A 20-year-old Iowa man was shot three times in the back of the head while he was face down on the ground, an investigator told jurors Thursday at the first-degree murder trial of a mother who claims the killing was justified in self-defense.
Retired Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab supervisor Robert Harvey testified Thursday that three bullets went through Dustin Wehde's head, out his face and into the bedroom floor of Tracey Richter's home in Early, a small town in northwest Iowa, on Dec. 13, 2001. Harvey said investigators left two of the bullets in the floor because they would have had to tear up the home to get them.
"You could pretty much tell where those shots were coming from: they were coming pretty much directly over the head area and down into the head," said Harvey, who attended Wehde's autopsy.
His testimony came Thursday afternoon as prosecutors continued building their case that Richter planned to kill Wehde, planted a notebook in his car implicating her ex-husband in a murder-for-hire-scheme and then falsely claimed she was the victim of a home invasion.
Richter, a 45-year-old who later moved to Omaha, Neb., claimed she killed Wehde to protect herself and her three children after he and another man broke into her home and strangled her with pantyhose. She claims that she was able to break free, unlock her gun safe, grab a gun and shoot Wehde over her shoulder. She says she then shot him again with a second gun after he tried to get up.
Harvey showed jurors the two firearms _ a revolver and a pistol _ that Richter used during the shooting and illustrated how they would be fired. Richter fired 11 times and nine of the bullets struck Wehde, who had spent time playing paintball and doing other activities with Richter's second husband.
Prosecutors had Harvey walk jurors through gruesome photographs he took of Wehde, slumped over on the bedroom's hardwood floor with a pool of blood around his head. Richter covered her eyes for the most graphic shot and but occasionally looked at the television screen as other photos showing blood running across the floor, the gun safe and bullet fragments were broadcast.
Harvey, who retired in 2006 after three decades with DCI, testified he arrived at the home hours after the shooting and was immediately skeptical that a break-in and assault had occurred. He said investigators examined all the doors and saw no signs of a forced entry and no items in the house were knocked over or out of place, which is usually a sign of a struggle.
But during cross-examination, Harvey acknowledged law enforcement officials viewed the killing as self-defense at the time.
"Yes, we did," he said. "We were told this was a self-defense case, and we didn't necessarily see anything that disagreed with that."
Harvey testified after former Sac County sheriff's Lt. Dennis Cessford told jurors he also initially believed Tracey Richter's claim of self-defense and thought bruises on her neck, hands and legs were consistent with her story. Cessford said Richter appeared concerned and perhaps scared when he interviewed her at a local hospital.
"We took Tracey's information at face value," he said.
Cessford said one thing that "bothered me" about her story was the way she used two guns, ending up with one in each hand. He said that was something he had not seen in his experience or would have thought to do himself.
Cessford said law enforcement officials found a pink spiral notebook in the front of Wehde's car after the shooting in which he had written that Richter's ex-husband had hired him to kill her and her 11-year-old son and make it look like a murder-suicide. He said police decided immediately to keep the notebook a secret because "that would be a key piece of evidence that only the person responsible for that evidence would know about it and talk about it."
Investigators looked at whether Richter's husband at the time, Michael Roberts, was involved in the events leading up to the shooting but ruled him out after determining he had been out of state on business, Cessford said. But under questioning from defense attorney Scott Bandstra, the officer acknowledged that prosecutors no longer have the cell phone records he reviewed that helped him reach that conclusion.
Bandstra has suggested that another man was the alleged second intruder, but part of the defense strategy also appears to be raising doubts about Roberts' potential involvement. The defense noted Wednesday that Roberts had planned a business trip during the shooting and gave an employee who went with him a $5,000 bonus and a $20,000 raise shortly afterward. The employee testified the pay increase was for his performance and had nothing to do with the shooting.