Attorney Matthew Williams addressed the jury directly as he presented opening statements for the defense in the murder trial of Bret Michael Wheeler on Tuesday afternoon.
"We don't need to come up with an alternative story because the story is the story," Williamson told the 12-member jury, which had been seated at around noon in Carroll County Circuit Court on the second day of the trial.
Wheeler, 26, is charged as a co-conspirator in the Aug. 8, 2016, murder of his fiancee Kandi Gerber, for which Robert Theodore Bosley was found guilty in an April jury trial.
Wheeler, formerly of the 2000 block of Dennings Road, is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree assault, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree assault and accessory after first-degree murder, according to electronic court records.
Speaking before Judge Barry Hughes, Williamson said that there was no meeting of the minds between Bosley and Wheeler prior to Bosley's confrontation with Gerber. Wheeler believed Bosley, who was Wheeler and Gerber's landlord, was going to evict Gerber from their Dennings Road residence and was following instructions from his landlord, Williamson said.
Bosley sent Wheeler away during the confrontation, following three other residents of the house to a nearby convenience store, because he knew that Wheeler would protect Gerber, Williamson said.
The defense attorney said the charge of accessory after first-degree murder would probably be the hardest charge for the jury to find Wheeler innocent of, but said Wheeler was in a stunned robotic state in which he followed Bosley's directions as the two allegedly dumped Gerber's body and went to clean up.
"I don't care if I'm 40 pounds heavier than this crazy person — look what he just did," Williamson said.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Allan Culver led the opening statements for the prosecution.
"This is a case about choices made on Aug. 8, 2016," he told the jury.
He spoke of the choices made by individuals who came in contact with Wheeler and Bosley on the day of the murder and the ways in which their choices shaped the events before and after.
"This crime was not videotaped. A lot of what you're going to hear is witnesses," Culver said.
Other evidence will include photographs, physical evidence gathered from three scenes of significance to the case and portions of the police interview following Wheeler's arrest.
Culver alleged that Wheeler returned to the residence after Bosley's confrontation with Gerber to find Gerber partially conscious but alive.
"He is instructed by Bosley to go upstairs and he does, leaving Robert Bosley to finish the job," Culver said, calling the decision a "pivotal moment" when Wheeler chose "between the life of his fiancee and his bond with Robert Bosley."
The state also called two witnesses, Carroll County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Juan Carlos Bustos, the first law enforcement officer to respond to the scene of the murder, and Lindsay Ulsch, who was moving into the Dennings Road residence on the day of the murder and who called 911 after discovering a large pool of blood in the basement.
Bustos described arriving on the scene and observing blood on the grass and stairs leading to the basement where Wheeler and Gerber resided. Inside the basement, he observed what he described as the biggest pool of blood he had ever seen in 16 years of duty with the Sheriff's Office.
After a short recess, the state called Ulsch who described the events of Aug. 8 and her interactions with Bosley and Wheeler that day. Ulsch also served as a witness for the prosecution in Bosley's trial.
She described how she was asked to leave for the convenience store that afternoon. She recalled that Bosley told her boyfriend, Jeffrey Turco, "that it was about to get real and he needed him to be on his team."
She said she left with Turco and a 10-year-old boy who also lived at the residence while Bosley confronted Gerber. Wheeler followed in his pickup truck and the four went to a nearby convenience store.
After purchasing a few items, Wheeler left to return to the Dennings Road residence and told the others to remain for a while so the child wouldn't witness the eviction argument, Ulsch said.
Ulsch, however, was busy moving in, and the group returned to the Dennings Road residence after about eight minutes. She said Wheeler was not happy to see them back early. Ulsch and Turco dropped off the child and then left.
However, she said, they forgot a few items and returned to the residence approximately eight minutes later. Bosley and Wheeler had left in Wheeler's truck. She asked the child to check on Gerber in the basement, at which time they discovered the blood.
The state then played a recording of Ulsch's call to 911 following the discovery of the blood.
Examination was set to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18.