George Burch, who is accused of killing 31-year-old Nicole VanderHeyden, testified in his own defense Wednesday. He claims it was actually the woman’s live-in boyfriend Douglass Detrie, who took her life.
On the night VanderHeyden died, Burch said he first met her at Richard Craniums, a bar in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He came alone, and he didn’t see her enter the restaurant. He started chatting with VanderHeyden, and as he described it, they engaged in mutual flirting.
“Talking, laughing, joking, giggling,” he said. “A light touch here and there.”
They left the bar after last call. He drove her to where he was living at the time–the home of roommate Ed Jackson. They left after finding Ed’s father in a robe at the house.
Burch testified that he drove VanderHeyden over to what he believed to be her home, but the light was on. She said the babysitter was still home. They pulled over at the side of the road, talking for a few minutes, and started “Fooling around, messing around a little bit.” They moved to the backseat to have sex, Burch said. Then his memory cut out. The next thing he remembered was waking up to find himself outside on the ground by the truck.
Burch said a gunman in a sweatshirt was at the scene. “Don’t even fucking think about it” was the first thing Burch recalled the man saying.
The gunman ordered him to stand behind the vehicle. That’s when he recognized Nicole.
“It was a lot of blood on her face, coming out of her mouth, on her back, but I couldn’t—she wasn’t physically moving,” he said, later adding that he didn’t know what to do. Burch testified to reluctantly complying to the gunman’s order to put VanderHeyden in the back of the vehicle.
The gunman sat in the back as well, and ordered Burch to drive to a spot that was either a field or the beginning of the woods. Once there, the gunman told him to take the body, and drop it on a spot. Burch followed the order, but then found an opening, and pushed the gunman, and hard as he could, and ran away. He got in his vehicle, and sped off. Burch noticed some of VanderHeyden’s thing in the vehicle, he said he “freaked out” and tossed it out the window.
When Burch returned to Jackson’s home, he showered and washed his clothes because he had her blood on him. He ended up passing out after that, citing a drop in his adrenaline.
“Once I had a chance to actually sit there for a second, it was completely draining. You feel this overwhelming exhaustion,” he said. Jackson later woke him up to take him on a fishing trip. He insisted that he didn’t call 911 and didn’t tell anyone what happened because he was on probation for a grand larceny conviction (he later said it was in Virginia, not Wisconsin), and worried about getting sent to prison. As time passed, he figured his involvement was unnecessary once Detrie was arrested. He didn’t know that Detrie was released until he himself was arrested in VanderHeyden’s murder.
The prosecution didn’t buy this story, and this resulted in a pretty hostile cross-examination. Burch, who normally spoke in a friendly tone, grew visibly angry, and raised his voice.
“It’s the truth,” he told the prosecutor about his story. As he told the defense, he said he didn’t recall if he brought a condom with him that night. The prosecutor also sounded incredulous that they’d have sex on the side of the road “with your butt hanging out the car,” instead of telling the babysitter to leave. The prosecutor reminded Burch about medical expert testimony that when VanderHeyden died, she sustained abrasions to her mons pubis region. This sort of thing would be painful. He questioned the defendant as to whether he recalled VanderHeyden complaining about pain during the sex. Burch said no, but the prosecutor said the sex wasn’t consensual.
He said Burch was expecting sex that night but grew aggressive when it became clear that that wasn’t going to happen. He said Burch strangled her with a cord, and cited testimony that her jaw was fractured. She sustained defensive injuries to her body. He also voiced skepticism that Detrie, as the supposed killer, would have Burch to drive the body over.
“I don’t know what he thought,” he said. “You’d have to ask Mr. Detrie about that.”
The questioning grew so heated that the judge advised calm.
“It’s a stressful situation for everyone, Mr. Burch,” the judge said.
Detrie testified last Wednesday that he and VanderHeyden went to a Steel Panther concert the night she died. They split up after–she went to a restaurant called The Sardine Can–and he claims he didn’t see her the rest of the night. Meanwhile, he started drinking “pretty heavily,” and using a vape rep he thought contained marijuana. Detrie said she sent him angry text messages in which she accused him of cheating on her, and called him an “abusive asshole.”
“I was kinda puzzled, I didn’t know what she was thinking,” he said on the stand. “I didn’t know what was going on.”
He said he wasn’t worried about her well-being, believing that she was just angry. Detrie testified that he got a text message about VanderHeyden being with another person, who remained unidentified.
He said he returned home to relieve the babysitter taking care of his child; the babysitter, Dallas Kennedy said she didn’t know where VanderHeyden was, according to Detrie’s testimony. He started becoming worried when VanderHeyden still didn’t return home by the next morning.
Kennedy’s testimony on Tuesday undermined and contradicted Detrie’s. She said she contacted him by phone after the news reported VanderHeyden’s death. Kennedy asked what happened to VanderHeyden. Detrie’s answer, according to testimony: “I don’t know, she hit her head, and then she just wanted to walk home.”
[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network]