Defense attorney points finger at alternate suspect in Houlton murder case

7 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — A defense attorney for a 20-year-old accused of murder in the killing of a Houlton man two years ago said during opening arguments in the trial Monday that another teen suspect in the case committed the murder. 

Assistant Attorney General John Alsop, who is prosecuting the case, however, countered by pledging to the jury that the state would prove beyond a reasonable doubt the man on trial in Houlton Superior Court — Reginald Dobbins — was the one who “brutally murdered Keith Suitter.”

Jury selection finally wrapped up after two and a half days early Monday afternoon with 11 men and four women chosen to sit in on the trial to determine if Dobbins is responsible for killing the 61-year-old on March 1, 2015. Twelve of the selected will sit on the jury with the other three serving as alternates.

Dobbins, who was 18 at the time, is accused of stabbing and beating Suitter to death with a hammer in the man’s mobile home. An autopsy revealed last year that the victim suffered 21 blunt-force trauma blows, mostly to the head, which appeared to have been inflicted by a hammer, and 10 stab wounds to the head and back.

Another teenager, Samuel Geary of Houlton, who was 16 when Suitter was killed, also was charged with the murder and pleaded guilty in Washington County Superior Court in Machias on May 25. A sentencing date for Geary has yet to be set and it is unclear whether he will testify in the case against Dobbins.

On Monday afternoon, Hunter Tzovarras, attorney for Reginald Dobbins, pointed the finger solely at Geary.

“Anyone can be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said of Dobbins. “The state’s case is all about guilt by association. … It is not murder when someone else commits the murder and you don’t participate. It would be horrible to convict Dobbins for a crime he didn’t participate in.”

In a hearing last year, after which a judge determined that Geary would be tried as an adult, Geary took the stand and blamed much of what happened at the murder scene on Dobbins. Geary said he was pressured to take part in the crime after a day of drinking and using drugs. According to Geary, he and Dobbins went to Suitter’s home to buy drugs. After Dobbins had gotten into the home using the ruse that his vehicle had broken down, Geary alleged, Dobbins pulled a hammer out of his jacket and began striking Suitter.

Geary also said that he “tried to stab” Suitter but the folding knife didn’t open all the way, and he instead cut himself, which angered Dobbins. Dobbins then took the knife and stabbed the victim, according to Geary.

Tzovorras, however, said in his opening argument on Monday that only Geary’s blood and DNA was found on a hammer at the crime scene. The defense attorney also said that Geary’s DNA was found on a pocket of Suitter’s clothing, which he said was proof that he had robbed the victim.

Among six witnesses who testified Monday, former Houlton Police Officer Eric Crouse told jurors that he went to Suitter’s home two years ago after receiving a call that Suitter’s truck had been abandoned in a ditch a short distance away from the home. Crouse recalled seeing Suitter’s battered body on the floor in the living room, surrounded by blood stains. He noted that the living room was in disarray and that someone had dumped potting soil on the victim.

Witnesses Richard McLaughlin of Hodgdon and Ashley Eastham of Houlton testified that they saw two males, one shorter and one significantly taller, near Suitter’s home on the night of the murders. Dobbins is the taller of the two teens.

Both McLaughlin and Eastham said that the shorter male was “obviously intoxicated.” Eastham, who was on her porch smoking a cigarette, said also she overheard the taller male talking on a cell phone and asking for a ride home. Both McLaughlin, who had been driving by, and Eastham acknowledged that their descriptions of the two males had faded from what they initially told police two years ago.

Courtney London of Houlton testified that she had purchased marijuana from Suitter in the past, and that he kept both the drugs and the money he received for them in a coffee can. Crouse said that police found a coffee can in Suitter’s abandoned vehicle, along with loose change in the snow nearby. Testimony on Monday did not link Dobbins and Geary to the vehicle, but an affidavit previously filed by police with the court accused the teens of stealing it and crashing it.

Trooper Jared Sylvia testified that his tracking dog, Merry, located a black glove a short distance away from the murder scene. A mate to the glove was not located. Monday’s testimony offered no indication of to whom the glove belonged.

The trial, which will continue Tuesday, is expected to last a week.