Two men accused of being involved in Heidi Allen’s 1994 disappearance told conflicting stories on the witness stand Tuesday during the second day of a hearing to determine whether to overturn the 1995 kidnapping conviction of Gary Thibodeau.
Thibodeau’s attorneys called James “Thumper” Steen and Roger Breckenridge to the witness stand in Oswego County Court to question their involvement with Allen’s disappearance on Tuesday.
Both of the men, who are each serving prison sentences, have been accused by several new witnesses of being involved in the kidnapping of Allen from the D& W Convenience Store in New Haven in 1994. Neither have been charged with any crimes in the investigation.
The two men came to the fore of the investigation in 2013, when a recorded phone call between Tonya Priest and Jennifer Wescott — Breckenridge’s former girlfriend — revealed both women claimed to know that Steen, Breckenridge and Michael Bohrer kidnapped Allen.
Steen and Breckenridge, though, denied being involved with the kidnapping on Tuesday. They admitted to knowing each other, but denied being friends.
“I wouldn’t call him a friend but I wouldn’t call him an enemy,” Steen said.
During questioning from defense attorney Randi Bianco, Steen and Breckenridge admitted to smoking marijuana in the 1990s, with Steen also admitting to cocaine use in the late 1990s.
The defense has argued that Allen was a confidential drug informant for police who claimed to have knowledge of drug activity in Mexico High School. The police never followed up with Allen, but they did create an index card and a code name — “Julia Roberts” — for her.
While both denied personally being involved in the kidnapping, Steen did say that at one point in 1994, while hauling crushed vehicles, Breckenridge called him, saying that Allen’s body was in the back of a van he hauled to Canada.
Breckenridge said on the stand that he never had any discussions about Allen to anybody, including that conversation.
When Steen was asked why he never followed up with police when Breckenridge claimed to know that Allen’s body was stored in a crushed van that was hauled to Canada, he said Breckenridge was not a reliable source, calling him “a lot of hot air.”
“Breckenridge is nothing but a talker. A big mouth. He runs his mouth all the time looking for attention,” Steen said. ” He’s an attention getter, and that’s how he got attention, plain and simple.” Steen said he didn’t lend any credence to theories or rumors about Allen’s disappearance because “everybody was talking like they knew what happened to her” in the ’90s, “but nobody knew anything.” He adamantly insisted that his only involvement to Allen’s disappearance was that Breckenridge claimed he unknowingly hauled a van to Canada. He said that, if what Breckenridge said is true, Allen’s body is currently in a landfill in Canada.
“The shredder makes cars into little bitty pieces,” Steen said. “The garbage goes out the back and goes to a landfill.”
Steen said he and Priest had a tense relationship, and he did not associate with her, even when his ex-wife, Vicki, was alive and friends with her.
“Me and Tonya did not get along, I didn’t like the way Tonya treated her children,” he said.
Steen said Priest’s claim that he, Breckenridge and Bohrer hid Allen’s body underneath a cabin on Rice Road in Mexico was untrue, as evidenced by the fact that searches in that area have yet to turn up a body.
Steen, who is serving a life sentence, said he had nothing to lose and did not want to be a “snitch.” Bianco pointed out that Steen is not in protective custody.
“What would happen to you if the other inmates learned that you kept an innocent man behind bars for 20 years?” she asked.
Steen said he had no information that could exonerate Thibodeau.
“I don’t have that information, though, so I’m not worried about that,” Steen said.
When Breckenridge took the stand, he said he never made any statements about Allen’s body in the back of a van.
Breckenridge also denied ever meeting Bohrer before 1999, saying the one time he met him, Bohrer was a “bug out” person, and he didn’t intend on ever spending time with him again.
Breckenridge said he made a “stupid mistake” by stealing Thibodeau’s van and stripping it.
“You did that because you saw he was in jail and you knew he wouldn’t miss a van?” said District Attorney Greg Oakes, to which Breckenridge agreed.
According to Breckenridge, if he had information about Allen’s disappearance he would share it, because he has several children who are currently around 18 years old, Allen’s age at the time of her disappearance.
In a filing made Tuesday, Oakes said he noticed a bit of information Monday evening that led him to interview the source of information, a woman named Cherie Sovallia, and her daughter, Cynthia Taylor.
According to a statement gathered Monday from Taylor, two weeks before Allen’s abduction she heard from Breckenridge’s now ex-wife, Tracy, about how Breckenridge and “three other people” were going to do a drug deal at the convenience store during the shift Allen worked.
Taylor told investigators that she told Ms. Breckenridge that she did not want to hear any more and left.
Taylor told investigators Monday that two weeks after Allen’s abduction she heard Ms. Breckenridge discussing the case.
“They did something to a girl because somebody told them that she was going to tell on them for doing a drug deal in the parking lot of the store,” Taylor said Ms. Breckenridge said.
James Abbott, Taylor’s uncle, who said he was present for the same conversation, said Ms. Breckenridge claimed “they burned her up and spread her ashes on the highway.” Abbott said she never identified the other three men involved, just “Roger and a Thibodeau.” Taylor, Sovallia and Abbott were subpoenaed to court to be available to testify during the hearing.
Bianco and Federal Public Defender Lisa Peebles, who also serves as an attorney for Thibodeau, tried a different tactic with the witnesses they called to the stand in the morning. The pair tried to demonstrate that former assistant district attorney Donald Dodd was not compliant with handing over materials that could have been potentially exculpatory to the defense at the time of Thibodeau’s trial.
Former Oswego County Judge John Brandt said “about an hour to an hour and 20 minutes” was spent during the original trial arguing over what qualified as exculpatory evidence.
Brandt said he understood that attorneys would create an itemized list of evidence they wanted turned over if one side was not cooperating.
“We never really had any discussions in this case that weren’t about the substance of this case,” Brandt said.
The next witness, Robert Calver, said he worked as a private investigator for the trials of Thibodeau and his brother, Richard, who stood trial for the same crime after Gary’s conviction. Richard was acquitted of the kidnapping charge.
Calver said he was not aware of Allen’s status as a confidential informant until he began to develop an alibi for Richard during his trial.
Before calling Steen to the stand, Peebles called Tyler Hayes, who said he had a confrontation with Bohrer in a bar in 2000.
According to Hayes, Bohrer was drinking and was making members of Hayes’ party uncomfortable by saying he had information about Allen’s disappearance.
“He told me he had information regarding the case, and I said, ‘ Yeah, I know about the case. They arrested two people for it,'” Hayes said. “I couldn’t remember their names, and he said it was the Thibodeaus, but they’re not the ones who did it.”
Hayes said Bohrer told him he knew who did it, and he knew the whereabouts of Allen’s location.
Hayes said he called the sheriff’s office when he returned home.
Oakes asked if alcohol might have impaired Hayes’ memory.
“When someone makes admissions to a murder, it’s not like ‘I forgot where I put my car keys,'” Hayes said.
Oakes brought up a sworn affidavit where Hayes made no mention of Bohrer saying that neither Thibodeau committed a crime.
Hayes said he only shared the basic outline of the details he was told.
Breckenridge is expected to be the first witness called to the stand today at 9 a.m. for cross-examination.