Judge calls it ‘very unlikely’ he will allow jurors to visit site where pregnant Howard teacher was killed

The Washington Post

A Montgomery County judge on Friday told prosecutors it was “very unlikely” he’d allow jurors to visit a remote field where an accused murderer allegedly lured his pregnant girlfriend, shot her in the head, and buried her in a shallow grave.

“It’s a logistical nightmare,” Circuit Judge Michael Mason said from the bench, after reviewing prosecutors’ plans to take not only jurors to the area in Damascus, but also the suspect, attorneys and the judge.

The 45-minute hearing came ahead of the trial set to start next month for Tyler Lewis Tessier, 33, who is charged with first-degree murder in the death last year of Laura Wallen, a 31-year-old Howard County high school teacher.

As for the proposal to take jurors to the spot where Wallen’s body was found, the judge noted basic legal standards that would forbid anyone from talking to the jurors once they arrived there which, he said, could create a situation where the jurors wouldn’t get much out of going to the scene.

“So, you’re going to take the jurors to this vast open space, have them all get out of an SUV, while we all sort of look at each other?” Mason asked prosecutors.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy suggested the jurors be given some basic guidelines before going. But Mason appeared unmoved. “It’s very unlikely that I would let you do it,” he said.

Mason said he may revisit the request once the trial is underway.

Prosecutors are seeking the visit to the field, they said in court filings, to underscore it is secluded.

“This is a spot that is known uniquely to a very small universe of people,” McCarthy said in court.

Tessier was in court Friday, wearing a dark green prison jumpsuit, and displayed little emotion, as McCarthy asserted that Tessier killed Wallen and used a skid-loader to dig a hole to bury her body.

Wallen failed to report for the first day of school in early September, and her body was found Sept. 13 after a massive search in which Tessier made an emotional appeal for her to return.

The court hearing Friday also offered a glimpse of the upcoming strategies in the case.

Prosecutors clearly want to use prominently a photograph of a smiling Wallen that they say Tessier took at the remote area the night before Wallen was killed. The two were together at the site on back-to-back days last September, prosecutors say.

Tessier’s attorney continues to try to tamp down the emotional aspects of the case, and has asked the judge to prevent prosecutors from showing crime scene photos of Wallen’s body after it was discovered in the grave, and halt them from dwelling on medical records that highlight her pregnancy.

“This is a highly emotional case. It’s the homicide of a pregnant, young woman,” the attorney, Allen Wolf, said. “I think a major concern, I know for me and my client, and I think a major concern for the court, has got to be how to make sure that a jury decides this case fairly, based on the facts and evidence.”

The judge said he would reserve judgment about allowing the prosecutors to show jurors photos from the gravesite.

Prosecutors indicated in court Friday that, if need be, they would turn to photographs showing the site’s topography and to witnesses to convey its isolation. They would then try to establish that Tessier and Wallen went there alone twice during the weekend she was killed.

Court filings indicated that their evidence on this front might include the photograph that Tessier took of Wallen seated in a truck the night of Sept. 2, which Tessier texted to Wallen’s sister; and a photograph Wallen took that same night, showing the area’s unique tree line.

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