Trial begins in Amity triple murder

12 years ago
By Joseph Cyr
Staff Writer

    HOULTON — After three days of narrowing down a jury pool to eight men and seven women, the trial of an Ellsworth man accused of killing two Amity men and a 10-year-old boy began Monday at Aroostook County Superior Court.

Houlton Pioneer Times Photo/Joseph Cyr

GOING OVER NOTES — Thayne Ormsby, right, goes over some notes with his attorney Sarah LeClaire during Monday morning’s court proceedings. Ormsby is on trial for murdering two adult men and a 10-year-old boy in Amity two years ago.

    Sporting a gray suit with a purple tie, Thayne Ormsby, 22, showed no emotion as the court clerk read to the jurors the three counts of murder and one count of arson levied against him.


    Ormsby is charged with the stabbing deaths of Jeffrey Ryan, 55, his son Jesse Ryan, 10, and Jason Dehahn, 33, all of Amity. The victims were last known to be alive on June 22, 2010. All three were found dead at Ryan’s residence on U.S. Route 1 in Amity. The victims were stabbed to death with a combat-style knife.

    Ormsby originally pled not guilty to the charges, but has since changed his plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial is expected to take a couple of weeks to complete. Prosecution witness testimony continued Monday afternoon and Tuesday.

    Ormsby was indicted by the Aroostook County Grand Jury on July 9, 2010. Deputy Attorney General Bill Stokes previously said, if convicted, Ormsby faced a minimum of 25 years to life on each of the three counts of murder and 10 years on the arson charge. A Ford truck was removed from Ryan’s property and later destroyed by fire. Ormsby has been held at the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton without bail since his arrest.

    During Monday morning’s proceedings, Stokes painted a grisly scene for jurors as he described the evidence his team would present during the case, stating that Ormsby had created a list with two names of people he sought to kill because he believed they were involved in drug activities. One name was Jeffrey Ryan. The other was Alvin Sillsby.

    Stokes said the defendant came to Jeffrey Ryan’s mobile home on June 22 with the intent of killing him. Stokes said Ormsby was not expecting to find Ryan’s son or Dehahn at the residence at that time.

    The prosecutor went on to say Ormsby, Jeffrey Ryan and Dehahn drank a beer together in the trailer, when Ormsby and Jeffrey Ryan exited the home to go to a woodshed outside. Stokes said, while Ryan’s back was turned, Ormsby stabbed him repeatedly in the back with a seven-inch blade and then slashed his arms when Ryan turned to face his attacker.

    Stokes said Ormsby then returned to the trailer, where he found Dehahn and Jesse Ryan playing a video game on the couch.

    “Knowing he could not leave any witness, he went back inside the trailer and immediately stabbed Dehahn in the chest as 10-year-old Jesse ran for his life to the back bedroom,” stokes said. “The defendant chased after Jesse and as the young boy cowered in fear, this defendant repeatedly stabbed him in the back.”

    Stokes said the defendant then returned to the living room, only to find Dehahn had fled the residence. The prosecutor said Ormsby then proceeded to locate Dehahn outside in a wooded area, where he stabbed him several more times, and sliced his throat, nearly to the point of decapitation.

    State police were called to the scene on June 23 after the body of Jesse Ryan was found by Jake Dehahn, brother of Jason, and his father Robert, both of Amity. Police located the body of Jeffrey Ryan near the woodshed, while Dehahn was found in a ditch beside the home.

    Stokes told jurors that the prosecution did not have to prove the act was premeditated for them to find the defendant guilty of murder. Nor was the state required to prove motive.

    “Premeditation suggests planning, plotting or scheming,” he said. “The intent to kill can be formed in an instant. Even on an impulse in the time it takes to pull out a knife and stab another person to death.”

    He encouraged jurors to use their common sense when weighing the facts of the case and reviewing the evidence.

    Attorneys James Dunleavy and Sarah LeClair, both of Presque Isle, are representing Ormsby. In his opening remarks, Dunleavy said few could argue that the deaths of the two men and little boy were “horrible and horrific.”

    “This case is not, in any way a question about whether their deaths were horrible and horrific,” he said. “They were. The answers to the questions of why and who may be more elusive.”

    Dunleavy said his client knew very little about Jeff Ryan prior to moving in with Robert and Joyce Strout of Orient. Ormsby previously lived in Ellsworth.

    “We believe you will hear evidence sufficient to consider how Robert and Joyce Strout felt about Jeff Ryan and why,” he said.

    The process to select a 15-member jury (12 regular jurors and three alternates), took place from Wednesday through Friday. Originally, 118 jurors were called, but 11 did not show last Wednesday. The jurors were then given a written questionnaire to fill out, in an effort to deem their eligibility.

    Some of those questions included such things as “Do you have any personal, political, philosophical or religious views or have you had any experiences in life that could make it difficult for you to consider fairly, impartially and objectively evidence in a case of alleged murder?” “Have you, a family member or close friend ever had a significant personal experience relating to mental health issues?” and “If you have heard or read something about this case, do you think you could set aside any initial thoughts or impressions and make your ultimate decision about the base based solely on the evidence presented during trial and upon the requirements of the law given to you by the judge?”

    Questions for the jurors also asked if any of them were related to law enforcement officials, other member of the jury, or if they have ever been a victim of a violent crime.

    Earlier, the defense looked to move the trial to a different location, citing the heavy media coverage of the incident. Judge Hunter denied that request.

    The judge also denied an earlier defense motion to suppress statements that Ormsby made to police during two separate interviews in New Hampshire in June and July 2010.

    According to a July 2, 2010 Maine State Police affidavit, Ormsby confessed that he stabbed Ryan because he thought he was a drug dealer. However, he gave no motive for killing the child or Dehahn. Police went to Ryan’s residence on U.S. Route 1 late Wednesday June 23, according to the affidavit, after a call from Dehahn’s father who found the deceased child. Police also found the two adults on Ryan’s property, outside of the trailer.

    The arson charge is in connection with destruction of a 1989 Ford truck taken from Ryan’s property and later located in Weston. Ormsby claimed in the police affidavit that Robert Strout of Orient assisted him in disposing of evidence including a knife he claimed he used to kill the three victims. On July 3, 2010 a state police dive team recovered a weapon in a nearby bog not far from the Orient town line.

    Police connected Ormsby to the crime scene through fingerprint and DNA evidence obtained from a beer bottle and cigarette butt found inside Ryan’s home. In the weeks before the killings, Ormsby lived a short distance from the crime scene at the Orient home of Strout and his wife. Strout told police last year that a bloodied Ormsby came to his home after the killings and threatened to kill his family if he did not help Ormsby cover up evidence of the crime, including helping to dispose of the clothes Ormsby was wearing and the knife used in the killings, according to the affidavit.

    Strout later reportedly drove Ormsby to New Hampshire to live with his son. That is where police arrested Ormsby later.