Valedictorian Accused of Killing Mentally Ill Mom Heads to Trial


ABC News' John Muller reports:

A former high school valedictorian and University of Michigan student is on trial today for first degree murder, accused of bludgeoning and stabbing his mentally ill mother to death in the family's suburban Michigan home.

Jeffrey Pyne, 22, was arrested in October 2011, five months after Ruth Pyne was found dead in the garage of the family's Highland Township, Mich., home. Pyne, 51, was found dead by her now 11-year-old daughter.

Jeffrey Pyne was indicted by a secret grand jury so little is known about the evidence linking him to the murder. Court documents filed by prosecutors do refer to wounds on his hands hours after the murder. Pyne says he was at work at the time of the murder and maintains he is innocent.

Pyne's father, Bernard, tells ABC News that his son is innocent.

Court records show that Ruth Pyne had a history of mental illness dating back 14 years and was allegedly often violent. In 2010, Pyne was accused of attacking her son, allegedly beating him and attempting to strangle him. She was placed in jail for two weeks.

"Her own psychiatrist actually recommended that she become an inpatient because of her mental illness. The question is, did this violent history with the mother provide a motive for the son to then commit murder?" said former prosecutor Dan Schorr.

The murder and arrest shocked residents in Highland Township. By all accounts Jeffery Pyne was the perfect son who was named valedictorian at West Highland Christian Academy. He was a star athlete who was majoring in biology at the University of Michigan.

"The whole thing really upset the neighborhood. I really don't think Jeffrey did it," said neighbor Walt Hickok.

As the trial begins this morning, many of Pyne's neighbors where he grew up agree that he is innocent and wrongly accused.

"We don't feel that the real murderer has been caught. We feel that there is someone out here that did it, other than Jeffrey," Hickok said.