Raleigh, N.C. — Apex High School senior Matthew Silliman was stressed and paranoid in the days leading up to his November 2008 death, avoiding the outside in the daylight and closing curtains in his home out of fear that he would be killed, a friend testified Wednesday.
Scared for his life, he confided in Victoria Thomas that a "menacing hit man" named Roger was out to get him, although Silliman wasn't sure who Roger was or what he had done.
"My internal reaction was that I figured he (expletive) at school and maybe they were going to rough him up," Thomas testified Wednesday. "I wasn't convinced someone was out to get him, but he was very fearful."
But Wake County prosecutors contend Roger never existed and that the fictitious character was part of Ryan Hare's "sinister plot" to ultimately lure Silliman, 18, to a vacant trailer in southern Wake County, where sheriff's deputies found his body on Dec. 2, 2008.
Hare, 19, is on trial for first-degree murder and other charges in the case. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Assistant District Attorney Melanie Shekita said during opening arguments Monday that Hare was the mastermind behind two murder schemes and enlisted the help of his girlfriend, Allegra Dahlquist, and two others to help kill Silliman.
Dahlquist, testifying as part of a plea deal with the state, said that Hare was jealous of Silliman because she had feelings for him and that he believed the two had been intimate.
The first attempt to suffocate Silliman with a zip tie on Nov. 25, 2008, failed, and the friends convinced Silliman that they were trying to fake his death because of Roger, Dahlquist said.
Thomas told jurors Wednesday that Silliman told her that Roger had given Hare an ultimatum – to either kill him or be killed.
"I don't recall Matt wanting to die, but if he could take the fall for something, he would," Thomas said. "He cared a lot about his friends."
Thomas said she didn't believe him because it seemed like the plot of a mafia movie. When she asked Silliman why he didn't go to police, she said he told her he was afraid.
"He said Roger was perfect," she said. "He couldn't be caught. He was a ghost in the system."
Hare's defense has said the case is not about murder but assisted suicide. Silliman, attorney Robert Padovano has said, was tired of living and wanted to kill himself in a way that looked like a crime.
Silliman, who suffered from depression and bipolar disorder, had tried to kill himself two months prior to his death, and prosecutors say Hare knew that.
The subject of a Silver Alert – a statewide system to notify the public when a person suffering from a cognitive impairment is missing – Silliman left home on Nov. 25, 2008, and hid inside the trailer where he his body was found.
Five days later, Dahlquist testified, she distracted him with a tarot card reading while Hare hit him over the head with a hammer.
"I looked up, and Matt was just sitting there, and Ryan was holding the hammer, and he said, 'You're not dead,'" Dahlquist said. "Matt didn't really say anything and just gave Ryan a really dirty look."
That's when Hare told him that he had to die because of the situation with Roger, she said.
"He had a choice," Dahlquist said. "Either he (Silliman) could do it or it could be done for him."
Recounting the events of the night, Dahlquist said Silliman began drinking wine mixed with horse tranquilizers until he passed out on the back porch.
Over the next little bit, Hare, Dahlquist and friend Aadil Khan moved Silliman from the back porch to a back bedroom, where they bound his hands and ankles, Dahlquist testified.
Concerned that any passersby might see Silliman in the room, Dahlquist said, Hare wanted to move Silliman to a bathroom without windows on the other side of the trailer.
There, Khan put duct tape over Silliman's mouth, she said, and she put a plastic bag over his head.
"Ryan handed me a zip tie, and I put it over his neck," Dahlquist said. "I pulled it, but I couldn't get it on all the way. I went outside the bathroom with Aadil. Ryan came out a few minutes later, saying he tightened it."
Everything that happened that night, she said, was Hare's idea, she said.
"I didn't want Matt to die, but I wanted to do what Ryan wanted me to do," she said.
By doing so, she said, she had hoped it would mean that Hare would then be able to know that she loved him and that he could trust her.
"I believed he was the only person I had in my life who cared," she said. "Ryan made me believe he was the only person who cared about me."