AUBURN, Maine — Bob Ryder told police he had paid Danita Brown twice for sex and twice she had taken the money and vanished. The third time, after meeting her at a downtown Lewiston market, Ryder gave Brown $100. She followed him home. They had sex, and afterward he fractured her skull with a clock.
Ryder, 21, listened quietly to the prosecution’s version of events Tuesday afternoon in Androscoggin County Superior Court. Ryder then agreed he was guilty of manslaughter, that he killed the 38-year-old New Gloucester woman on June 16, 2011, and hid her body in the basement at 417 Main St. in Lewiston.
With no plea deal in place, Ryder faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail. He will be sentenced later this summer.
“Are you pleading guilty today because you are guilty?” Justice MaryGay Kennedy asked.
“Yes, your honor,” Ryder said.
In a dozen ways, Kennedy asked Ryder if he was clear that he was giving up his right to a speedy trial, to remain silent, to be presumed innocent.
“You’re also giving up your right to tell your side of the story. Do you understand that?” she said.
“Yes, your honor,” said Ryder, blond, clean-shaven and dressed in blue scrubs.
Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese said that if the case had gone to trial, the state could have proven that Ryder caused Brown’s death. Ryder was turned in to police by his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor after confessing the crime to him. Police found Brown’s body in the basement, under a board, with two boxes of baking soda to contain the smell, Marchese said.
She said Brown died of blunt-force trauma, with a head laceration and a fractured skull. Brown had cocaine in her system. An abrasion on Ryder’s clock was consistent with a barrette Brown wore, Marchese said.
She said Ryder claimed he struck Brown after he found her going through his wallet.
“He claimed to black out,” Marchese said. “He picked up a large, wooden clock and hit her with it two or three times.”
Brown’s family sat in the courtroom with a victim’s advocate. She had nine children, according to her obituary, and she was “always happy and smiling with a sparkle in her eye, even on the worst of days.” She also left behind a fiance, Mike Tibbets.
As Kennedy accepted his plea, Ryder indicated through his lawyer, Justin Leary, that he wanted to address the court at sentencing. Kennedy said she would wait for a presentence investigation to be completed before setting a sentencing date. That report will have more on Ryder’s background.
On the steps outside the courthouse, Kathryn Swegart of Rome said she had been Ryder’s foster mother for three years, between the ages 9 and 12. He entered the foster care system at age 5 and had one or two homes before hers.
“Bobby was the one kid who did not have any luck growing up,” Swegart said. “He didn’t know what a birthday party was until he was 5.”
They’ve traded letters since he has been in jail.
“It’s very sad and very shocking,” Swegart said. “I wouldn’t have thought he’d be capable of doing this, but he kept a lot of anger inside. We really pray for the family, the victim. It’s heartbreaking, it really is. Sometimes good things can come out of bad things, that’s what we pray for.”
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