During Thursday’s arguments over whether Gary Thibodeau deserves a new trial for his 1995 conviction of kidnapping Heidi Allen, witnesses again implicated other men, with one witness claiming to identify Allen in a photo with two frequently named suspects.
Several individuals have implicated James “Thumper” Steen, Roger Breckenridge and Michael Bohrer in Allen’s kidnapping, murder or the disposal of her body. In seven days of testimony, some have said they heard incriminating statements about the men or directly heard them boasting of involvement in Allen’s disappearance.
Under oath, the three men have each denied any involvement in her kidnapping from the D&W Convenience Store in New Haven in April of 1994.
Jessica Howard, a 29-year-old woman who has known Breckenridge for 12 years, testified Breckenridge once told her Allen would never be found.
“He said it’d be a waste of the government’s time to try to find her,” Howard testified, adding Breckenridge called Allen, “a rat” whose disappearance was connected to drugs.
She told District Attorney Greg Oakes during cross-examination, however, that Breckenridge never said he was involved in Allen’s disappearance.
Howard also identified Allen, Steen and Breckenridge in an old photo together, saying she found the photo on a community Facebook page and showed it to investigators during an interview Wednesday night.
The photo was not mentioned in a letter from Oakes to Thibodeau’s lawyers Thursday morning detailing Howard’s statements to investigators.
The photo only entered into testimony after arguments from assistant federal public defender Randi Bianco led to Howard being recalled to the stand. But acting Oswego County Court Judge Daniel King said there was no way to positively authenticate the photo, saying it could have been edited and that he wasn’t convinced of Howard’s identification.
Oakes did not specifically ask
Howard who posted the photo on Facebook, but Howard said the poster claimed it was Allen.
Howard, who was only 9 years old when Allen went missing, said she knew Allen for two years, and was positive she was in the picture, along with Steen and Breckenridge.
“How do you know it’s Heidi?” asked Oakes.
“‘ Cause I know,” was all Howard said.
King said he was inclined to deny the photo as evidence, but he said he’d allow the defense time to try to authenticate the photo.
Christine Neff, 43, of Scriba, claimed to be in the photo, according to Syracuse.com. Neff told Syracuse.com that neither Allen nor Breckenridge are in the photo, which she said was taken in 1988 or 1989 at the Sheep Ranch in Palermo.
Attempts to reach Neff to find out more about the photo failed by press time.
Oakes asked Howard about her depression and anxiety, with Howard testifying that her medication could impact her memory of times and dates. In response, Bianco established Howard was not on medication when she previously tried to reach out to law enforcement with information on the case in 2004 and 2011.
According to the written statement of Wednesday’s interview with investigators, Howard told authorities she had been investigating the Allen case and believed she may have recently seen someone removing Allen’s body from a closed saw mill on old county Route 1.
Also included in Oakes’s filing was a report from Jan. 19 that Howard called 911 due to depression and anxiety, with the police taking her to the hospital to be treated and prevent harm to anyone. She testified she was in the hospital for mental health reasons for nine days.
Chris Combs, a 34-year-old paving contractor who occasionally worked with Breckenridge, testified that at some point Breckenridge informed him he was involved in the disposal of Allen’s body.
He said he never took Breckenridge’s claims to heart, echoing statements from Steen that Breckenridge “was full of hot air.” Combs told Oakes during cross-examination that Breckenridge mentioned the name Thibodeau when he talked about Allen, but he couldn’t remember if Breckenridge was referencing Thibodeau’s involvement in a crime or innocence.
Deborah Vecchio, a 58-year-old woman who lives on Rice Road in Parish, testified that her father’s girlfriend rented a trailer to Jennifer Wescott’s mother sometime in the early 1990s.
Wescott, who is expected to testify today, was recorded by investigators in 2013 telling Tonya Priest that she had knowledge of Allen’s disappearance, and that Breckenridge and others had scared her from coming forward. She later denied knowing anything about Allen’s kidnapping.
Vecchio said Wescott and Breckenridge, who she said had frightened her, frequently stayed at the trailer near her property, but she asked them to leave sometime in 1993 or 1994.
Oakes repeatedly tried to get Vecchio to remember the specific timeframe, and also questioned her on whether Wescott and Breckenridge actually ever lived in the trailer.
Vecchio also testified she worked with Bohrer, who is also named as a potential suspect by others. Peebles asked her if she had ever noticed Bohrer’s girlfriend with physical injuries; the defense has tried to establish Bohrer had a history of violence with women.
But similar to earlier in the hearing, King disallowed the line of questioning due to prosecution objections over relevancy.