Jury selection begins in triple-homicide trial in Houlton

Posted April 04, 2012, at 12:42 p.m.
Last modified April 04, 2012, at 3:18 p.m.
Thayne Ormsby
Thayne Ormsby

HOULTON, Maine — Clad in a smart-looking gray suit, triple homicide defendant Thane Ormsby sat amid a jury pool of 118 people Wednesday from whom will come the 12 individuals who will decide his fate.

Potential jurors spent most of the morning assembling at Aroostook County Superior Court before Justice E. Allen Hunter gave them instructions. He had distributed to them a 10-page questionnaire and a 15-page witness list that prosecutors and defense attorneys will use in search of an impartial jury.

By the time Hunter put the court in recess for the day, at about 1:25 p.m., 20 potential jurors had been excused from serving on the Ormsby case, based on their answers to the questionnaires or the attorneys’ objections.

Hunter thanked the prospective jurors for their patience, saying the review was taking “longer than expected.” He and the attorneys are expected to question individual members of the jury pool as part of determining their competence when court resumes Thursday.

Eleven people selected for jury duty did not make it to the courtroom, Hunter said.

“They will receive a separate invitation where we will discuss with them what jury duty is,” Hunter said.

The questionnaire asked jurors whether they knew the principals involved in the trial, including Ormsby and the attorneys, and whether they felt they could judge Ormsby fairly.

Before the trial begins, the judge will have to deal with a pending defense motion, filed in February, to move the trial to Caribou or another county. Defense attorneys James Dunleavy and Sarah LeClaire of Presque Isle said they believe the case’s extensive pretrial publicity has soured the area’s jury pool. Deputy Attorney General William Stokes, the lead prosecutor, has disagreed.

Hunter had the attorneys for both sides identify themselves to the potential jurors and had the 21-year-old Ormsby turn to face the room during his brief stay in the courtroom.

Ormsby has pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder and an arson charge in connection with the deaths of Jeffrey Ryan, 55, Ryan’s son Jesse, 10, and Ryan family friend Jason Dehahn, 30, all of Amity, in 2010. They were found dead on June 22, 2010, about 27 hours after the killings at the Ryans’ home on U.S. Route 1.

Police said the victims were stabbed to death with a combat knife that Ormsby reportedly always carried with him before he took Ryan’s pickup truck and burned it with the aid of an accomplice. State police divers have found the knife, officials said.

Police said the defendant confessed to killing 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.

Ormsby’s attorneys filed paperwork seeking to suppress statements that he made to police in June and July of 2010, claiming that his Miranda rights were violated. Hunter rejected the motion.

Police linked Ormsby to the crime scene through DNA and fingerprint evidence obtained from a beer can and cigarette butt in Ryan’s home, according to court documents.

Several of the victims’ family members have said they will attend the trial, which could start on Thursday or Friday, depending on how quickly a jury is selected.

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