One of alleged murderer Jeffrey Pyne’s best friends painted a picture of a 21-year-old man who was distraught over a break-up and other personal issues in the month’s leading up to the brutal murder of Pyne’s mother, Ruth, in their Highland Township home last year.
On Friday, Nov. 16, in the first day of witness testimony in Pyne’s trial in front of Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman for first-degree premeditated murder, Nicholas “Woody” Bretti, a former co-worker of Jeffrey Pyne’s at the 200-acre Spicer Orchards in Fenton, said Pyne’s break-up with his long-time girlfriend prompted multiple get-togethers between him and Pyne at an Oakland County bar where Pyne would drink.
That happened a few times a week, Bretti said on the stand, adding that Pyne said he loved her and that the two of them talked about marriage. Pyne, who wore a suit and tie at the trial, was “heart-broken” about the break-up that occurred in March 2011, Bretti said.
At their meetings, Bretti and Pyne would talk about a variety of things.
“We were talking about life, the future, the present, the past,” Bretti said. Those discussions also included Pyne’s mother, who reportedly suffered from bipolar disorder and at times would not take her medication, which Bretti said made her “very paranoid.”
He and Pyne went out the night before Ruth Pyne’s May 27, 2011 murder. During questioning by prosecutors, Bretti said he was concerned enough about the amount of alcohol Pyne drank that evening to follow him home.
When he saw Pyne at Spicer Orchards around 3 p.m. the following day — the day of Ruth Pyne’s murder — Bretti said Pyne seemed “distraught” and “tense.”
In his opening statement on Friday, Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor John Skrzynski characterized the case against Pyne, who has been incarcerated for over a year for the murder of his mother, as “a mosaic, a jigsaw puzzle.”
Skrzynski said Pyne allegedly hit 51-year-old Ruth Pyne in the back of the head 13 or 14 times with a 2-by-4. Her arm had been broken in two places. She also had broken fingers and other injuries to her hands. Her skull was badly fractured.
After that, the prosecution alleges, Pyne stabbed his mother in the neck 16 times, cutting her carotid artery.
“This was an angry, angry killing,” Skrzynski said.
Pyne’s defense attorney, James Champion, said he “utterly, categorically, absolutely reject(s)” the prosecution’s accusation that Pyne killed his mother, who was found around 2:30 p.m. in the garage of her Highland Township home in the 2400 block of Burwood Court that she shared with her son, daughter, and husband of roughly 30 years, Bernard.
“Somebody else committed this crime,” Champion said, calling the murder “a horrible, cruel, mean death that did not need to happen.”
Champion said the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office “rushed to judgment” in bringing charges against the 22-year-old Pyne, who was a University of Michigan biology student at the time of the murder and is a former valedictorian of West Highland Christian Academy.
“We absolutely reject the notion that Jeff had anything to do with this,” Champion said, urging the jury in Bowman’s courtroom throughout his opening statement to maintain the presumption of innocence.
The sentence for first-degree premeditated murder is life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Bernard Pyne, Ruth Pyne’s widower, and Gail Pyne, Jeffrey Pyne’s aunt, have both told the Spinal Column Newsweekly in the past that they believe Jeffrey Payne is innocent.
“I support my son. And in no way do I think he was involved (in Ruth Pyne’s murder),” he said in May.
Jeffrey Pyne was indicted for the murder after a grand jury listened to testimony compiled from his family, friends, and co-workers, which reportedly produced evidence linking him to the murder.