SKOWHEGAN, Maine — The last time Sarajean Harmon spoke to her daughter, Valerie Tieman of Fairfield, was on Aug. 10, 2016.
It was Harmon’s birthday.
“She told me she loved me and wished me a happy birthday,” Harmon, of Taylors, South Carolina, testified Monday at the start of her son-in-law’s murder trial.
Two weeks after that call, on Aug. 25, 2016, Harmon called her daughter to see if she’d called her brother on his birthday, but Valerie Tieman didn’t answer. She also didn’t respond to messages on Facebook. Two days later, Harmon’s son-in-law, Luc Tieman, told her in a text message that he and Valerie were “good. Love her so much.”
That was a lie, Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin told jurors Monday in her opening statement at Luc Tieman’s trial at the Somerset County Courthouse in Skowhegan.
Harmon was the first witness called by the prosecution before a jury of eight men and six women, including two alternates. Tieman has denied killing his 34-year-old wife.
Tieman, 34, of Fairfield, never reported his wife missing but her parents called Fairfield police on Sept. 9, 2016, Robbin said. Maine State Police joined the search three days later.
Luc Tieman, a U.S. Army veteran who is on disability for PTSD, initially told police that Valerie had disappeared on Aug. 30, 2016, from the parking lot of the Skowhegan Walmart while he was inside shopping, according to court documents. He told police during a recorded interview played Monday that his wife of two years wanted to leave him and that she had recently “started going dark.”
Tieman also said he’d just learned his wife was addicted to opioids.
A toxicology report showed that Valerie Tieman had marijuana and opioids, but no heroin, in her system when she died.
Valerie Tieman’s body was found on Sept. 20, 2016, in a shallow grave on wooded property owned by Luc Tieman’s parents, Robbin told jurors. Her body was wrapped in a blanket and placed in a body bag.
“She was buried with a note, a Mason jar, a perfume bottle, an empty Sweet Tart box and a bag of potato chips,” she said.
Valerie Tieman was positively identified by DNA tests that included comparisons to DNA from a hairbrush, toothbrush and relatives. The autopsy showed that she died of gunshot wounds to the head and neck, Robbin said.
The murder weapon was found in Luc Tieman’s parents’ home.
“When detectives confronted Luc after finding her body, Luc came up with a new story,” the prosecutor told the jury. “He told them that he got heroin at her request, watched her shoot up and die. He said that he buried her the next day with the help of his older brother. He denied shooting her. Luc told police, ‘I loved her like Christ loved the church.’”
That is the same phrase he used in a text exchange with his father-in-law, Gene Allen Harmon, during the time Valerie Tieman was missing, according to testimony.
Tieman’s attorney, Stephen Smith of Augusta, told jurors in his opening statement that after hearing the evidence they would find his client not guilty of murder.
“Luc was more than willing to help the police [in the search for Valerie Tieman],” Smith said. “This was not a man who had anything to hide.”
In audio recordings of police interviews played Monday, Tieman at times became emotional when talking about his wife. He described her as “my caregiver” and said, “I would never do anything to hurt her.”
Before the trial began, Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen denied a defense motion to present an alternative suspect to the jury.
The trial is expected to continue into next week.
Smith declined Monday to say whether his client would take the stand in his own defense.
If convicted, Tieman faces 25 years to life in prison on the murder charge.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.