Man changes insanity plea in Ryon case Willoughby admits he was competent when he strangled nurse, 74

'I was just very surprised'

State to request term of life without parole at sentencing Sept. 20

July 10, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

An Annapolis man withdrew yesterday his insanity plea in the slaying of a retired 74-year-old nurse, admitting he was mentally competent when he strangled her with a dog leash, then ransacked her Edgewater home looking for drug money.

Richard Willoughby, 36, of the 200 block of Victor Parkway changed his plea before Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. after a psychiatrist concluded he had sufficient mental capacity to know what he was doing when he strangled Katherine Huntt Ryon.

Ryon was killed after she let Willoughby and James McGee, who was a longtime family friend into her home in the 400 block of Waggamon Circle on April 15, 1995.

McGee, 42, Willoughby's roommate, was convicted by a jury of first-degree felony murder and sentenced to life without parole on June 12 by Judge Eugene M. Lerner.

Willoughby withdrew the insanity plea just two days before a hearing scheduled to determine his mental state.

The victim's relatives said they were stunned, but relieved.

"I was surprised; I was just very surprised," said William Louis Ryon Jr. the victim's nephew, who sat through most of McGee's trial last April.

Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said he will request that Willoughby be given life without parole when he is sentenced by Thieme on Sept. 20.

McGee, whose mother had been close friends with Ryon, brought Willoughby to the victim's house because they were looking for money to purchase drugs, according to testimony in McGee's trial.

Willoughby went out of control and got a "crazed" look in his eye when Ryon told them that she didn't have any money to spare, McGee told police.

Roessler said a psychiatrist and a psychologist on the staff at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center examined Willoughby

and concluded last spring that he was aware of what he was doing and was "criminally responsible" for the slaying.

But Willoughby's lawyer said yesterday that she remains convinced that her client is mentally ill.

Carroll McCabe, an assistant public defender, said Willoughby has reported hallucinations over the years, has had a longtime addiction to cocaine and appeared catatonic when she first interviewed him last year to prepare his defense.

He has been hospitalized several times for mental problems. In one incident in Texas in the 1980s, he smashed his car into a tree after he heard voices telling him to kill himself, McCabe said.

But she said that Dr. Jeffrey Janofsky, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, found him mentally competent after he examined him and reviewed his medical records Friday.

"There's no question that he's extremely mentally ill, but our expert determined that his mental illness does not reach the level of his not being criminally responsible," she said.

Willoughby and McGee were arrested for the slaying after they were seen driving Ryon's 1990 Volvo shortly after the slaying.

Another roommate, Joan Woodhouse, told police the men brought jewelry missing from Ryon's house back to their apartment.

McCabe said Willoughby met Woodhouse in the spring of 1994 when he was being treated for mental problems at the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center in Chestertown. Woodhouse was working as an art therapist there.

The two began a relationship and moved in with McGee in late 1994 or early 1995. McGee had inherited a $1.2 million trust fund from his mother, but had limited access to the money because of conditions in her will.

Pub Date: 7/10/96

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