Attorneys made their opening arguments in Loudoun Circuit Court on Monday for a murder trial stemming from the death of a West Virginia man 30 years ago.
Henry E. “Ricky” Ryan was last seen Sept. 30, 1988, leaving a roadside pull off along the Shenandoah River on Bloomery Road in West Virginia. He was 29 years old when he died. A man who was with him that night, Timothy W. Warnick, 58, is being charged with first-degree murder and robbery in Ryan’s death.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jason Faw told the jury that, over the next several days, they will hear from multiple witnesses who were with Ryan and Warnick the night of Ryan’s death. He said Ryan was out for a night of drinking and smoking marijuana laced with PCP that he had picked up earlier in Washington, DC, to sell at the party, Faw said. The jury will hear from witnesses that Ryan was showing people that he had drugs to sell and money on him, Faw added.
He told the jury that Warnick had been released from jail earlier that day and that he hitch-hiked to the party. Later, he, Ryan, and an unknown man drove to a store to get more beer. Faw said that a witness at the store remembers seeing the three get into the truck. Ryan is never seen again.
Warnick returned to the party covered in dirt, “and suddenly he has green he needs to sell,” Faw said. “Timothy Warnick was a desperate man. … Ricky had something that he wanted.”
In defense attorney Renee Berard’s opening arguments, she said that Warnick separated from Ryan before his death. Warnick asked to get out of the truck to visit an apartment complex. “He was hoping to hook up with an old flame. When he came back, the truck and Ricky were gone,” Berard said.
She also told the jury that Ryan’s autopsy showed he had 19 times the legal standard of intoxication of PCP and witnesses will share that he had to be carried to his truck. She also noted that several pieces of evidence, including witness’ recorded interviews with police, have disappeared or been destroyed over the years. She suggested that a pill bottle with Warnick’s name on it had been strategically placed in Ryan’s hand after his body was found.
“Mr. Warnick’s DNA was not found on that bottle. His DNA was not found anywhere,” Berard said.
Prosecutors called their first witness, Chris Juel, of Shannondale, WV, Tuesday morning. Juel found Ryan’s body on March 14, 1989, in a shallow grave off of Rt. 9 in Loudoun County near the West Virginia border.
Juel told the jury that he had pulled his car over because he had to go to the bathroom. After he relieved himself, he noticed blue jeans beneath the dirt. It was clear the jeans were filled with something, Juel said.
“I saw a belt and what looked like pig skin,” he said. “I was freaking out because I thought it might be a body.”
He made an anonymous call to law enforcement, who dug the body up the next day. An autopsy concluded Ryan was murdered by blunt force trauma.
The jury trial is expected to last into next week. If convicted, Warnick faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.