A Maryland oral surgeon has been convicted in his girlfriend’s January 2022 murder after she was found dead at their Montgomery County home, surrounded by pill bottles.
An autopsy determined that Sarah Harris, 25, died of ketamine and diazepam intoxication, and Dr. James Ryan, 50, was charged with depraved-heart second-degree murder in connection with her death.
“Dr. James Ryan — a well-trained oral surgeon, skilled in what he did, an expert in his field. He knew the risks of these drugs better than anyone,” Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Harrison told jurors during Ryan’s trial, according to the Washington Post. “And despite his vast knowledge and training in the field, he continuously provided these dangerous, deadly anesthetic drugs to Sarah Harris over a period of time even as he watched her deteriorate before his eyes.”
“Every time he gave her those drugs — whether he administered them or whether he instructed her on how to administer them to herself — a little bit of Sarah died,” Harrison continued, according to the Post. “Until he gave them to her one too many times. And he killed her; he killed Sarah Harris. He created this risk.”
Police initially responded to reports of an overdose at the couple’s home on Jan. 26, 2022, and found Harris dead upon arrival. Authorities also found drug bottles, needles, syringes and tourniquets that are “usually reserved for clinical, medical settings” in the couple’s home, Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said during a March 2022 press conference announcing Ryan’s arrest.
Ryan’s attorney, Thomas DeGonia, argued that Harris took the drugs on her own volition for “relief from her depression,” according to the Post. DeGonia told the court she may have died of suicide or an accidental drug overdose, and that her brother had just died months prior to her own death.
“On January 25th , the day before she is found [dead], Sarah Harris spends the day with her mother visiting cemeteries and burial plots where she was going to bury her brother,” he said, according to the Post.
Harris and Ryan met in October 2020 at Ryan’s Germantown practice, Evolution Oral Surgery, during Harris’ wisdom-tooth removal appointment. Ryan contacted Harris, who had some professional dental experience, several weeks later about an open position at his office. She got the job and the pair began dating soon “right around the New Year of 2021.” They eventually moved in together in late summer 2021, Jones said.
Harris’ friends and family members grew concerned when they noticed her appearance begin to deteriorate over the time she and Ryan were dating, according to police.
On two separate occasions, Harris was found at her residence “surrounded by empty medicine bottles, similar to what was discovered at the death scene,” Jones said.
Text messages obtained by law enforcement showed various communications in which Harris would ask Ryan to bring drugs and drug paraphernalia home. Ryan would also give Harris advice on how to consume certain drugs for a strong effect. The text messages also indicated that Harris may have overdosed in December 2021.
Ryan also mentioned giving Harris ketamine in her sleep in one text message, Jones said.
Harris’ obituary states that she was “a kind woman” with an “elegant memory.”
“Passionate, Kind, Ambitious, Fearless, Intelligent, Beautiful, and Free Spirited, Sarah Harris’ devotion to helping others and living life to the fullest while overcoming the obstacles she faced, will be remembered with everlasting love and admiration long after her passing,” her obituary says. “Her genuine, beautiful, and pure soul will remain within each of her loved ones until she meets them again in Heaven.”
Jones faces a maximum 55 years for second-degree murder and other charges, according to the Post.