Trial to Begin in Dentist's 'Depraved Heart' Murder Case

James Ryan is accused of supplying his young girlfriend with anesthesia drugs
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2022 4:25 PM CDT
Updated Aug 13, 2023 7:25 AM CDT
Cops: Dentist Killed Girlfriend With an 'Open Supply' of Drugs
Dr. James Ryan   (Montgomery County Police)
UPDATE Aug 13, 2023 7:25 AM CDT

Jury selection begins Monday in a high-profile murder case in Maryland involving a dentist accused of supplying his girlfriend with anesthesia drugs he took from his office, reports the Washington Post. Defense lawyers for James Ryan, now 50, will argue that he didn't kill 25-year-old Sarah Harris but that she took her own life. Ryan helped administer drugs including ketamine and propofol to Harris before her 2022 death, say prosecutors. He is accused of "depraved heart" second-degree murder, meaning that prosecutors say he kept supplying drugs to Harris and worsening her addiction even though he knew how powerful they were.

Mar 24, 2022 4:25 PM CDT

A Maryland dentist has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend, a former patient and employee, whom he was allegedly supplying with drugs. Sarah Harris, 25, had been living with 48-year-old James Michael Ryan in Clarksburg for seven months when she died of an anesthesia overdose on Jan. 26. At the scene, investigators found seven bottles—usually restricted to medical settings—filled with or containing residue of injectable propofol, midazolam, and ketamine, along with hypodermic needles, syringes and tourniquets, court records show, per the Washington Post.

Relatives had been concerned about Harris' drug use for months after noticing needle marks and bruises on her arms. After her death, a family member was able to access text messages between Harris and Ryan, who operated Evolution Oral Surgery in Germantown. According to investigators, the conversations "often depict Sarah Harris asking Ryan to procure/obtain different drugs." Ryan allegedly replied with a list of drugs and supplies he was bringing home. It was "tantamount to an open supply" of drugs, detectives say. At other times, he allegedly instructed Harris to retrieve drugs from his car, discussed how ketamine and neurontin affected her, and recalled events of which she had no recollection.

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Investigators claim "Harris developed an ever-worsening addiction that was continuously fed over the months by Ryan," who faces up to 78 years in prison on charges including "depraved heart" second-degree murder, reckless endangerment, and other drug-related counts. Defense attorneys argued in court Tuesday that Ryan should be released from custody to seek addiction treatment, adding there is no evidence that he gave drugs to Harris, WUSA reports. (Authorities dispute that, per the Sacramento Bee.) A judge nonetheless denied bond, calling him a "dangerous man." "Thank you Jesus for this victory," said Harris' mother, Tina. "That's all I have to say." (More murder stories.)

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