by Jen Lynds
When Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson stepped up to the jury box on the first day of the George Jaime Sr. murder trial last month, he walked to the lectern, put down his notes, and began his opening statement by saying that what happened to murder victim Star Vining back in 1998 could be summed up by the notable first line of “The Good Soldier,” a 1915 novel by Ford Madox Ford –“This is the saddest story I have ever heard.”
And even in a world so tinged with sorrow, it remains difficult to argue.
Vining, Jaime’s live in girlfriend, was 38-years-old when she was last seen alive that October.
Jaime owed an apartment complex with approximately 12 units that he rented to other tenants, and the ground floor contained a pawn shop that he ran as a business. Vining’s body was never found, but Jaime, 76, was found guilty of stabbing and beating her to death in a drunken rage after a four day jury trial before Justice Robert Murray in Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton.
The convicted killer’s son, Ted Jaime, and his friend, James Campbell, both testified during the trial that George Jaime told them he stabbed Vining to death, dismembered her body and incinerated it in a commercial furnace in the basement of his pawn shop and apartment building. Ted Jaime also testified he saw Vining’s corpse in his father’s apartment, and both he and Campbell said they helped clean up the murder scene.
Ted Jaime’s ex-wife, Parise Voisine, also said on the witness stand that her former husband told her about cleaning up the murder scene and the dismemberment.
In virtually every trial, there is the defendant and his or her supporters, along with the victim, who is sometimes no longer living, and his or her supporters. This case was different. Walking into the courtroom on the first day of the trial, it was virtually empty, except for the defendant, his attorney, Jeff Silverstein of Bangor, prosecutor Benson, two or three police detectives, a TV news reporter and two or three spectators. That was it.
Jaime had no family members in the courtroom to support him, as four of his five children were testifying either for or against him and thus had to remain out of the room. Vining’s mother, who once lived in Presque Isle, was dead, and other family members did not live in the area.
On the second day of the trial, we listened as Ted Jaime told the jury that his father told him he murdered Vining with a Marine style KA-BAR knife. James Campbell later told the jury that George Jaime “seemed kind of proud” of dismembering and burning the body.
Prior to Campbell’s taking the stand, I hadn’t noticed the pretty young woman with the raven colored hair sitting in the back of the courtroom with the victim witness advocate. She said nothing and remained expressionless as Campbell testified about cleaning up blood stains, ripping up rugs and even chipping up cement to get rid of bloodied evidence. Then, I heard the prosecutor call a name, and there was a rustle behind me.
She stood up. It was Star Vining’s daughter.
Sarah Redmond, who grew up in Litchfield, drove to Houlton from downstate to testify. Now 32, she was 18 when her mother disappeared. She described a life in which she was primarily raised by her father, but also by a loving mother who simply loved to travel and work for months in different states but always kept in touch with her children, sending letters, postcards, trinkets, and gifts on birthdays and holidays. Vining’s concern for her mother’s failing health was the reason she decided to settle in Presque Isle.
“Even though she was far away from us, she was still close,” Redmond testified. “Its not like she didn’t care about her children.”
As a teenager, she made trips to Presque Isle to try and find her mother after she disappeared, and testified that Jaime told her that Vining had left the city with migrant broccoli pickers.
Redmond remained stoic on the witness stand until the very last question from Benson, which is when he asked her if she had seen her mother in the last 15 years.
The moment that the last syllable passed through his lips, she crumbled, hunching downward, curling her shoulders in towards her chest on the witness stand as if to physically shield her heart and protect it from anymore damage, tears streaming down her cheeks.
She could only shake her head, and half-sob, half choke out a “no.”
Up to that point, Jaime mainly reacted in anger to testimony from the stand, especially to statements offered by his son, Ted. He could be seen shaking his head or telling his attorney, “I never said that!,” or accusing him of lying.
But as the jury looked on sympathetically as Sarah Redmond struggled to compose herself, and while the court security officer got her a cup of water and made sure she had plenty of tissues, Jaime hardly noticed. He barely looked up.
Just as startling was the victim shaming that Jaime seemed to engage in during his interviews with police, painting himself at times as Vining’s savior while at others letting on as though he didn’t care what happened to her one way or the other. In a July 2012 interview with State Police Detective Adam Stoutamyer and Presque Isle Police Detective Bill Scull, Jaime told them that Vining was a woman who “saw a lot of guys” and “was on dope real bad.”
Although by that time several witnesses had testified that Vining lived with Jaime for several years, Jaime told the detectives that she “stayed with him for three or four days at a time but never lived with him,” and that he only cared for her “a little bit.”
A few minutes later, he confessed to having been spying on this woman who “never lived with him,” looking through the windows of another man’s apartment where Vining was visiting. He told police that he saw Vining intoxicated and using drugs inside, assaulted the man, and dragged Vining out.
While that man testified at the trial that he had smoked marijuana with Vining, Jaime provided no evidence that she didn’t live with him or was a drug addict or heavy drug user. Her work supervisor testified that she was a dedicated employee who worked hard for several years at a grocery store. Curiously, Jaime told the detectives that he had to convince Vining to attend her daughter’s high school graduation, a child she’d always kept in touch with and remembered on birthdays and holidays. But when asked where his five children worked, he was fuzzy on the details, and could not give the officers phone numbers for them.
Under every article about the trial, his conviction and his sentencing, at least one anonymous commenter wrote on the BDN website under the article that they felt that the state had a weak case and that Jaime was likely innocent.
The jury, of course, thought differently. I think that if the commenters had heard all of the testimony presented in the courtroom, they might take a different view.
It included information such as testimony from Ethel Jaime, George Jaime’s ex-wife, who discussed a family meeting that was held in Mapleton in early summer 2012. She said that Jaime told her that everyone in the family needed to keep his or her mouth shut and that nothing would happen unless Ted “weakened.” While incarcerated at the Aroostook County Jail, Jaime was taped making a number of what Benson termed “inculpatory” phone calls, where he talked to his girlfriend about “throwing some money” at Ted in order to get him to remain out of state at the time of the trial so that he would be unable to testify against him. Testimony also came from a jailhouse “snitch” named Sean McIntyre, who said on the witness stand that Jaime admitted to him that he killed Vining, never saying how, but McIntyre correctly named the individuals who helped him clean up the murder scene.
Silverstein contends that his client is innocent and intends to appeal his conviction and 40 year prison sentence. He has challenged the recollections of Ted Jaime and Campbell, pointing out that some of their accounts of what happened and details about cleaning up the crime scene did not match up. Both men also admitted to past histories of drug and alcohol abuse. He also said that McIntyre’s testimony was motivated by a deal he received for it. The defense also contends that Ted Jaime was interested in acquiring the pawn shop and apartment complex after his father’s death and once believed that he was going to get it, but was furious when he learned a few years ago that it was no longer going to be bequeathed to him.
Jaime showed no remorse at his sentencing, saying he was not a murderer. He told the judge that he had never hit Vining, and no one had ever seen him hit her.
That’s true. At the same time, no one had seen him kill her, either. But he was still convicted.
For me, a chilling glimpse into the soul of the convicted murderer came from the testimony of Parise Voisine. She told Benson about a moment branded into her memory when she and George Jaime were watching a TV commercial that contained the phrase “and nobody knows it but me.”
“And he just smirked and looked at me and said, ‘And nobody knows it but me,’” Voisine said.
Now,15 years after that commercial aired, vast numbers of others know it, too.