Medical examiner, babysitter, sister testify on day 2 of Burch trial

George Burch sits in Brown County Court on February 20, 2018 for the second day of his murder trial. (Photo credit: WLUK)

BROWN COUNTY (WLUK) -- Eight witnesses testified on day two of George Burch’s murder trial.

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

Dane County's deputy medical examiner, Agnieszka Rogalska, spent most of the morning on the witness stand.

Rogalska testified that she ruled VanderHeyden died as a result of strangulation and blunt force trauma. She says she cannot determine which determination is the primary cause of her death.

"There are injuries inside and on the neck muscles that we haven’t discussed that are consistent with her being alive at the time of the ligature being placed around her neck, so I know she was alive when that happened, but I also know she was alive at the time that the head injury occurred," said Rogalska. "So, I can’t say which one of those happened first and which one was the final one. Therefore, that’s why they’re both listed. Each one of them is fatal in this environment."

Rogalska says VanderHeyden suffered 241 injuries to her body. She says the injuries happened before and after she died.

Rogalska says a variety of injuries on VanderHeyden's body are consistent with being defensive injuries. She says injuries also show that VanderHeyden could have been sexually assaulted.

Defense attorney Lee Schuchart, however, laid out what he called a hypothetical scenario during cross examination.

"The victim could have been having consensual sex with one person that caused the injuries to the victim’s genitalia, but then was beaten by somebody different after the consensual sex. That is a reasonable alternative? Correct?" asked Schuchart.

Rogalska replied that Schuchart's scenario is possible.

Sgt. Richard Loppnow of the Brown County Sheriff's Department testified before Rogalska took the stand. Loppnow identified himself as one of the lead investigators on the case.

Loppnow's testimony centered on how investigators and the medical examiner responded to a Bellevue farm field about a possible homicide. Loppnow also testified that he observed Rogalska perform the autopsy in Dane County.

Prosecutors indicated Loppnow will likely take the stand again at some point during the trial.

In the afternoon, Deputy Nicholas Nerat and Lt James Valley of the Brown County Sheriff's Department testified.

Their testimoney centered on a pile of clothes that were found on the GV on ramp of Hwy 172, near the Bellevue field where VanderHeyden's body was found. During opening statements, District Attorney David Lasee said VanderHeyden's clothes were found in that location.

Dallas Kennedy, a friend of VanderHeyden who often babysat for her, also testified.

"She was just a light," said Kennedy of VanderHeyden. "She was always smiling, just happy."

Kennedy says she was the babysitter on the night investigators say VanderHeyden was murdered.

Kennedy testified that she only met Doug Detrie, VanderHeyden's boyfriend and father of her youngest of three chilren, three or four times before that night.

Kennedy says Detrie and a friend came home that night very loud, especially considering his son was sleeping upstairs. Kennedy testified to Detrie showing her a series of argumentative text messages between Detrie and VanderHeyden. Kennedy says she was surprised to see VanderHeyden was not with Detrie and his friend. She says the trio discussed where VanderHeyden could be.

Late in the day, VanderHeyden's sister, Heather Meyer, testified.

Meyer explained she was putting together plans to search for her missing sister at Detrie's home when she heard something troubling on TV.

"We saw on the news that a body had been found in Bellevue," said Meyer. "We prayed that it wasn’t her."

Meyer testified to being close with her family. However, Meyer indicated she was not close with Detrie. She says he had to message her on Facebook about her sister being missing, because he did not have her phone number.

After Meyer testified, Courtney Gerlikowski took the witness stand. Gerlikowski says she has known Detrie for more than 20 years.

Gerlikowski said she was with Detrie and VanderHeyden at a concert on the night investigators believe the murder happened. She testified to not seeing the couple fight.

Sgt. Tracy Holschbach of the Brown County Sheriff's Department was the last witness to testify on day two.

Holschbach testified to being the first investigator to visit with Detrie about VanderHeyden being missing.

Holschbach also said she was present when Detrie was arrested for VanderHeyden's murder. She says Detrie was cooperative and emotional.

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.

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.

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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