Ashlee Thamert was at a convenience store in the summer of 2016 when she met Bret Michael Wheeler. After catching each other’s eye in line, she spoke to him in the parking lot where he was waiting in the passenger seat of a vehicle.
During their conversation, the two exchanged phone numbers and she offered to drive him home from his worksite near her home in exchange for gas money, she told Senior Assistant State's Attorney Allan Culver during direct questioning at the Carroll County Circuit Court.
Thamert, who arrived in the courtroom in handcuffs and is currently incarcerated in Adams County, Pennsylvania, a fact of which the jury was made aware by the prosecution, was one of six new witnesses for the prosecution to give testimony Wednesday during the third day of Wheeler's murder 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.
He is charged as a co-conspirator to Robert Theodore Bosley, convicted last April of murdering Kandi Gerber, Wheeler's fiancee, on Aug. 8, 2016.
Thamert testified that she drove Wheeler home several times and said during her drives with Wheeler, he often complained about Gerber.
"He always had some issue with his girlfriend," she testified.
He also resented having to care for Gerber's children, of whom he was not the father, Thamert said. After she dropped him off, she said he would send her text messages, telling her how pretty she was and that "we would make beautiful babies," but she said she refused his advances because she knew he was in a relationship.
One night in early August, about three days into these conversations, she said Wheeler repeatedly and "frantically" called her cellphone. She ignored his calls.
About 24 hours later, she recognized his photo in a newspaper alongside an article stating that he had been arrested.
Wednesday's proceedings began as Matthew Williamson, attorney for Wheeler, cross-examined witness for the prosecution Lindsay Ulsch, who had given testimony the day prior. Williamson's examination of Ulsch was the most drawn out of the day, and the defense asked few questions of other witnesses.
"In this case, the devil's in the details," Williamson said to the 12-person jury in front of Judge Barry Hughes as he questioned Ulsch.
Later, three law enforcement officials called as witnesses established the three scenes of interest in the case: the basement of the house in the 2000 block of Dennings Road, the site of the murder and the residence shared by Bosley, Wheeler, Gerber and several others; the intersection of Old Washington and Muller roads, the site where investigators found Gerber's body; and a residence on South Springdale Road where Bosley and Wheeler were arrested.
Brittaney Soto, a forensic services technician with the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, recounted the evening of Aug. 8, when she responded to the Sheriff's Office's northern location in Hampstead to preserve evidence on Wheeler and Bosley after they were arrested. Wheeler was arrested while wearing a pair of Santa-themed boxer shorts with possible blood on them and a ring, which he indicated was not his, Soto said. Later testimony from Bosley's wife indicated that the ring was his wedding ring.
As evidence, the state presented photos of Wheeler and Bosley taken by Soto that night as well as clothing seized from Wheeler and clothing recovered from Gerber's body.
Soto also responded to the house in 2000 block of Dennings Road at around 2 a.m. on Aug. 8, 2016, after a search warrant had been issued for the property. She photographed the basement where Bosley killed Gerber by slitting her throat.
Making use of more than 40 photographs of the basement entrance and the basement, Soto familiarized the jury with the location and showed the large pool of possible blood concentrated on the floor near the interior steps. Soto referred to the substance as possible blood in her report because she is not trained in DNA analysis.
In the possible blood, there was a large wipe area, as well as several swipes, indicating something had been dragged through it. Footprints in the possible blood were present leading in both directions in and out of the basement, and blue fibers were present on the floor.
After leaving the house in the 2000 block of Dennings Road, she responded to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, where she collected clothing and trace evidence such as blood samples and fingernail clippings from the autopsy of Gerber. Possible blood was present on Gerber's shorts as well as blue fibers matching those found in the basement.
In Sgt. Michael Zepp's testimony, he said he found similar blue fibers on the body of Gerber. Zepp was a detective corporal with the Major Crimes Unit of the Sheriff's Office on Aug. 8, 2016, when he was called to respond to the house in the 2000 block of Dennings Road. The amount of blood present in the basement led him to believe that the person who had lost the blood was dead or dying, he said.
Zepp further testified that after receiving a report from the detectives interviewing Bosley, Zepp and other law enforcement officers began canvasing for Gerber's body and eventually found it in the grass 20 feet from a gravel pull-off near Old Washington and Muller roads.
Zepp told the jury that there was significant fly activity on the body, suggesting that Gerber was deceased. He observed blood on her clothing and a laceration on her neck, which was shown to the jury via a photograph of the body taken that evening.
A paramedic pronounced Gerber dead at 8:35 p.m. Aug. 8, 2016.
Another witness, Sandra Schwartz, gave testimony regarding her meeting with Wheeler and Bosley after the body had been dumped, though she was unaware of that fact at the time. Bosley was previously married to Schwartz's daughter and had been doing yard work for her prior to the events of Aug. 8, 2016, when he arrived at her door shirtless and with blood on his shorts. He was accompanied by Wheeler and said the two had hit a deer, Schwartz said.
Bosley's demeanor was not unusual, Schwartz told Culver during direct questioning. He later asked Schwartz about Wheeler's demeanor.
"He just stood there," she said of Wheeler.
Bosley asked if Wheeler could shower in her bathroom and she said she agreed.
"I thought, if I'd picked up a deer, I'd feel dirty, I guess," she said.
Schwartz testified that while Wheeler showered, she spoke to Bosley, at which time she smelled alcohol on his breath. She then remembered, she said, that Bosley's wife had called her residence earlier. At this point, she began to feel that something was wrong, she said. She then saw Wheeler exiting her home wearing one of her towels.
This upset her and she exited the house to confront him, accompanied by her German shepherd. There, she noticed an open beer sitting on the hood of the car.
"I decided right then something's not right," she told the jury.
Bosley requested to use Schwartz's pressure washer. Schwartz declined and told Bosley and Wheeler to please leave her property, she testified. She said she then went inside and locked the doors and when she next checked out the window a few minutes later, two patrol cars had arrived.
Christopher Green, a former sheriff's deputy, gave testimony recounting how he responded to South Springdale Road on the evening of Aug. 8, 2016, with another deputy. They took Bosley and Wheeler into custody and transported them to the Sheriff's Office's northern location. Green transported Wheeler in his patrol car and said Wheeler was compliant throughout the time he was in Green's custody.
The trial is scheduled to resume in Courtroom 4 in Carroll County Circuit Court on Thursday.