Lead investigator transitions witness testimony from Detrie to Burch

Detective Sgt. Brian Slinger, of the Brown County Sheriff's Department, testifies on day five of George Burch's murder trial on February 23, 2018. (Photo: Pool)

BROWN COUNTY (WLUK) -- Day five of George Burch's murder trial has concluded.

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

Testimony started after an hour delay. Judge John Zakowski told the court that a juror overslept.

The lead investigator on the case, Brown County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Brian Slinger, explained what went into the arrest and release of VanderHeyden's boyfriend, Douglass Detrie.

Detrie, 36, was never charged and was released after spending 18 days in jail.

Slinger says the decision was made to arrest Detrie after investigators found a large amount of blood and a cord in the yard directly across the street from the home Detrie shared with VanderHeyden.

Slinger says other key evidence included a pair of Air Jordan shoes found in Detrie's home. Slinger says the pattern on the bottom of the shoes was similar to a print found on VanderHeyden's back. Slinger also says VanderHeyden's vehicle, which was parked in the couple's garage, had a large stain in the trunk. Slinger says the belief was that Detrie used the vehicle to transport VanderHeyden's body.

"During that time I was continuing to review surveillance, continuing to go through the evidence that was collected, in particular (DNA) swabs that were taken.," said Slinger of the time Detrie spent in jail.

Slinger says the decision was made to release Detrie after a series of answers started coming back on the evidence that was collected.

"He was ultimately released based on a lot of facts that were learned in those 18, 19 days in the investigation," said Slinger.

The stain found in VanderHeyden's trunk was not a match for VanderHeyden's blood, according to Slinger. Slinger says additional blood found in the couple's garage was not human blood. The belief is the blood came from a turkey that Detrie shot weeks before the investigation started.

Slinger also testified that the Air Jordan shoes did not test positive for any DNA or blood.

Another reason for Detrie's release is Slinger says he kept in contact with lab technicians about DNA found on VanderHeyden's body. Slinger says the DNA belonged to an unknown male and was not consistent with Detrie's DNA.

Slinger says he was also able to review a download of Detrie's cellphone to find out if there were any inconsistencies in Detrie's statements to investigators.

"All the information that Doug Detrie gave us was accurate outside of maybe a few minutes here and there were off, which anyone would probably do on their night out," said Slinger. "Everything was consistent with what he originally told us."

Between 350 and 400 items of evidence were collected throughout the investigation, according to Slinger. Slinger says the state's crime lab only allows ten items to be sent for processing at one time.

"We tried sending a lot more than we were allowed to send, because obviously we wanted answers quick," said Slinger.

Slinger testified that on April 19, 2016, he was notified that a DNA sample from VanderHeyden's sock came back as a match for Burch.

"We had a little bit of spirit in the office that day as we were continually sending items in and not getting much luck back, other than an unknown Y profile," said Slinger. "As soon as I got that name, I sat down at the computer and checked our police databases."

Slinger says he found Green Bay Police had contact with Burch a few weeks earlier and conducted a download of his cellphone.

Slinger testified to finding a Google account for Burch from the cellphone information. In opening arguments, District Attorney David Lasee said geolocation information from that Google account puts Burch outside the Sardine Can, where VanderHeyden was last seen alive, outside the Ledgeview home she shared with Detrie, the field where VanderHeyden's body was found, and the Hwy 172 on-ramp where VanderHeyden's bloody clothes were found.

On September 7, 2016, Slinger testified that he was part of the arrest of Burch.

During the defense's cross examination of Slinger, attorney Scott Stebbins spent extensive time going over maps of the area where VanderHeyden's body was found. Stebbins asked Slinger if any searches were conducted of the East River or East River Trail as part of the investigation. Slinger says they were not.

Sgt. Jody Breider, of the Brown County Sheriff's Department, testified after Slinger. Breider helped arrest Burch and search his home on 15th Avenue in Green Bay.

Breider testified that a pair of Air Jordan shoes were found in Burch's home.

Kevin Scott, a DNA analyst for the Wisconsin State Crime Lab, was the fifth person of the day to testify. Scott explained at length what DNA is and how it works.

Scott says he tested 78 items of evidence, mostly throughout the summer of 2016, for the VanderHeyden homicide investigation.

Scott testified to finding the appropriate male DNA sample needed to find a match in a national database in mid-August. Scott says the sample came from a sock taken off VanderHeyden's body. Scott verified that on August 19, 2016, that DNA sample came back as a match in the national database for Burch.

Scott says he was then able to use Burch's DNA sample to match it to male DNA samples taken from 16 spots on VanderHeyden's body and the cord investigators believe was used to have strangled VanderHeyden to death.

In defense questioning of Scott, he said it is possible for DNA to end up on evidence without the person that the DNA belongs to ever touching the item. Scott also testified that DNA belonging to another person can be missed during a swabbing of an item.

Madison Kniskern, a controlled substance crime lab technician for the Wisconsin State Crime Lab, was the first witness to testify on Friday.

Kniskern testified to checking Gregg Mathu's car for DNA and blood. Mathu is Douglass Detrie's friend, who drove the two back to Detrie's home on the night investigators say VanderHeyden was murdered.

Katie Hoffmeyer, a forensic technician with the Wisconsin State Crime Lab, was the second witness to testify. She says she helped with the processing of another vehicle in the investigation, but found nothing of value for evidence.

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 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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