BANGOR, Maine — Whether a York County man is convicted in the hit-and-run incident that left a University of Maine student dead next to a snowbank on an Orono side street will depend on which expert jurors believe.
Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy told the jury Tuesday as the trial began that his experts will convince them that a drunken Garrett Cheney, 23, of South Berwick struck and killed Jordan Bakley, 20, of Camden with his pickup truck on the wrong side of the road in the early morning hours of Jan. 30, 2010.
Cheney is charged with manslaughter, aggravated criminal operating under the influence of intoxicants, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in serious bodily injury and criminal operating under the influence of intoxicants.
His trial is expected to take two weeks.
“Follow the evidence,” Almy told jurors in his hourlong opening statement. “Let it take you where it takes you. All we ask is that you leave your sympathy and prejudice behind — lock it up in the barn.”
A key piece of that evidence will be the broken pieces of the grille from Cheney’s 2003 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck found in the snowbank near Bakley’s body, Almy told the jury, holding them in his palm for the jury to see. He also showed them photos of how the state crime lab in Augusta matched them to the defendant’s grille.
Defense attorney William T. Bly of Biddeford said he would be using a lot of the same evidence Almy would present, including pieces of the grille.
“We don’t deny that Mr. Cheney struck a snowbank in front of 15 Middle St., leaving some of the grille behind,” Bly said. “We don’t deny that he was over the legal limit. Where we differ is in our interpretations of that evidence. Our experts will tell you what that evidence means.”
No blood or fibers from Bakley were found on Cheney’s grille, he said.
A retired state medical examiner testified the the victim suffered injuries consistent with being struck by a pickup truck. Dr. Marguerite DeWitt told jurors that Bakley was struck just above her right knee. The impact fractured her thigh bone and pushed her forward and most likely off the ground.
Bakley died, the doctor said, of blunt force trauma to the left side of her head. She also had bruises and abrasions on her skull, which was pushed in and fractured in several places, DeWitt testified. Bakley also suffered a fracture at the base of her skull that traversed her head from her left ear to her right ear.
“She was hit just above her center of gravity, which pushed her down to the ground,” DeWitt said. “She hit the ground with severe force.”
The doctor, who retired in October, said death was instantaneous.
The first witness for the prosecution Tuesday was Brandon Robitaille, the 28-year-old Bangor Daily News carrier who discovered the body. Robitaille, of Old Town, testified that he was delivering newspapers about 5:15 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010, on Middle Street when he saw something that looked out of place
“It was very dark, but I could see shadows against the snow,” he told the jury. “I saw what I thought was garbage [bags], but it looked funny.”
A few minutes later, he went back to get a closer look and realized it might be a body, but he wasn’t sure. Robitaille testified that he went to get his car, parked around the corner on Beech Street, and drove it in front of the body so he could shine his headlights on it and be sure his mind was not playing tricks on him.
“Only when the headlights were on it could I tell it was a body and I could see blood,” he said. “There was a lot of blood.”
Under cross-examination by Bly, DeWitt said that after she was struck Bakley lost a lot of blood through her right ear. Photos of her body taken by Orono police showed a large, bright red pool of what appeared to be blood in the snow behind her body.
Bly’s questioning of DeWitt was expected to resume Wednesday morning.
Cheney was in Orono on Jan. 29 visiting a cousin to celebrate the cousin’s 21st birthday, according to an Orono police affidavit filed at the time of his arrest on April 16, 2010.
After allegedly hitting Bakley, Cheney headed south on Interstate 95. HisSilverado went off the highway about 3:30 a.m. in Etna, according to the affidavit. The damaged pickup was towed to the storage lot of a Newport towing firm.
Cheney was not injured but was charged with drunken driving. His blood alcohol level was 0.15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit, two hours after his truck left I-95, according to the affidavit.
Bakley was a 2007 graduate of Camden Hills Regional High School, where she was a talented swimmer and active in the Diversity Coalition and Water Monitoring Program, according to her obituary. She was an advocate for a number of humanitarian causes and spent one summer volunteering for a program that worked to keep inner-city kids off the streets and another as part of a Habitat for Humanity group that built a home in Mississippi.
If convicted of manslaughter, the most serious crime with which he is charged, Cheney, who has no criminal history, faces up to 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained wrong information about where Garrett Cheney, the man on trial in the hit-and-run death of Jordyn Bakley, lives. Cheney is from South Berwick, not North Berwick.