Can prosecutors prove valedictorian killed mentally ill mom after years of abuse?

(WXYZ) DETROIT - Despite the horrific charges against Jeffrey Pyne, who is accused of murdering his mom, many are standing behind him, convinced he's innocent.

The prosecution is relying on circumstantial evidence to prove its case.

It is a murder mystery from Highland Township involving a valedictorian and a mentally ill mom—a case that is captivating the entire nation.

On March 27, 2011, Bernard Pyne and his 11-year-old daughter came home to a gruesome discovery: Ruth Pyne, his wife of 30 years, a woman with a long history of mental illness, was on the garage floor bludgeoned and stabbed to death.

Pyne immediately dialed 911.

"She's laying in the garage. There's blood everywhere. I don't know what's going on," said Pyne.

Months later, the Highland Township police arrested Ruth Pyne's 22-year-old son Jeffrey, a high school valedictorian and biology major at the University of Michigan in Flint.

He is now on trial for first degree murder. But nearly everyone close to Pyne is standing behind him, including his own father, and his high school teacher and counselor.

"Those who know him know he is a wonderful person, a peace-loving person. He loved his mother and he's just not capable of doing this," said Donna Gundle-Krieg.

But Assistant Oakland County Prosecutor John Skrzynski painted a much different picture for the jury. He said Pyne murdered his mom with premeditation because of extreme rage that was brought on by years of abuse by his mentally ill mother. Skrzynski said Pyne first hit her 13 to 14 times with a two-by-four and then turned on her with a knife.

"He stabbed her in the neck on the left, and he stabbed her again. And he stabbed her again, and again and again and again and again and again, and sixteen times he stabbed her in the neck," said Skrzynski.

Jeffrey Pyne certainly did have a potential motive.  He spent years dealing with his mom's erratic behavior. She was bi-polar and schizophrenic, and just ten months before her murder, she was sent to the Oakland County Jail after hitting and choking her son.

Prosecutors dropped the charges after Ruth Pyne was treated at a hospital and promised to stay on her medication.

Jeffrey Pyne's attorney is not using Ruth's Pyne's abusive past to build a case for insanity or self defense. He is telling jurors the cops simply got the wrong guy.

"Somebody else committed this crime. We believe the evidence will show you that," said Jim Champion, who hammered away at the prosecution's circumstantial case and urged jurors to make the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

"The question in this case is not, ‘Could Jeffrey Pyne have committed this crime.  The question, the only question, is did he?'" said Champion.

But if not Jeffrey Pyne, then who? The prosecutor says there was no break-in. There was no sexual assault. Ruth's purse was wide open on the dining room table.  In fact, the prosecutor says, the only thing missing from the house was a two-by-four, from an obscure location inside the garage.

And there's more.

"He lied about where he was. He lied about what he was doing.  He lied about how he got the blisters," said assistant Oakland County Prosecutor

Pyne also had blisters, one on each hand. Pine said it happened while handling wooden pallets at the orchard where he works. Prosecutors maintain the blisters came from pummeling his mother with that now-missing two-by-four.

ABC legal analyst Dan Abrams says the prosecution's argument will be a tough sell.

"These wounds on the hands are the best evidence for prosecutors.The question for prosecutors cross over from ‘Yea, this guy could have done it' to proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he did do it. And I think that's going to be the challenge for prosecutors here."

To bring the murder charge against Pyne, prosecutors used a rarely used tool, a grand jury that forced witnesses to come in and tell what they know.

Pyne's supporters say the police simply chose a convenient person to pin for the brutal murder.

"I believe that not many murders happened in Highland Township and there was pressure to find someone to assure the neighborhood that they were safe, and that he was an easy person to blame because of the past abuse," said Gundle-Krieg.

Both sides will lay out their evidence in the coming weeks. Then the jury will decide; Is Jeffrey Pyne an innocent man caught up because of circumstances, or a cold-blooded killer who snapped after years of dealing with his mom's mental illness?

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