HOULTON, Maine — Weaving into his confession information about literature and government, Thayne Ormsby told police that he murdered three people in Amity in 2010 to test himself and “see if he was proficient” as a killer.
During a daylong hearing Tuesday in Aroostook County Superior Court, Ormsby’s attorneys said that he meets the criteria for being found not guilty by reason of mental defect or disease in the slaying of two men and a 10-year-old boy. They also brought in his estranged mother to testify and stressed that Ormsby had a troubled childhood and suffered physical and emotional abuse at her hands.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, however, denied that Ormsby had any type of mental defect or disease. Benson pointed out that the 21-year-old defendant did not suffer from hallucinations, delusions or psychosis and that his methodical actions after the murders supported the state’s belief that he was sane at the time of the killings.
Ormsby was convicted on April 13 in 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 elder Ryan’s home on U.S. Route 1, according to police. All three died of multiple stab wounds. The arson charge stemmed from Ormsby’s burning of Jeff Ryan’s truck after he stole it from the murder scene.
Before the start of the murder trial, Ormsby pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to the charges. Because of his insanity plea, Ormsby is being tried in two phases. The first phase last week asked the jury to find whether he was guilty of the charges on which he was indicted. This week, the jury is hearing evidence as to his state of mind at the time of the crimes. They will be asked to determine whether Ormsby was criminally responsible for his actions. The jury’s decision must be based on a preponderance of the evidence rather than on reasonable doubt as it was during the criminal phase of the trial. The burden also is on the defense to prove that he was insane.
Ormsby is being represented by James Dunleavy and Sarah LeClaire, who on Tuesday played a videotape of testimony by Dr. Diane Tennies, a psychologist who treated Ormsby when he was taken away from his mother at age 12. Tennies’ testimony was recorded recently and played in court on Tuesday because she had a prior commitment, according to Benson.
Tennies said that Ormsby suffered physical and emotional abuse at her hands when he was a child and was sent to live with his uncle Steven Ormsby.
Tennies said that Ormsby met the criteria for “depressive disorder not otherwise specified,” adding that at the time he was a sad, anxious individual who aligned with troubled peers and engaged in risks to be accepted by others.
But Tennies also said to Benson under cross examination that she has not treated Ormsby since he was 12 and that he did not suffer from hallucinations, delusions or psychosis.
Benson told the jury Tuesday that after Ormsby killed Jeff Ryan, he killed Jesse Ryan and Jason Dehahn because he knew that they could turn him in to authorities if they lived. He also said that Ormsby had the presence of mind to clean up the crime scene by removing some items that had his fingerprints on them. The defendant also burned his bloody clothing and threw the knife used in the killings into a bog.
“He was not even remotely psychotic,” Benson told the jurors.
Ormsby’s mother, Maria Ormsby, testified briefly Tuesday but had a difficult time answering questions and recalling events. She admitted that she abused alcohol and drugs during her son’s childhood. When asked about an incident in her home in which her partner and her son got into an intense argument, Ormsby told Dunleavy that she really couldn’t recall what happened.
“I stayed out of it,” she said.
She couldn’t answer several other questions about her son’s home life or events before he left her care.
“I guess I don’t know what I am talking about,” she told Dunleavy.
Jurors also were shown more than an hour of videotape of Ormsby confessing to the murders and telling Maine State Police Detectives Dale Keegan and Adam Stoutamyer that he would not plead insanity. He also talked about books he had read, quoted lines from them and told Stoutamyer that he had ambitions to be a state governor.
He said that after he stabbed all three victims, he went to steal Ryan’s wallet but discarded it when he saw there was no money in it. He told detectives that Jeff Ryan was a “a bad man” but said that he had other reasons for committing the murders.
“I didn’t do it [the murders] for money,” he said. “I did it to test myself. I wanted to see if I was proficient.”
He also said that he still has a lot of “good nature” in him.
“I could still be used for a good purpose,” he added.
Testimony will continue on Wednesday.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that Dr. Diane Tennies testified in court on Tuesday. Tennies' testimony was recorded previously and played in court on Tuesday.