expressed any concern about Ruth being controlling or abusive.

“Her and Chester — I feel like they were always in love with each other,” Phinney said.

The trial recessed early Friday after defense attorney William T. Bly of Biddeford delayed his cross-examination of Ruth, which had been scheduled to take place Friday morning, until next week when the defense presents its case.

“When we put on our defense witnesses, I expect the trial to swing heavily in our favor,” Bly told reporters at a makeshift press conference outside the courthouse. “We are going to call some of the same investigators who have testified for the prosecution and the jury will learn more and more about the shoddiness of this investigation.”

The attorney declined to comment on whether Cheney would take the stand in his own defense.

Efforts to reach Almy late Friday were unsuccessful. It is the practice of the district attorney not to comment on a case during a trial.

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday with testimony from witnesses who were with Cheney on Jan. 20 and 30, 2010.

If convicted of manslaughter, the most serious crime with which he is charged, Cheney, who has no criminal history, faces up to 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained wrong information about where Garrett Cheney, the man on trial in the hit-and-run death of Jordyn Bakley, lives. Cheney is from South Berwick, not North Berwick.

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