The Jeffrey Pyne Case

Over the last year or so I had seen some highlights and topic titles about a former valedictorian being accused of murdering his mother.  For whatever reason I never seriously gave a look at the articles or information.  Today I am unsure if I am glad I had not paid attention until it had gotten to this point or if I feel bad that I did not.  After watching an episode of 48 Hours, I am completely sympathetic as well as outraged about this case.  I will be honest in saying that a lot of my reaction is based on my experiences with dealing with those with mental illnesses as well as those who provide services to the mentally ill.  

On May 27, 2011 around 2:30 pm Bernard Pyne returned home with his young daughter, Julia.  When he attempted to enter the garage through a small walk in door he found it blocked... blocked by the body of his wife Ruth Pyne, 51.  Bernard immediately prevented his daughter from seeing the scene and called the police.  He then called his son, Jeffrey at work and told him to come home.  Upon discovery investigators found Ruth Pyne had been viciously attacked.  It was discovered she had head injures consistent with being struck with a 2 X 4 or something similar and had been stabbed 16 times in her neck.

When Jeffrey was interviewed investigators saw blistering on his hands.  Jeffrey claimed to have gotten those blisters from moving a (one or more) wooden pallet at his work at an orchard.  I think it should also be pointed out that Jeffrey did yard work for neighbors and worked with his hand a lot while attending the University of Michigan in the biology department. Investigators claim that these blisters were fresh, although on the 48 Hours episode they showed the pictures that investigators took and I thought they looked like old injuries.  When interviewed Bernard Pyne said the same and also pointed out that he may have gotten the blisters else where and they busted when moving the pallet as investigators argued that Jeffrey's answer was unreasonable.  

Jeffrey told investigators that he had been at home that morning; that his mother had gone shopping and come home.  He stated he had left the home around 1:30 and at that point his mother was laying down.  He also told them that he had gone to a neighbors and done yard work and to do some painting.  The neighbor disputed this saying that the work he said he had done had actually been done several days prior.  Investigators were able to get voicemail records that indicated that Jeffrey had called the neighbor but that she had not been home.

Based on this information and little more investigators determined that Jeffrey had murdered his mother although he was not indicted until October 2011.  I will get into the trial and the verdict in a bit but the most important issue in this case is family history. The more I researched for information, the more angry I have become.  

Bernard and Ruth Pyne were married in 1979.  According to Bernard most of the first 20 years of their marriage was normal and fine.  Their son Jeffrey was born in December of 1989 and their daughter Julia about 10 years later.  According to court documents, in 1998 Ruth began acting strangely, including laughing inappropriately, refusing to sleep and began threatening the lives of herself and her son.  I have dealt a lot with the mental health community and services, for it to get to the point in which Bernard is in front of a judge petitioning to have his wife admitted to a mental hospital against her will means this likely started several months to a year prior.  She obviously had sought treatment (or it was sought for her) as a psychiatrist testified at that time that she was "angry and violent."  Like many mentally ill patients she also refused to admit to her illness.  The judge ordered her to a 60 day hospital stay.  At some point, likely prior to the court date and during treatment she had been diagnosed with bi-polar and schizophrenia disorder.  

There did not appear to be, at least through court records, another big incident until March of 2009.  Now, just because there was nothing through the courts from 1998 to 2009 absolutely does not mean that she was taking her medications, that even if she was the dosages were correct or that all was like a bed of roses in the home.  It does appear that sometime soon after her release from the hospital she may have become pregnant to which she gave birth to her daughter, Julia.  Here was a woman suffering from these mental illnesses, who was refusing to admit those issues and who had every reason under the sun (rational and irrational) to not take her medication and she became pregnant (think Andrea Yates, just not as many children) so it is highly unlikely that she was taking her medication then.  It is seems to appear that this family was attempting to handle the issues from within the best that they could but were not fearful of seeking help when they felt it got out of control.  So, in March of 2009, Bernard is back in court asking she be involuntarily (meaning she still thinks nothing is wrong with her) committed for treatment.  Court records state that she believed both she and her daughter had computer chips in their heads and she had a tendency to hit Jeffrey for no reason.  Once again it was ordered that she be admitted into the hospital (only found a reference to 'several weeks') but they were back in court in October of 2009 asking for her to be committed.  Again, a psychiatrist testified to her violence and recommended inpatient treatment.  I was unable to determine if or for how long it was ordered at this time.

