Defense expert says man’s truck could not have hit, killed UM student

Garrett Cheney of South Berwick sits in a courtroom at the Penosbscot Judicial Center in Bangor and listens to opening statements to the jury on Tuesday, July 19, 2011. Cheney is accused of driving his truck into University of Maine student Jordyn Bakley of Camden as she walked down a snow-covered Middle Street in Orono in January 2010 and then driving away.
Garrett Cheney of South Berwick sits in a courtroom at the Penosbscot Judicial Center in Bangor and listens to opening statements to the jury on Tuesday, July 19, 2011. Cheney is accused of driving his truck into University of Maine student Jordyn Bakley of Camden as she walked down a snow-covered Middle Street in Orono in January 2010 and then driving away.
Posted July 26, 2011, at 1:50 p.m.
Last modified July 26, 2011, at 6:57 p.m.
Jordyn Bakley
Courtesy photo
Jordyn Bakley

BANGOR, Maine — An accident reconstructionist testified for the defense Tuesday that Garrett Cheney’s truck could not have struck and killed Jordyn Bakley, 20, of Camden on an Orono street 18 months ago.

Cheney, 23, of South Berwick is on trial for 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 her death in the early morning hours of Jan. 30, 2010.

Joseph Stephenson, a former Biddeford police sergeant, testified on the fifth day of the trial at the Penobscot Judicial Center shortly after the state rested its case. He said that he formed his opinion using photos, reports and computer images from Orono police and Maine State Police investigators.

Stephenson testified that if Cheney’s 2003 Chevrolet Silverado had struck Bakley, her body would have been under his right front tire based on the location of the tire marks investigators have identified as belonging to his truck.

The retired state medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Bakley’s body testified last week that the break in the victim’s left thigh bone and her severe head injuries indicated she was struck at about 21½ inches above her heel and her body was projected forward. Dr. Marguerite DeWitt said there were no crushing injuries and no tire marks on her clothes, which would have indicated she had been run over.

Stephenson also said that in examining a vehicle exactly like Cheney’s, the leading edge of the bumper, which would have made contact with a pedestrian before other parts of the truck did, was 27 inches above the ground.

“That indicates that we should have seen more injuries to her torso and head and less on the leg,” he said. “There also should have been some front hood damage.”

Stephenson also was critical of things investigators apparently did not do at the scene, such as measure the depth and width of the snowbank. He said that without knowing in which direction Bakley was walking and whether she was on the side or in the middle of the street, it was not possible to determine exactly what happened to her body on impact.

During cross-examination by Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy, Stephenson disputed the conclusion of Dr. Edward David, the medical examiner who came to the accident scene. David concluded that Bakley was projected forward, hit the ground, then slid on the road because of the way snow was plowed against her legs.

Stephenson said that he saw no evidence in the photos he reviewed that Bakley’s body slid along the pavement before coming to rest. He attributed the snow next to her legs to possibly displaced snow from the snowbank. Stephenson also said that Bakley did not have significant abrasions on her body to conclude she had slid along the pavement.

After the trial recessed for the day, Almy criticized Biddeford defense attorney William T. Bly’s efforts to discredit prosecution witnesses.

“The defense is trying to convince the jury that there was a second vehicle that just happened to be in the same area and hit [Bakley] two minutes after Mr. Cheney crashed into the same snowbank,” the prosecutor said. “Succeeding at that is wishful thinking, in my opinion.”

During his cross-examination of Stephenson, who now works as a private consultant, Almy asked him to explain how the fist-sized hole in the passenger side of the grille of Cheney’s truck could have been made.

Stephenson said that it could have been caused by a chunk of icy snow from the snowbank in front of 15 Middle St. He did not dispute that the items found at the accident scene came from Cheney’s truck.

Using a computer demonstration, a forensic analyst from the Maine State Police Crime Lab in Augusta testified Monday about how she matched small pieces of plastic found at the site of the Orono hit-and-run to Cheney’s truck.

Cynthia Homer told the jury that the break pattern on the end of the piece of gray waffle-shaped plastic collected from a snowbank at the scene fit perfectly into a broken section of the grille recovered from Cheney’s 2003 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck.

The forensic analyst also used a series of photographs to demonstrate how a small piece of black plastic matched a different part from Cheney’s truck — the passenger’s side headlight bracket. That evidence was also was found at the accident scene, Orono police Detective Andrew Whitehouse testified last week.

During her testimony Monday, Homer talked the jury through a series of photographs projected onto a large movie-type screen on a wall in the courtroom and several small flat-screen monitors placed in the jury box. The forensic analyst explained how she carefully examined the evidence to conclude it matched parts removed from Cheney’s truck.

Bakley’s body was found about 5:30 a.m. Jan. 30, 2010, in front of 15 Middle St. by a newspaper carrier, according to previous testimony. Investigators have theorized that she was struck and killed between about 3 and 3:20 a.m. based on the outgoing and incoming calls on her cell phone, which was found open about 20 feet from her body.

In his opening statement, Bly said that Cheney drove through the snowbank where Bakley’s body was found but did so before she was struck and killed by someone else. The Biddeford attorney also conceded the fact that his client was too drunk to drive when he left Orono on Jan. 30, 2010.

Cheney was in Orono on Jan. 29 visiting a cousin to celebrate the cousin’s 21st birthday, a witness told the jury last week.

After allegedly hitting Bakley, Cheney headed south on Interstate 95. His Silverado went off the highway about 3:30 a.m. in Etna, according to testimony Monday. 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 previous testimony.

The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday with the cross-examination of Chester Ruth of Lincolnville, who described himself as Bakley’s boyfriend. At least one of the last women to see Bakley alive testified last week that the two had broken up.

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.

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