HOULTON, Maine — The three people killed nearly two years ago in Amity did everything they could to escape their attacker, the doctor who performed their autopsies testified Monday in Aroostook County Superior Court.
Dr. Marguerite DeWitt, a former state medical examiner who now teaches criminal justice in Texas, testified late on the first day of testimony in the triple-murder trial of Thayne Ormsby. All three victims died of multiple stab wounds and — from the positions their bodies were found in — each did what little he could to protect himself, she said.
Ormsby, an Ellsworth native who was living in Orient in 2010, has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to three counts of murder and an arson charge in connection with the stabbing deaths of Jeffrey Ryan, 55, Ryan’s son Jesse, 10, and Ryan family friend Jason Dehahn, 30, all of Amity, on June 22, 2010. They were found dead about 27 hours after the killings at the Ryans’ home on U.S. Route 1, according to police.
The defendant was arrested on July 2, 2010, in Dover, N.H.
When shown a knife Monday that prosecutors claim is the murder weapon, DeWitt said its size and shape were consistent with the wounds inflicted on the victims. The murder weapon has been described as a “combat knife” with a 7-inch blade.
DeWitt told the jury that it was nearly 4 a.m. June 24, 2010, when she arrived at the scene of the homicides. Officers took her first to the back bedroom in Jeffrey Ryan’s trailer.
There she found Jesse Ryan’s body on the floor, partially blocking the door. His knees were tucked up under his body and his bare feet stuck out in a “frog-leg position,” she testified.
“What was interesting was that he died right in that position,” DeWitt told jurors. “I could tell by the streams of blood down his back, sides and face. It had dried that way and was not smeared, so he had not moved.
“He put up no defense,” she continued. “He was totally vulnerable to this attack. His only defense was to turn away. He was hiding, basically, to the best of his ability.”
As DeWitt described the six wounds to the boy’s back and another to the back of his head using a diagram, one female juror dabbed tears from her eyes.
At least two of the wounds to his back went into his chest cavity and entered a lung, DeWitt said after reviewing her autopsy findings. A third fractured a rib as it entered the chest cavity. Any of them could have been fatal, the former medical examiner testified.
The next victim DeWitt examined at the scene was Jeffrey Ryan. He was found in a chicken coop next to a woodshed by the officers who first responded to the report of a dead child in the trailer. It appeared he had crawled in under a shelf or bench to hide, the doctor testified.
DeWitt described the 15 wounds she examined during the autopsy of Jeffrey Ryan on June 25. Many of them were to the upper left side of his back. Several entered his chest cavity and went into his lung, she said. He also had defensive wounds, including one on his palm.
Dehahn was found on his back in a ditch on the edge of Ryan’s property, she said. Most of the wounds were to his chest, but one to the back went through a lung and into his spleen, DeWitt testified. Dehahn’s throat was cut above the Adam’s apple to the spinal cord.
Dehahn’s father, Robert Dehahn of Amity, who earlier in the day testified how he discovered Jesse Ryan’s body and called police, abruptly left the courtroom as DeWitt described the gruesome injuries to his son.
One of the most anticipated murder trials in the state began Monday morning with final jury selection. Eight men and seven women, three of whom are alternates, were selected from a pool of 33 potential jurors just before opening statements were made.
The jury was seated after Superior Court Justice E. Allen Hunter and attorneys on both sides spent three days last week questioning 118 potential jurors. By the end of the day Friday, that number had been narrowed to 33 deemed impartial and able to serve.
Hunter on Friday also denied a defense motion to move the trial out of Aroostook County.
Shortly after the jury was sworn in, attorneys for the prosecution and the defense made their opening statements.
Deputy Attorney General William Stokes told jurors that Ormsby made a list of the people he wanted to kill,
“There were two names on it,” Stokes said. “One of them was Jeffrey Ryan’s.” The other was Alvin Silsby, whose name has not been mentioned previously in connection with the Ormsby case.
Stokes said Ormsby went to Ryan’s trailer on the evening of June 22, 2010, intending to kill Ryan. He did not expect Ryan’s son Jesse or Dehahn, who was a neighbor of Ryan’s, to be there, the prosecutor told jurors.
The prosecutor said Ormsby stabbed Jeffrey Ryan first, outside in a woodshed, then returned to Ryan’s trailer and found the boy and the neighbor playing video games. There, Ormsby first stabbed Dehahn in the chest, then chased the terrified boy down the hall to a bedroom.
Ormsby stabbed Jesse Ryan in the back as he “cowered in fear,” Stokes told jurors. The boy was found dead on his hands and knees.
Dehahn managed to escape the trailer but Ormsby followed him, the prosecutor said in his opening statement. He repeatedly stabbed Dehahn in the back before slashing his throat, nearly severing his head from his body, Stokes told jurors.
Defense attorney James M. Dunleavy of Presque Isle called the deaths in Amity “tragic, horrible and horrific.”
“The defense will put into context the events of June 22 and 23,” he told jurors in his brief opening statement.
Because of his insanity plea, Ormsby will be tried in two phases. In the first and longer phase, the jury will be asked to find if he is guilty or not guilty of the charges on which he has been indicted. If he is found guilty, the jury will hear evidence as to his state of mind at the time of the crime. Jurors then will be asked to determine whether Ormsby was criminally responsible for his actions.
If the jury finds he was insane when the crimes were committed, Ormsby would not be sent to prison but to the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta for an undetermined amount of time. If jurors find him guilty and sane, Ormsby would face a sentence of between 25 years and life in prison on each of the murder charges. He would face up to 30 years in prison if convicted of arson.
Judges are allowed to impose life sentences in Maine under specific circumstances. One of them is being convicted of multiple murders.
The trial will resume Tuesday with the testimony of the Maine State Police detectives who eventually tracked Ormsby to New Hampshire. The trial is scheduled to conclude on April 20.