Then on July 28, 2010 Bernard was once again attempting to get Ruth to take her medication that she was refusing.  Jeffrey came in and also tried and Ruth lashed out at him, punching him with her fists and attempting to choke him.  The police were called and Ruth was arrested for assaulting Jeffrey.  She spent two weeks in jail.  From what I was reading and understanding is that she could have made bail but without treatment she was not allowed to return home or be around Jeffrey.  It did not say specifically that she was refusing treatment but knowing how these things work it would not surprise me.  After the two weeks however she was ordered to a mental hospital and spent 12 days there.  Once released she was ordered by the judge to take her medication "in front of her husband" or she would be arrested.  Nine months later she was found dead in her garage.

Now, most of the above came from court records... documented proof of things that were going on in the home.  What they do not tell are the months and months of things going on in between those court hearings.  Bernard not only has stated since his son's arrest that when not on medication Ruth tended to focus her anger towards Jeffrey, it dates back years in court records!  It takes an extreme amount of effort to get to something like this taken to court (when it's not a criminal action) and even more effort to get someone admitted into the hospital involuntarily. It really is not unusual to go long periods of time without major incidents.  That does not mean that things are fine though and often times the longer the person deals with the issues they learn how to manipulate situations and people so that smaller things do not become big things until a time in which it becomes even too big for them.  I have had enough dealings with the mental health community to know this.  When a patient says they are fine and proclaims to not be homicidal or suicidal they are released to family and it is family who is expected to deal with them.  Like many suffering from mental illness Ruth not only refused to admit she had an issue, she refused to take her medication.  It was said her excuse was that she was convinced they were poison and she was being guided by The Holy Spirit so she did not need them.  Others will often stop medication because they know what it will do and they crave the attention it gets them. The problem is that they then in turn do not want to be hospitalized but when they "play that game" they forget that it ultimately goes to far and hospitalization becomes the only answer. My husband and I personally have had argument after argument with mental health doctors over the mental health treatment of his mother.  We have had her in multiple places seeking treatment for her schizophrenia only to have them release her repeatedly over a period of days until finally she is to the point in which she cannot answer their questions herself.  Prior to that regardless of the answer and other exhibited behaviors she is sent home.  I honestly believe that a lot of the reason Bernard was likely to get Ruth admitted likely has to do with the fact that there were children in the home.  It likely became less about getting Ruth care than it was fear that she may actually do something to one of the children and then the judge would have had egg on his face and likely face lawsuits.  Obviously I could be wrong but based on my own experiences I find this highly unlikely.  

When you live with or have a mentally unstable person in your life it controls your life... period.  Families of the mentally ill generally try to do everything they can to not only keep the person safe and get them care but to also keep it as private as they can.  It is extremely likely that there was so much more going on that will never be made public.  

It had been said that Jeffrey felt an obligation to help his father with his mother and an extremely obligation to make sure his younger sister was safe.  It would have been extremely hard for Bernard to support the family and be able to keep his daughter safe from harm on his own. I suspect this is why Jeffrey not only still lived at home but also why he was attending a nearby college.  Many can say that he was 21 when the murder occurred, that he was a college student, and that he did not have to live in the home with his mother or even deal with her if her situation was so dire and/or frustrating to him.  I strongly disagree.  It goes back to experience.  Jeffrey did feel that obligation to especially his father and sister.  There are even reports from people who knew the family that state he was a loving son, never cruel to his mother despite her issues and was very obligated to her and her care also.  Upon watching the 48 Hours episode the very first thing that angered me about this case was a comment made by Ruth's family.  It was not as much what she said (although I disagree with that also) but how she said it.  First it was indicated that Ruth did not have issues, or if she did they were not the magnitude in which had been portrayed (mind you there are court documents on this and I was yet to hear of them at that point) as well as she spoke of Jeffrey's obligation to look out for his sister.  It was said in a way that Jeffrey had no other choice.  Well, in a sense he likely felt like he did not have another choice but that does not mean that he did not or that it was right.  I live in a household in which my spouse does not have a mother/son relationship with his mother.  He has a father/daughter relationship with her and it sounds as if this was expected of Jeffrey or at the very least he was to be Julia's second parent.  Well, you cannot have it both ways. First, You cannot say that Ruth did not have issues and not as bad as portrayed but then say Jeffrey had no choice but to keep his sister safe.  Secondly, I firmly believe that people who are not dealing with the mentally ill person on a regular basis should have no say in what should be done or how it is done and definitively have no right to criticize how someone else is handling things.  If Bernard was such a horrible person and Julia needed to made safe then rather than run your mouth, step up to the plate and do something.

