Dateline   |  May 15, 2013

May 15: 'Behind Closed Doors', Part 4

The investigation of Ruth Pyne's murder leads to a first degree murder charge for her 21 year old son Jeffrey Pyne, which shocks his family.  They are standing by him as his trial begins.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> in the days and weeks following the murder of ruth pyne detectives say they scoured the area for both suspects and a ditched weapon.

>> we canvassed the neighborhood even as far as to drain the pool out looking for a possible weapon. we'd searched the yard. we had officers talking to neighbors.

>> reporter: the sheriff's tip line was ringing.

>> we're looking at any suspect information that we get from any source. such as this mysterious person that had been seen cutting through a neighborhood to the landscaping crew, to this former workman. anytime anybody gives us anything, we're running it down, and we were able to clear those things.

>> reporter: so they put together what they had. a family dealing with mental illness. a mother bludgeoned to death. a spouse who had been unfaithful. a son with injuries to his hands. and something else detectives noticed the night they interviewed jeffrey .

>> i'm having a hard enough time.

>> reporter: that tearful, quivering voice, the sobs, the head to the hands. to the detectives it all came across as an act.

>> at no time in any of our interview, even when we tell him that your mother has been murdered, there are no tears. i mean, there's no watery eyes. there's no what appeared to us real emotion . i mean, faked emotion. trying to pretend, but nothing that appeared to be real.

>> reporter: so jeffrey , the beloved friend, the good son, had become a suspect in his mother 's murder.

>> i just think it's impossible.

>> reporter: jeffrey had lived with his aunt susan, ruth 's sister, for several weeks after his mother 's murder.

>> i did try to pull information from him by just saying, i know you had difficult times. his reaction was what i would think was normal. i don't feel jeff did this crime.

>> jeffrey never raised his voice at his mom, ever. certainly never raised his hand, but never showed any anger towards ruth whatsoever. he just loved her. i can tell you right now i'm a better suspect than jeffrey could ever be.

>> what are you finding out about bernie ? because he's definite l. a trail you're following.

>> we took a strong look at bernie . we were able to clear bernie through his alibi.

>> as we put our case together more and more, things are focusing on jeff and less and less is focusing anywhere else but jeff .

>> reporter: so five months after ruth pyne's death her 21-year-old son was indicted on a first-degree murder charge.

>> all rise.

>> reporter: jeffrey pyne pleaded not guilty. and last november stood trial. the one-time valedictorian fasd a life sentence if convicted.

>> and he hit her again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

>> reporter: prosecutor john skrzynski opened by outlining the state's theory.

>> this was an angry, angry killing. it was the result of years and years and years of things that had built up, living with a difficult person who was bipolar.

>> reporter: to support that theory, that jeffrey snapped, a string of witnesses described what they'd been told about things that jeffrey had had to endure over the years.

>> he told me one night that his mother tried to kill his little sister .

>> when she spit in his face, jeffrey stated that he told his mom, mom, you need to take your medication.

>> reporter: jeffrey 's ex-girlfriend, holly freeman, gave the jury a closer look at just how eccentric and maybe dangerous his mother 's behavior had become.

>> she had been storing knives in the headboard of her bed.

>> reporter: jeffrey , she said, wanted to move out but didn't have the money. and he was also concerned about leaving his little sister with a mother who'd been violent with both of them.

>> he felt bad leaving julia there. and he was worried for her.

>> reporter: and she also testified jeffrey told her if his father didn't get a divorce by summer he would finally do it, move out on his own.

>> he couldn't take it anymore. just the entire situation was weighing too much on him.

>> reporter: but there was little physical evidence to support the prosecution's theory. no murder weapon was ever found. and there was no blood in jeffrey 's car. no blood anywhere on it. the best the prosecution had was just a single drop of ruth pyne's blood on a handle in the laundry room sink.

>> that would be the place to wash up.

>> yes. he had plenty of time it clean up. he had plenty of time to bag up whatever he had to do and get it out of there.

>> reporter: prosecutors theorized he washed his bloody hands in the laundry room sink and then showered upstairs, secure in the timetable of the family that day.

>> i knew that julia was at school, bernie was at work, and what time he would return home, you know, with julia from school.

>> reporter: next, prosecutors attacked jeffrey 's alibi. on the friday afternoon of the murder he claimed that he was planting lilac bushes at mrs. needham's house. but she testified jeffrey had done that gardening but four days earlier than he told police.

>> those bushes were there on monday may the 23rd and they were there because you mulched them on may the 24th.

>> yes.

>> weighs supposed to transplant lilac bushes anywhere else?

>> no.

>> reporter: and the prosecution pointed to the unusually long and detailed voicemail message jeffrey left mrs. needham that day.

>> i was just up there for about an hour or so, kind of sweeping up, kind of checking things out. i still got some priming and stuff to do. but i just stopped over there for a little bit before i had to go to spicer's --

>> in listening to the voicemail, it appears to be just a rambling message. almost as if a way to start an alibi.

>> reporter: prosecutors believed rather than transplanting lilacs jeffrey was actually using that time to conceal the murder weapon and bloody clothing. then he showed up for his job at the orchard, and that's where the prosecutors asserted he made up another story. a lie about how he'd gotten raw, broken blisters on both his hands.

>> that was from work today. i was flipping over a pallet, and as i was flipping it over my hand got caught in there.

>> reporter: the medical examiner testified highly unlikely.

>> i can't envision the capability of inserting the hands in those slats in the way to create these injuries.

>> reporter: and when the police lab tested the very pallet, no skin or dna from jeffrey was found. so how did jeffrey tear up his hands?

>> is it possible that those blisters could be created by the number of blows that were applied to mrs. pyne's body with a rectangular object?

>> yes.

>> reporter: and about a week after the murder the young man's father, bernie , said he'd noticed a scrap piece of two-by-four missing from the garage.

>> so you believe a two-by-four was the bludgeoning weapon here?

>> we believe so.

>> reporter: but without rock solid physical evidence jeffrey 's behavior in the hours and days after his mother 's death became part of the prosecution's circumstantial case.

>> someone killed your mom.

>> reporter: that perceived false show of grief detectives saw when they questioned jeffrey the night his mother was killed. the arriving emts that afternoon agreed. they testified to witnessing some bad acting.

>> what was he doing?

>> he was making crying sounds.

>> okay.

>> distraught crying sounds. i noticed that there was no tears.

>> but in fairness, people react in different ways to very emotional scenes.

>> sure. but when you just find out in your mother is dead and you go out there and you -- for the people that are standing around appear to be faking what you're doing, that's important to us.

>> reporter: finally, the prosecution argued it came down to character. and they used holly, the ex-girlfriend, to tell the jury about the time that jeffrey had cheated on her and then lied about it.

>> he just -- he lied so effortlessly. to me. to my family. to my friends. he had a whole little story to cover his tracks.

>> they're young kids.

>> yes.

>> and you know, you cheated with another guy, that sounds like teenage stuff.

>> it is.

>> but why should you put weight on that?

>> what bothered holly was how effortlessly he lied to her. once she saw that side of him, which she had never seen before, she became very suspicious of him.

>> reporter: after 11 days of testimony the prosecution rested. the defense was up next. and the lawyer for the accused son elected to take a path less traveled.

>> the second thing i want to --

>> reporter: very gutsy. very risky.

>> may we approach?