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Burch trial set to begin in VanderHeyden murder case

Geroge Burch in Brown County Court on February 16, 2018. (WLUK image)

BROWN COUNTY (WLUK) -- Opening statements in George Burch’s murder trial are set to begin Monday morning.

Burch, 40, is accused of killing 31-year-old Nicole VanderHeyden, of Ledgeview, in the early morning hours of May 21, 2016.

Burch was arrested almost four months after VanderHeyden’s beaten body was discovered in a Bellevue farm field, three miles from her home.

Prosecutors say Burch’s DNA was found on VanderHeyden’s body, sock, and other murder evidence found near VanderHeyden’s home.

Burch’s defense attorneys have indicated they plan to have Burch testify at trial, so they can accuse VanderHeyden’s boyfriend, Doug Detrie, of the crime.

The 36-year-old Detrie, who lived with VanderHeyden and is the father of the youngest of her three children, was originally arrested for the murder.

Detrie was never charged and was released from jail after 17 days.

Investigators have said Detrie and VanderHeyden were out drinking with friends in the hours before her murder. The couple fought about infidelity issues, and became separated, according to investigators.

Burch, who moved to the Green Bay area from Virginia shortly before the murder, has claimed he met VanderHeyden for the first time on the night of her murder at a bar on Broadway in Green Bay.

Burch says he drove VanderHeyden home, where they became intimate in the backseat of his car. Burch says Detrie came outside, discovered the two together, and knocked Burch out. When Burch gathered himself, he says he discovered Detrie standing over VanderHeyden’s bloodied and unconscious body. Burch says Detrie forced him at gunpoint to help him dispose of the body in the Bellevue field.

Prosecutors say Detrie’s Fitbit clears him of Burch’s scenario of what happened. The Fitbit shows Detrie was sleeping and took very few steps during the time the murder allegedly took place, according to prosecutors.

Judge John Zakowski has ruled that prosecutors can introduce some Fitbit evidence at trial. Prosecutors can show how many steps Detrie took the night of the murder, however, they cannot introduce the sleep evidence. Zakowski made that stipulation, citing pending lawsuits that question the reliability of Fitbit’s sleep records.

Zakowski is also allowing evidence from Burch’s cellphone to be presented at trial, despite defense attempts to have it excluded.

Investigators say Burch provided Green Bay Police written consent to download information from his phone during a separate hit-and-run investigation, a few weeks after VanderHeyden’s murder. The Brown County Sheriff’s Department obtained that information from Green Bay Police three months later, after DNA on VanderHeyden’s body came back as a match for Burch.

Burch’s attorneys argued the sheriff’s department should have obtained a warrant for those cell phone records, and that the sheriff department’s request went beyond the scope of the investigation the data was originally acquired for.

Prosecutors have said the information from Burch’s cellphone is key because geolocation data pings Burch’s cellphone to the Broadway bar where VanderHeyden was last seen alive, outside her home, and the Bellevue Field.

Judge Zakowski also ruled the defense will not be able to bring up an open domestic abuse case involving Detrie and VanderHeyden’s younger sister.

Detrie is charged with second degree recklessly endangering safety, false imprisonment and disorderly conduct.

Prosecutors allege that Detrie and Heather Meyer were together in a car in Allouez in February. Meyer told police Detrie touched her leg in a sexual manner. When she objected, Detrie sped off and would not let her out of the car. She tried to get out of the moving vehicle, but could not, until he eventually stopped several miles down the road.

Detrie is due back in court on March 23rd.

As for Burch, he has faced a murder charge before in Virginia. In June 1998, a jury found a then 20-year-old Burch not guilty of a gang-related killing.

Burch’s trial in the death of VanderHeyden is scheduled to last two weeks.

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