George Burch takes the witness stand in his murder trial

George Burch on the witness stand for his Brown County murder trial on February 28, 2018. (Photo: pool)

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WLUK) -- George Burch took the witness stand on day eight of his murder trial.

Burch, 40, is charged with the May 21, 2016 murder of 31-year-old Nicole VanderHeyden.

Burch says he went to Richard Crainums, a bar on Green Bay's west side, at about 11:15 pm on May 20, 2016.

Burch said it was there that he met VanderHeyden.

Burch testified the two left together at bar close.

Upon her invitation, Burch said he drove to VanderHeyden's home, with her giving directions.

That's when Burch said he noticed VanderHeyden was lying behind the truck.

Burch said the man holding the gun told him to put VanderHeyden inside the truck.

Burch said the gunman sat behind him and instructed him where to drive.

Burch said the gunman told him turn off and exit the vehicle in a field. The gunman told Burch to carry VanderHeyden's body out of the vehicle.

As the gunman was looking away, Burch said he pushed him with all his might and ran back to his vehicle and drove away.

As Burch drove away, he said he noticed some of VanderHeyden's things were inside his vehicle, so threw them out the window. Investigators have testified to finding VanderHeyden's bloody clothes on the GV on-ramp to Highway 172, near the field.

Burch said while he was showering, he could feel pain on the back of his head, like he may have bumped it.

Burch testified earlier that he has been convicted of five crimes.

Burch says he moved to Green Bay after his father died and his wife split up with him and took the couple's two children.

Burch moved in with Ed Jackson, a man he met while living in upstate New York, and Jackson's wife, Lynda. Burch says Jackson was the only person he knew in Green Bay when he moved to the area.

Burch testified to the Jacksons loaning him a 1999 Chevrolet Blazer to drive to and from work.

Earlier this week, the Jacksons' testimony revealed the Blazer was part of a hit-and-run crash and started on fire two weeks after VanderHeyden's murder. Investigators say by the time they linked Burch to the murder, the vehicle had been junked and was unable to be searched for blood or DNA.

Green Bay Police Officer Robert Bourdelais testified on Monday that the hit-and-run investigation was closed without determination if the vehicle had been stolen or who was driving it during the hit-and-run crash.

Defense attorneys began their questioning of Burch with questions about his background. Burch says he grew up as an only child -- adopted -- in Newport News, Virginia.

Burch says he was nicknamed "Big County" at six years old. He says he grew up playing football, basketball, and baseball.

Burch says his wife's name was Beth. He says they met in 2000. Burch says the couple moved to Newburgh, New York, because his hometown was becoming crime-ridden.

"It definitely escalated, worse and worse," said Burch.

Burch says he had two sons with his wife. He says they are now 16 and 13 years old. Burch says he tries to talk with them daily, either through FaceTime or text messages.

Burch testified to moving back to Virginia with his family when his dad became sick.

"He has always been my best friend," said Burch.

Burch says his father died in 2014.

At the end of the day, Judge John Zakowski announced that the court fully expects closing arguments to happen Thursday. He says the defense might have one out-of-town witness and the state could have some rebuttal testimiony.

Earlier Testimony

Max Wilkinson was the first witness to testify on the day. Wilkinson was at the Sardine Can on the night of VanderHeyden's death.

Wilkinson testified to talking with Douglass Detrie, VanderHeyden's boyfriend, at the Sardine Can. He says Detrie had complained about getting into a fight with his girlfriend.

Wilkinson says he also witnessed Detrie and Gregg Mathu, Detrie's friend, prepare to snort Adderall in a vehicle outside of the Sardine Can.

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 18 days.

Lisa Skaletski, who lives on Detrie's street, was the second person to testify.

Skaletski testified to seeing a tall white man on a cellphone in the driveway of Detrie and VanderHeyden's home on the morning that VanderHeyden's body was found three miles away in a farm field.

Another neighbor, Donald Chic, testified after Skaletski.

Chic, a former police officer, noted the garage door to Detrie and VanderHeyden's home was open at about 11 a.m. on the day the body was discovered. Chic also said there was no car in the garage, however, a small light blue SUV was in the driveway with a woman standing outside of it.

Charles Valdes, an investigator for the state public defender's office, was the fourth person to testify on the day.

Valdes explained the purpose for a valet key. Valdes says that type of key can open a vehicle's driver's side door and start the vehicle's engine, but cannot open a glove box or trunk.

There has been testimony about a key investigators found in the Detrie/VanderHeyden home and whether it could have been used to drive VanderHeyden's vehicle on the night of her murder.

Last week, Sgt. Brian Slinger testified that Progressive's Snapshot device was found in VanderHeyden's vehicle and that it did not show the vehicle being driven on the night of the crime. However, Judge Zakowski instructed the jury to disregard that testimony because an expert witness would be needed to testify to the device's reliability.

Before jurors were let in, JudgeZakowski announced to the courtroom that a resolution had been reached regarding concerns of inmate witnesses testifying in George Burch's murder trial.

Zakowski says the prosecution and defense came to an agreement about inmates testifying. However, Zakowski did not say what the agreement was or whether the inmates will actually be called to testify.

After jurors were excused at the conclusion of Tuesday's testimony, defense attorneys raised concerns about the reliability of what they call "jailhouse snitches." The attorneys said they would have had to recuse themselves from the trial, causing a mistrial, if at least one of the five inmates is allowed to testify.

The state had indicated Burch told the inmates information that could show his guilt in the case.

Case Background

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.

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 23.

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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