June 22, 2018
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Defense points to hit-and-run victim’s former boyfriend in death

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The detective investigating the death of Jordyn Bakley 18 months ago suspected her longtime boyfriend Chester Ruth faked his tears when told she was dead.

Andrew Whitehouse of the Orono Police Department and Ruth, 22, of Lincolnville testified Wednesday on the seventh day of the hit-and-run trial of Garrett Cheney, 23, of South Berwick at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

“I wouldn’t kill my girlfriend for any reason, on purpose or by accident,” Ruth told Whitehouse in a taped interview played for the jury.

Cheney 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.

The jury is expected to begin deliberations Thursday after closing arguments and instructions from Superior Court Justice William Anderson.

Whitehouse testified Wednesday that as the investigation began, he was suspicious of the sincerity of Ruth’s emotions during a recorded interview with him six hours after the body of Bakley, 20, of Camden was found in front of 15 Middle St. about 5:30 a.m. Jan. 30, 2010.

The detective told the jury that he suspected Ruth might be responsible for running her down on an Orono street not far from where she lived at 27 Middle St. He said that statements Ruth made about not killing Bakely and his question about whether she had been hit by a car concerned him as well.

Whitehouse, when questioned Wednesday by Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy, said the tires on Ruth’s Nissan Maxima did not match the tire marks found at the scene. The detective also said that Ruth was not ruled out as a suspect until after police examined Cheney’s truck at T&W Towing in Newport and found the broken grille in the back of his truck.

Ruth was called last week as a witness for the prosecution. Defense attorney William T. Bly of Biddeford delayed his cross-examination of Ruth until Wednesday, the day after the state rested its case.

Bly appeared Wednesday to be pointing to Ruth as an alternative suspect to Cheney, although the attorney never directly asked Ruth if he ran his girlfriend down. The defense attorney played several sections of Ruth’s recorded interview with investigators, which began about 11:55 a.m. Jan. 30, 2010.

When asked by Bly why he told police that he wouldn’t kill his girlfriend, Ruth testified that he did not remember making the statement but admitted after hearing the taped interview that he had said it. Ruth made the statement after being told by police that Bakley was dead, Almy said after court had recessed for the day.

Ruth told jurors that he did remember saying, “How did she die? Did she get hit by a car?” He said that he asked those questions because of what the detectives had asked him.

On Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Jonathan Arden of McLean, Va., rebutted the testimony last week of retired medical examiner Dr. Marguerite DeWitt, who performed the autopsy on Bakley. Arden now works as a consulting forensic pathologist and for more than 20 years worked as a medical examiner in New York, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He testified by videoconference.

He described DeWitt’s autopsy report as “incomplete” and said her conclusion that Bakley’s injuries were the result of a forward projection was incorrect. Arden testified that if she had been hit by a “high-faced vehicle” similar to Cheney’s pickup truck, Bakley would have suffered injuries on her hips and torso. In addition, Arden said that Bakley’s injuries — the break in her thigh bones and severe head trauma — would have been the result of a “vault injury,” in which a pedestrian is struck, then lands on the hood or windshield before striking the pavement and coming to rest.

Under cross-examination, Arden said that the hole in the grille on Cheney’s truck could have been made when Bakley’s hand came in contact with the grille. Her wrist was fractured, according to DeWitt’s autopsy report.

A forensic analyst from the Maine State Police Crime Lab in Augusta testified Monday that pieces of plastic found at the scene of the hit-and-run matched the grille and headlight bracket on the passenger side of Cheney’s 2003 Chevrolet Silverado pickup. A tiny piece of gray waffled plastic that appeared to fit the grille was found when Bakley’s sweater was being placed in an evidence bag after the autopsy.

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.

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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