Knowing all of this when Jeffrey was first charged with the murder of his mother he was charged with murder in the first degree, meaning premeditation.  His trial began on November 16, 2011.  The prosecution had no weapon, no blood evidence, no confession and no eye witness to the murder.  They based their case on the issues of the blisters on his hands and his crumbled alibi. Oh, and I should not forget about the ex girlfriend who testified that he had been unfaithful to her and was an extremely good liar.  Their theory of motive?  Jeffrey was just so frustrated with his mother, her illness and the toll it had taken on his family he could take no more.

After the prosecution rested the defense called no witnesses and rested their case also.  They did so on the basis that in their minds the prosecution had not proven first degree murder.  The jury would have the choice of Murder in the 1st degree or not guilty.  At this point the prosecution decided they wanted the jury to also have the option of second degree murder.  To qualify for second degree murder, cases of passion and raged (which is what they based their motive on) would be included.  The defense attorney rightfully argued against this but Judge Leo Bowman disagreed and allowed it.  In the end the jury deliberated for about 10 hours and came back with a verdict of guilty in the 2nd degree.  Polled later they admitted they would have not convicted him on 1st degree murder and he would have been found not guilty had that instruction not been added.  My personal opinion is that this alone is an appellate issue and I truly hope that Jeffrey gets a new trial based on this.  Whether you believe he killed his mother or not should not be an issue for anyone.  One can hardly argue that he got a fair trial on this issue alone. 

Once again in walks Ruth's family... after the verdict it was said that Ruth was not the "monster the media made her out to be," and Ruth was a victim but that justice was served.  EXCUSE ME? There is documented proof of what kind of "monster" she was, whether she could control it or not was not an issue, her DOCUMENTED behavior is!  I will not necessarily argue that Ruth was not a victim.  She was a victim of murder and she was a victim of her disease.  However, EVERYONE in that household was a victim of that disease.  They did not welcome it; it was not something they chose; they did not enjoy it!  Once again I ask where were they and their protection and help? I will argue too asking who is the bigger victim Ruth or Jeffrey?  Again, there is documented proof that when she stopped taking her medication her rage was focus on Jeffrey and there is not one shred of evidence that this boy ever retaliated against that at any point.  There is proof this started when he was 9 years old!  Where is the compassion for this family member??  This bright young man who even by the time the prosecution was done portrayed him as a man who just simply could not live in this manner and be treated this way anymore is now facing prison time and has his record marred by a felony and we want to talk about justice being served?  I am only grateful that he is only looking at 7-12 years and I hope he gets a reversal on an appeal!  

I am often "reminded" when I am discussing my own experiences with the mental health community and the mentally ill that they "cannot help it." To an extent I often agree.  However, that is not the complete case because generally there are things they can help and there is much much more that the doctor can or should be doing.  Even still none of that matters because just because something cannot be helped or maybe even controlled does not make it any less frustrating.  While researching this case and writing this blog obviously my frustrations have come through.  This is based on over 10 years of my own experiences dealing with these issues and being reminded of every brick wall after brick wall we have hit.  I look at my husband and I can totally see Jeffrey in him, especially had his mom lived.  At one point Bernard had (or was going to) filed for divorce from Ruth.  That would have left him with no legal rights to get her treatment.  In our case, while they did not divorce, my husband's mother was separated from her husband for several years and her care fell to my husband, hence his true fighting began.  And, like Jeffrey, he had a sibling ten years younger than him who he became responsible for.  Thankfully my mother in law does not tend to be violent as Ruth was.  However, while researching this subject I kept asking myself if tomorrow my mother in law came to live with us, and the fact my husband has been diagnosed himself as bi-polar yet controls it, could he one day snap on her?  I would like to sit here and tell you absolutely not.  But truthfully I cannot say.  She has been in our home for a period of weeks at one time before and again, while there was not violence there was plenty of frustration.  

