Prosecutors lay out case after man accused of killing Howard teacher takes own life

Before sunrise on the day Tyler Tessier was to go on trial for what prosecutors called the callous murder of a Wilde Lake High School teacher a year ago, the Damascus man wrapped a sheet from his jailhouse bunk around his neck and killed himself, Montgomery County authorities said.

“Today was his reckoning,” State’s Attorney John McCarthy said at a news conference Thursday afternoon at the county Circuit Courthouse. “He took the cowardly way out.”

Montgomery County’s top prosecutor, flanked by the parents, sister and brother-in-law of Laura Wallen, spelled out the case prosecutors were prepared to present against Tessier at what was expected to be a three-week jury trial.

“My daughter Laura was loved and liked,” said Mark Wallen, who appeared with his wife, Gwen, and daughter Jennifer Conti, at the nearly 90-minute news conference. “We were robbed of a trial.”

In releasing some of the evidence that was to be presented at the trial, prosecutors painted a vivid picture of a 10-year relationship that was troubled at times and soured after Wallen, 31, told Tessier she was pregnant with his child last year. The two were planning to marry, but Tessier had become involved in a relationship with another woman, McCarthy said.

“There are probably a million pieces of other evidence that would have come out” indicating Wallen’s murder was “planned, deliberated and premeditated,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Donna Fenton. “The state has no doubt this defendant would have been convicted for first-degree murder.”

Tessier, of Damascus, initially told investigators that Wallen had been abducted from her home in Olney and later changed his story after her body was found in a shallow grave in a field in rural upper Montgomery County. McCarthy said she had been shot in the back of the head with a .22-caliber gun, similar to ones used to “slaughter animals” near the farm where she was found.

“He was manipulative,” said McCarthy, who called Tessier a psychopath and liar. “He tried to throw the investigation in different directions.”

Attempts to reach Tessier's attorney for comment were not successful.

A search started after the Wilde Lake High School social studies teacher, who also had been a popular teacher at Murray Hill Middle School, did not show up for work on the opening day of classes last September. Montgomery County police staged a news conference Sept. 11, a week after Wallen’s disappearance, where Tessier appeared next to Wallen’s parents and appealed for information on her whereabouts. He was already a person of interest.

On Thursday, Montgomery County jail authorities said, Tessier showered and was served breakfast at 4:45 a.m. Ten minutes later, he was found hanging by a sheet from a top bunk, and a guard started resuscitation efforts before paramedics arrived. Attempts to revive him ended at 5:32 a.m.

McCarthy said a number of handwritten notes hinting at suicide were found in Tessier’s cell but prosecutors had no indication that he would kill himself. He said officials were monitoring Tessier’s telephone calls Wednesday night, when he talked about clothing he would wear to court this morning. McCarthy did not say who Tessier had called, and said the “multiple notes” would be released at the close of a county police investigation of the death.

There was no indication of foul play, he said.

“He knew today it was all going to crush down on him,” McCarthy said. “He killed the woman he pretended to love and took the life of his own child.”

“As awful as today is, I feel at peace,” said Gwen Wallen, Laura’s mother. “Because I worried for my family and I worried for my grandsons to have a God-awful human — if you can call him that — still in this world.”

At the news conference, prosecutors outlined some of the evidence they had collected, including text messages between Wallen and Tessier, and video of the two together in Columbia days before her death. They said they had a substantial case against Tessier, who would have turned 34 on Sept. 16.

Had Tessier been convicted, prosecutors said, they would have asked for life in prison without the possibility of parole.

McCarthy disclosed that Tessier told detectives after his arrest on Sept. 13 that he killed his girlfriend, but the admission was not expected to be used at the trial. “Lying was like breathing,” said McCarthy, who has been the county prosecutor for a dozen years. “He lied about everything.”

Family members thanked police and prosecutors for their work.

“Laura is not lost,” Gwen Wallen said. “She is with her savior and I will be someday.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Meehan contributed to this article.

This story was featured in The Sun's Alexa Flash Briefing on Sept. 6, 2018.

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