HOULTON, Maine — An Orient man who was charged in connection with a triple homicide in Amity in June 2010 and then arrested again in August on a drug offense has pleaded guilty to all the charges against him.
Robert Strout, 64, entered the new pleas in Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton on Wednesday morning before Justice E. Allen Hunter. Under a plea agreement, he will serve at least two years in prison on the charges, but not more than four years.
He was granted bail and released later Wednesday afternoon. Members of Strout’s family who were in the courtroom appeared ecstatic. Members of the victim’s families, however, later said in phone interview that they were angry at the results and at not having been notified about the hearing in time to attend.
Strout, who was represented in court by attorney Stephen Smith of Bangor, was arrested in September 2010 and charged with hindering apprehension and arson for his role in helping conceal evidence in a triple homicide investigation in the Aroostook County town of Amity. Strout originally pleaded not guilty, but acknowledged in court Wednesday that he helped the accused killer in the case, Thayne Ormsby, 21, of Ellsworth, conceal evidence and burn the vehicle of one of the victims.
The three victims were 10-year-old Jesse Ryan, his father, 55-year-old Jeffrey Ryan, and Jason Dehahn, a 30-year-old family friend. All three were stabbed to death at Jeffrey Ryan’s U.S. Route 1 home.
In the weeks before the killings, Ormsby lived a short distance from the crime scene at the Orient home of Strout and his wife, Joy Strout. Strout told police last July that a bloodied Ormsby came to his home after the killings and threatened to kill his family if he did not help Ormsby cover up evidence of the crime. He also told investigators that he drove Ormsby to a location where the accused killer burned his bloody clothing and disposed of the knife used in the slayings. In the days after the slayings, Strout also drove Ormsby to his son’s home in New Hampshire. That is where Ormsby later was arrested.
On Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson characterized Strout as an accomplice to the arson who drove Ormsby to a location in Weston so that the accused killer could set Jeffrey Ryan’s truck ablaze.
Strout was out on bail on those charges when he was arrested by officers with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in August and charged with aggravated furnishing of scheduled drugs and violation of bail. He also initially pleaded not guilty to those charges, but changed his plea Wednesday.
Benson said the 64-year-old gave his 24-year-old grandson Craig Strout-Desmond and Strout-Desmond’s girlfriend, Brianna Bonness, 24, both of Ellsworth, 170 tablets of the prescription painkiller oxycodone after the two came to his Orient home on Aug. 3. An informant had tipped off the MDEA that Strout-Desmond would be making the trip. Strout-Desmond and Bonness were arrested and charged by the MDEA after a traffic stop the evening of Aug. 3. Benson said Strout refilled his prescription for 180 pills each month and then gave them to his grandson. That had been going on for at least five months before Strout’s arrest, according to Benson. The charge was aggravated because the amount of the drug furnished by Strout totaled about 8,000 milligrams.
Aroostook County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Kafferlin, who handled the drug charges against Strout, said there was no proof Strout was giving the pills to anyone but his grandson.
Benson said after Wednesday’s hearing that Strout was offered the plea agreement as an incentive for his “truthful testimony” against Ormsby during the murder trial. That trial has not yet been scheduled and Benson acknowledged that it could be up to two years away.
Strout will not be sentenced until after he testifies at the trial.
Strout’s bail on the hindering apprehension and arson charges previously had been set at $50,000 surety or $20,000 cash, which he met. After he was arrested on the drug charges, however, he was unable to meet additional bail requirements of $50,000 surety or $10,000 cash and had remained in jail. During Wednesday’s hearing, the bail requirements were made concurrent and he was released later that afternoon from the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton.
Hunter added additional conditions to Strout’s bail, including that he not use alcohol or drugs other than what he is prescribed, submit to random searches and testing, enter into a contract with Maine Pretrial Services and take all of his medications as prescribed.
Members of the victims’ families were furious Wednesday afternoon about the plea agreement and the fact that they were not given sufficient notice about Strout’s hearing. Shannon Ryan, brother of Jesse Ryan and son of Jeffrey Ryan, said that he and his sister Melanie Dutra were notified about 4 p.m. Tuesday about Wednesday’s 9 a.m. hearing. Shannon Ryan lives in Texas.
“We knew nothing of any plea bargain,” he said. “I think that they didn’t tell us because they knew how upset we’d be and were afraid that we’d make a scene. I haven’t heard from anyone about a deal and have heard nothing from the Attorney General’s Office about this stuff. If I had been given enough time, I would have been there, but you can’t just zip to Maine from Texas in a few hours.”
Dutra, who lives in the Bangor area, was equally outraged.
“I got a call about the hearing at 5 p.m. on Tuesday,” she said Wednesday evening. “I was told that [Strout] was going to plead guilty and then there would be a bail hearing. There was no mention of any plea deal, and I agree — I think they didn’t want us to show up because they were afraid we’d make a scene. I am so upset, and my husband is steaming. I think it is even more personal to us because Bob Strout knew my dad, he knew my family. They’d known each other for more than 20 years. We were told they have DNA evidence tying Ormsby to the crime scene, so why do they even need Strout’s testimony? Why would they plead him out?”
Jamie Merrill, mother of Jesse Ryan, was furious that Strout was once again out on bail. She also said she didn’t know anything about a plea deal.
“When he was out on bail the first time, he committed a crime and got arrested again,” she said from her home in Lewiston. “So now he gets another chance? Jesse, Jeff and Jason didn’t get another chance. I can’t believe this. Bob is out living his life, and we suffer.”