Jurors hear opening statements in Burch murder trial

Defense attorney Scott Stebbins provides his opening statement in George Burch's Brown County murder trial on February 19, 2018. (Photo credit: WLUK)

BROWN COUNTY (WLUK) -- The murder trial of George Burch is underway, as jurors heard opening statements in Brown County Court Monday morning.

Burch, 40, is charged with the May 2016 murder of 31-year-old Nicole VanderHeyden, a former substitute teacher and mother of three children.

With details that were gruesome at times, jurors received a taste of the evidence they'll be hearing in the next two weeks about the death VanderHeyden.

“Nikki was unrecognizable, they were not able to identify her comparing her face to a picture because of the severity of her injuries,” said Brown County District Attorney David Lasee.

Lasee told jurors DNA found all over VanderHeyden's body came back as a match for Burch. Lasee also pointed out that Burch's phone puts him at all the key locations from the night of her murder.

“Four key locations in this case: the Sardine Can where she was last seen, Berkley Road where we know she was killed, Hoffman Road where we know her body was found, 172 and GV where her clothes are found,” said Lasee.

Defense attorney Scott Stebbins says his team actually agrees with most of the state’s evidence.

“What this case comes down to is how the state is interpreting this evidence, how the state is arguing this evidence, and what the evidence will actually show you once you have the full picture,” said Stebbins.

Stebbins says the full picture will point to VanderHeyden's boyfriend, Doug Detrie, as the killer.

Detrie was originally arrested for the crime, but was never charged and was released after spending 18 days in jail.

Stebbins told the jurors that the couple had been fighting in the hours before VanderHeyden’s death, during a night of heavy drinking with friends. Stebbins also said Detrie ditched VanderHeyden after a concert at the Watering Hole to talk with other women and snort amphetamines with a friend.

“This wasn't a random act,” said Stebbins. “The evidence will show you that Doug had the motive to kill Nicole. The state couldn't offer you one reason why George would have any reason to kill Nicole.”

As Judge John Zakowski pointed out, jurors are not supposed to consider opening statements as actual evidence.

As part of a pretrial stipulation, the defense cannot introduce its scenario of how Detrie killed VanderHeyden and forced Burch at gunpoint to dispose of the body until Burch takes the witness stand. The jury has not been made aware of that stipulation.

Day 1 Witness Testimony

After opening statements, seven people took the witness stand.

Three people, including two juveniles, first testified to finding VanderHeyden's body in the Bellevue field. Two boys testified to helping pick rocks, as part of a farming operation, with the grandfather of one of the boys.

Four Brown County Sheriff's deputies then took the stand. Their testimony ranged from initial response to aerial diagrams of the murder scene and the field where the body was found.

Deputy Matthew Omdahl also testified to finding bloody paper hand towels at Ledgeview Park, which is near the alleged murder scene and the Bellevue field.

As we've reported, at least 130 witnesses could testify during the trial, which is scheduled for two weeks.

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