HOULTON, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday unanimously struck down an appeal by convicted murderer Thayne Ormsby, upholding his convictions and three life terms for killing three people in Amity in June 2010.
Attorneys for the 23-year-old Ormsby argued last month that his convictions should be overturned based on several factors, including that his rights to an attorney and to remain silent were violated and that he was denied a change of venue despite prejudicial pretrial publicity.
The justices found no basis to support those arguments.
Sarah LeClaire, who represented Ormsby with fellow Presque Isle attorney James Dunleavy, presented oral arguments before the court on Sept. 9. Assistant Maine Attorney General Donald Macomber argued on behalf of the state.
The three victims were found dead June 22, 2010, about 27 hours after the killings were committed at the elder Ryan’s home on U.S. Route 1 in Amity, according to police.
When arguing before the court, LeClaire focused heavily on statements made by Ormsby to police on July 2, 2010, at a police station in Dover, N.H. The defense claims that his Miranda rights were violated and his statements were involuntary.
During a July 2011 court hearing, Maine State Police Detectives Dale Keegan and Adam Stoutamyer testified that Ormsby was repeatedly read his Miranda rights before and during the interview. Keegan said Ormsby professed innocence until confronted with evidence from the crime scene, and then admitted guilt and wrote out a confession for police.
LeClaire argued that Keegan should have stopped the interview at a time during questioning when Ormsby stated he would have to “plead the Fifth” to some questions.
Despite his statements, Ormsby kept talking and answering questions for police, according to testimony, and never requested he be provided an attorney or that the interview cease.
Justice Warren Silver quizzed LeClaire about this, noting that it appeared that Ormsby went “willingly” with police and was told “again and again” that he was not in custody and that “he did not have to talk to them.”
Macomber argued that police had followed the proper procedures with respect to Miranda rights. He said that Keegan had made sure to check and see whether, after the Fifth Amendment statement, Ormsby wanted a lawyer or was just done talking for a minute.
“Ormsby went right on talking,” said Macomber.
Writing the majority opinion for the Law Court, Justice Andrew Mead supported the procedures used by the police and said that Ormsby did not appear “uncomfortable” with them.
“As the court found, Ormsby’s demeanor was ‘calm and engaged throughout,’” he noted, adding that Keegan did not threaten him and he was free to leave at any time. “Viewing the courts supported factual findings objectively, it did not err in finding that a reasonable person standing in Ormsby’s shoes would have felt that he could terminate the interview and leave if he wished.”
LeClaire also argued that the court erred in denying the defense attorneys’ motion for a change of venue for the trial based on pretrial publicity and that the jury should have been allowed to hear the consequences of a verdict of not guilty but criminally responsible, but the court also struck down those assertions.
Justice E. Allen Hunter, who presided at Ormsby’s trial, properly instructed the jury, Mead wrote in the 24-page opinion.
The state supreme court also found that Hunter’s sentence was fair.
“Although ‘it is black-letter law that an accused cannot be punished by a more severe sentence because he unsuccessfully exercised his constitutional right to a trial,’ there is nothing in this record to indicate that the court, as Ormsby contends, improperly used the exercise of his right to put the state to its proof as an aggravating factor to increase his sentence,” Mead wrote, quoting a prior decision. “Furthermore, it is clear from the court’s sentencing analysis that Ormsby’s failure to accept responsibility was dwarfed in importance by the grave victim impact the court found to exist.”