Trial by jury is a foundation of our democracy. There will be trials in Maine in 2012 involving murder, mayhem and incidents fueled by drugs and alcohol as well as civil litigation involving health, work, property and money issues of law. Some of the legal maneuvering will spill over into 2013 as appeals make their way to the final arbiters of the law, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
Here are key trials expected to take place in the coming 12 months.
State v. Thayne Ormsby
Multiple homicides are rare in Maine. Those in which a victim is a child are even rarer. The trial of Thayne Ormsby, 21, is set to begin with jury selection April 4 at Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton. An Ellsworth native who was living in Orient at the time of the killings on June 23, 2010, Ormsby is accused of stabbing to death Jeffrey Ryan, 55, Ryan’s son Jesse, 10, and Ryan family friend Jason Dehahn, 30, all of Amity. All three were found dead about 27 hours after the killings at the Ryans’ home on U.S. Route 1. The victims were stabbed to death with a combat-style knife that Ormsby always carried with him, according to police. Investigators reportedly linked Ormsby to the crime scene through DNA and fingerprint evidence obtained from a beer can and cigarette butt in Ryan’s home. Ormsby told police he killed Jeffrey Ryan because he believed Ryan was a drug dealer. Ryan’s family has denied the claim, and a criminal background check on Jeffrey Ryan revealed no history of drug-related offenses. Even a two-week trial may not answer the burning question on readers’ minds: Why kill a 10-year-old?
State v. Charles Reed Black
Domestic violence is one of the state’s most pressing social problems, but the pushing, shoving, name calling and threatening usually happen behind closed doors, not in a state park. And the alleged motive for the assault rarely approaches $4 million. Black, 68, of Rockland is charged with attempted murder and varying degrees of assault. Police say he smashed a rock over his wife’s head during a hike on Mount Megunticook in Camden Hills State Park on April 7, 2011. He then dragged her to the edge of Maiden Cliff and shoved her off, according to the indictment released in July. Black also fell down the mountain and injured himself. His wife, Lisa Black, 52, of Camden, made it down the mountain alive but injured. A passer-by saw the bloody woman standing in the road and called 911. Police searched the mountain for Charles Black, found him, pulled him down the mountain, hospitalized him and then arrested him a few days later as he was being discharged. Police reports filed in Knox County Superior Court in Rockland, where his trial is scheduled to be held in March, indicated greed as a possible motive. Lisa Black recently had inherited about $4 million, according to court documents.
State v. Bob W. Ryder
Bob W. Ryder’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor led police to a decomposing female body hidden under wood in a basement beneath the first floor of a building where the man charged with causing the woman’s death lived. The murder weapon reportedly was a large wooden clock; the victim allegedly a prostitute. Ryder, 21, of Lewiston is scheduled to be tried in May in Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn for the murder of Danita Brown, 38, of New Gloucester on June 16, 2011.
State v. Kenneth Bruning
Trevor Sprague’s death was on the list of unsolved homicides for nearly five years before Kenneth John Bruning, 26, of Rapid City, S.D., was charged in November 2010 in connection with the death. Sprague’s body was found face down and on fire under the Harlow Street Bridge in Bangor on March 7, 2006. The 34-year-old Lubec native and Bangor transient was known to camp along the Kenduskeag Stream. Police have not released information about how the two men might have known each other or what led investigators to Bruning, who was serving a sentence in a South Dakota prison when he was arrested. He was returned to Maine in June 2011. In most cases, the circumstances surrounding the crime and the investigation have been made public. Bruning’s trial, which has not been set but could be held as early as July at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor, finally may reveal what happened to Sprague.
State v. Roxanne Jeskey
Women are much more likely to be victims of homicides than to be charged with committing them. Roxanne M. Jeskey, 48, of Bangor is accused of brutally slaying her husband, Richard Jeskey, 53, in their Ohio Street apartment. His body was found naked and bloody on June 13, 2011, in the bathroom. Police have said she beat and strangled him in an assault that included the use of pliers, a box cutter and a plastic baseball bat as weapons. Her attorneys have said she acted in self-defense. A battered-spouse defense is expected when the trial convenes in September at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor.
State v. Jay S. Mercier
Jay S. Mercier was a suspect in the death of Rita St. Peter in July 1980. The use of DNA as evidence in crimes then was in its infancy. Today, juries are suspicious when it’s not presented as evidence. DNA from a cigarette Mercier discarded outside his home in 2010 after an interview with investigators matched semen found on the victim, according to court documents. The prosecution claims that Mercier, now 58, of Industry sexually assaulted the 20-year-old, bludgeoned her on the head with a weapon that could have been a tire iron, and partially ran her over with his pickup truck on a field road off Campground Road in Anson. A trial date has not been set, but could be held late in 2012 in Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan.
Paula Bratton and Daniel Hills et al v. Halsey McDonough
Paula Bratton and Daniel Hills Sr. of Solon claim that their three children suffered significant and lifelong disabilities because their former landlord Halsey McDonough of Gardiner failed to tell them that the levels of lead in the Solon house they rented from him were unsafe. Under state and federal law, a landlord is required to disclose to renters that a property has high lead-based paint levels, according to the complaint. Bratton and Hills rented the home on South Main Street in September 2004. Four years later, the children’s pediatrician reported high lead levels in the children’s blood to the Department of Health and Human Services. The Penquis agency issued a lead abatement design plan in December 2008. The family sued McDonough a year later seeking compensatory and punitive damages, alleging the abatement plan never was implemented and the home was uninhabitable. The trial is scheduled to be held in March in Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan.
Pat Godin v. Machiasport School Department board of directors
The former principal of Fort O’Brien elementary school in Machiasport sued the School Department’s board of directors in March 2009 in U.S. District Court. Pat Godin of Trescott Township claims that she was illegally fired a year earlier after a contentious school board meeting in which it was alleged that she had physically abused two students. The board claims that her position as principal was eliminated as a cost-saving measure. Godin’s attorney has said that her client has not been able to find work since 2008. She estimated lost pay and benefits at more than $260,000. The trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 6 in federal court in Bangor.
Dr. Nanand Col v. Maine Medical Center
A research physician sued the Portland hospital after her male boss referred to her as a girl and described her using the nursery rhyme: “There was a little girl, who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.” Dr. Nanand Col of Cumberland Foreside sued Maine Medical Center in U.S. District Court in June 2011. She claims that she was illegally fired in November 2010 after she complained about her boss. Col is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. A trial is scheduled to be held in May in federal court in Portland.
Eric Stephen Levitt v. Sonardyne Inc.
Eric Stephen Levitt of Hope claims he was fired on Oct. 15, 2010, by Sonardyne, a Houston firm, because he told the U.S. Navy that the company was marketing its diver detection technology to China, a violation of U.S. law. Levitt claims he was fired in retaliation for telling an investigator with the Naval Criminal Investigation Service about the sales to China. He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. A trial has not been set but could be held later this year in Knox County Superior Court in Rockland.
BDN writers Jen Lynds, Heather Steeves, Alex Barber, Rich Hewitt, Sharon Kiley Mack, Nok-Noi Ricker and Tom Walsh contributed to this report. The Sun Journal of Lewiston also contributed.