Do I know if Jeffrey Pyne killed his mother?  Not absolutely.  I will say I question his alibi since the neighbor disputes it so I do lean towards he likely did do it.  I do not believe it was ever premeditated or rose to the level of 1st degree murder.  I also believe that if he did do it and he would have admitted to it, or even if he said she attacked him (even if she did not) he would have walked.  I have to be honest in saying that even if she did not come after him, and he did plan it, there is a part of me that says he saved himself a lifetime of hurt and frustration.  Wrong?  Absolutely.  Then again I have never been one who has been known to be politically correct or not speak my mind in exactly what I am saying.  Even without this happening Jeffrey would have had a lifetime of caring for his mother, while also keeping a handle on his own sanity. Mental illness can and often is hereditary and dealing with others with these diseases can push even the most sane person.  There is also the risk of his sister also developing the disease.  Jeffrey's been her protector and it is likely if she were to develop mental illness, like his mother he would feel an obligation to care for her.  I guess we can hope that if he were forced to serve his time and be released it is unlikely he would ever be allowed to care for a mentally ill person so he would have a legal status to guard himself.

I truly believe Jeffrey Pyne was failed.... failed by everyone! 


Comments

  1. My word! Can I just say thank you for writing about this case? This is my first time ever hearing about it and I'm practically obsessed. While I am not close with anyone who has a mental illness and cannot speak regaridng any of that, I do honestly agree with you. I feel for Jeffrey Pyne and agree that he definitely did not have a fair trial. To be honest, it just makes me really sad thinking about it.

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  2. I agree-- I lived for 20 years with a man who has inconsistently treated bipolar and unless you have experienced in this situation, it is impossible to understand-- I tried everything, including contacting his doctors, in an attempt to get him the help that he needed, but his illness and our broken mental health system eventually forced me to make the hardest decision of my life-- To walk-away from my marriage, knowing that if I had stayed, I would have eventually been responsible for destroying myself and my children....... I shudder knowing that this terribly sad story could have easily been my own.......

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  3. His defense lawyer failed him. He should of crossed examine and made a little effort in raising reasonable doubt. But he chose to rest his defense arrogantly. Bad move.

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  4. Jeffrey was an adult whom no longer lived with his mother so how can you say he would have an obligation to care for her? I do believe he did. I think his mother upset him so much that one day he just "snapped". Also bipolar has strong genetics and it is highly likely that Jeffery himself is Bipolar and that one day his sister also will be diagnosed.

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  5. I Don't agree that her children are "highly" likely to be bipolar and Jeffery didn't show any signs of mental illness! I Don't know if he killed his mom but there's no proof that he did!

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  6. You have written a very good piece. I viewed the program today and had similar views as you have stated. A fact that puzzled me was why lie about the transplanting of those trees? That fact bothered me. As for his blisters, to me they merely looked liked an older callous that had the dead skin peeled away and in no way was it a fresh wound incurred in a 24 hour period.

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  7. Good blog post! I generally agree with what you state here. As for Jeffery, he was screwed by the justice system. He was given very insufficient--or for that matter, experienced, council and the prosecution was able to obtain a second-degree murder conviction on pretty thin evidence and a case largely of a circumstantial nature--and probably won hands over against the inexperienced defense on the jury selection.
    Do I think Jeffery actually killed Ruth, his mother? Probably, though I do find it interesting he yet maintains his innocence. Actual physical evidence of him committing the murder is very sparse and it seems as though a number of assumptions were made to build even a circumstantial case, which a gullible jury gobbled right up and a 'defense' that was blatantly lazy and totally ineffective. He might had well just defended himself and slept thru the entire trial.

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