After five days of testimony by more than 20 witnesses, the jury trying a 30-year murder case in Loudoun Circuit Court has been sent to deliberate.
Attorneys delivered closing arguments Tuesday morning in the murder of Henry E. “Ricky” Ryan, a West Virginia man who was killed at 29 years old. Ryan was last seen Sept. 30, 1988, after a night of partying near the Shenandoah River on Bloomery Road in West Virginia. On March 14, 1989, Ryan’s body was found in a shallow grave on the Blue Ridge west of Hillsboro near the West Virginia boundary. Last year, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office detectives working the long unsolved murder charged a man who was with him that night, Timothy W. Warnick, 58, with first-degree murder and robbery.
Witnesses told the jury that 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. Two witnesses said Ryan showed people at the party that he had money and drugs.
Earlier that day, Warnick had been released from jail and had hitch-hiked to the party, according to testimony. Later, he, Ryan, and an unknown man drove to a store to get more beer. Tina Thompson, a witness for the prosecution who said she was at the party that night, said Warnick returned covered in dirt. The prosecution’s case also highlighted that Warnick told investigators that he had drugs similar to Ryan’s on him the next morning.
Warnick’s attorneys, Kelly King and Renee Berard, argued that Warnick separated from Ryan before his death, saying that he was dropped off at a former girlfriend’s apartment. When he came back, the truck, with Ryan and the third unknown man, were gone, Berard told the jury.
The prosecutor’s case focused on what they argue were confessions by Warnick to his son and his ex-girlfriend over the past three decades. Warnick’s son, Michael Long, testified that his father got drunk and, in tears, told him he killed Ryan. Cindy King, Warnick’s girlfriend from 2009 to 2010, testified that Warnick told her he killed and stabbed a guy.
“I do believe he said he stabbed him,” Cindy King said on the stand.
The defense later took issue with her testimony because an autopsy concluded Ryan was murdered by blunt force trauma.
The defense’s case also challenged the credibility Long’s testimony. Kelly King and Berard, suggested that Long was just now offering information about the 1988 murder in exchange for a lighter sentence for his own recent attempted murder conviction. They suggested that investigators working on the case in 2009 offered up enough details about Ryan’s death—including the mention of a prescription pill bottle with Warnick’s name on it that was found buried with Ryan—that Cindy King and Michael Long could use in their testimonies.
“After all these years, there’s no new forensic evidence,” Kelly King said in her closing arguments. “There’s nothing that has changed other than the witnesses’ stories over the years.”
The pill bottle, found in Ryan’s hand when his body was recovered, was another point of contention in the case. Warnick had told investigators that he was prescribed the pills in prison and had left them on the dashboard of the truck the night of the murder.
Attorney King argued that whoever killed Ryan placed the bottle in his hand. She argued that it would be nearly impossible for Ryan to hold on to the bottle as he was struck six times in the head and then hauled to the burial site, just over the Virginia-West Virginia line in Loudoun County. Plus, she noted, witnesses testified that Ryan was so intoxicated he could barely stand.
“We’re not suggesting law enforcement put it there. We’re suggesting the person responsible for Ricky’s death put it there,” King said, referring to the third person in the truck whose identity is still unknown.
In his closing arguments, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys Jason Faw said that holding onto that pill bottle was Ryan’s last act to tell the world that Warnick took his life.
“Ricky told us from the grave who killed him,” he said. “In his last breath, he clutched that pill bottle.”
If convicted, Warnick faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.