|3/20/2020 10:09:00 AM|
Valdez Not guilty
|After nearly two years and two jury trials, Austin D. Valdez is now a free man. |
Valdez, 21, was tried twice for shooting his stepfather Robin Reeson on March 24, 2018 in the Town of Ridgeway. The jury deliberated nine hours over two days, and unanimously found Valdez not guilty of First Degree Intentional Homicide. The jury's verdict was read Friday afternoon and Hon. Andrew Sharp dismissed the case in its entirety.
In February 2019, Valdez's first trial for First Degree Reckless Homicide, ended in a mistrial after the jury could not unanimously agree on a verdict. Later that year, Iowa County District Attorney Larry E. Nelson died from a pulmonary embolism. Wisconsin Assistant Attorney Generals Amber Hahn and Adrienne Blais continued prosecution of the case, amending the charge to First Degree Intentional Homicide, a Class A Felony carrying a penalty of life imprisonment.
Since Melanie Reeson, Valdez's mother and wife of the deceased passed away unexpectedly in September 2019, her prior testimony was read to the jury. She was a key witness as Valdez maintained he was protecting his mother. Valdez testified he was in his room when he heard Robin Reeson shatter an empty 50-gallon fish tank with a 2x4 piece of wood. After he heard his mother say, "get off Robin you're hurting me," he feared for her safety and grabbed a 30-30 rifle located next to his bed. Valdez walked to the stair landing and saw Reeson hovering over the couch, seemingly choking Melanie. Valdez testified he said, "Robin that's enough," prompting Reeson to let go of Melanie and approach the stairway in anger. After warning Reeson not to come closer, Valdez fired a single shot towards Reeson's shoulder fearing Reeson would grab the gun and hurt him. Jurors listened to the 911 calls made by Valdez and Melanie Reeson immediately after the shooting.
In its case in chief, the state called Iowa County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Drury, the 911 dispatcher who received the calls. After his testimony, the jury travelled to the crime scene at 112 Keane Street in Ridgeway to better understand the layout of the house. Other law enforcement members testified about their involvement in the investigation, including lead investigator Detectives Brian Fitzsimmons and Detective Lana Bowers. Fitzsimmons and Bowers conducted two separate interviews with Valdez, the first 45 minutes after the shooting, and a second interview four days later. Bowers testified about the interviews she conducted of both Austin Valdez and Melanie Reeson. Wisconsin State Trooper Ryan Zukowski worked in the technical reconstruction unit for the past 23 years. Zukowski created a 3D rendition of the house which was displayed to the jury.
The transcript of Melanie Reeson's testimony at the first trial was read to the jury and they also viewed her video-recorded interview. Melanie's testimony detailed other incidents where Robin Reeson had gotten physical with her. She also said she had not told her son about these incidents. She recalled a fishing trip that took place two months prior to the shooting, where Reeson drove while she was seated in the front passenger's seat and Valdez sat in the back. As they were driving, she noticed Robin speeding up. She was getting fearful and told Robin to slow down as deer may be nearby. When Robin kept speeding up, she said that she swung her arm out, and Robin hit her giving her a bloody nose. She also testified that on the night in question, Valdez drove her and Reeson to their friend Doug Foster's house. Later, when Valdez told Robin and Melanie to walk back, they ended up going to Doodle's Bar.
At the bar, Melanie noticed a girl flirting with Reeson, which upset her. She said Reeson kept ignoring her and she ended up staying at the bar until closing time. When she came home, she recalled Valdez telling her not to wake Robin up. Valdez had said that Robin was upset with him about the toilet water running in the bathroom and that Robin just was not acting like himself. Melanie told Valdez not to worry and that he could go back up to bed.
She said that Robin liked being awakened by Melanie when he was sleeping. After he woke up, they began making love. She recalled seeing Robin having his eyes closed the whole time, and suddenly she was pushed on the floor towards the television. She said Reeson took the 2x4 and broke the fish tank. While telling him to stop, Reeson grabbed her face. She took two steps back on the couch and Reeson started choking her. She remembered hearing Valdez say, "Robin that's enough."
She said she could only see Valdez's silhouette at first, but as she got closer, she could see him on the stair landing. As Reeson charged towards the stairs, she heard Valdez tell him to stop. When Valdez pulled the trigger on the rifle, she remembered Robin pivoting his body towards her. She also recalled telling her son to call 911, hearing him say, "Please don't die Robin, you scared me," and feeling that it took forever for EMS to arrive. She testified she had followed Reeson towards the stairs fearing he was capable of hurting her son. She also felt that Reeson's anger that night was much different than any other time he was angry. It felt to her like a dream.
Edward Nelson, Valdez's grandfather and Melanie's father, testified for the state although he was called as a defense witness at the first trial. to testify. Nelson testified that he had a discussion with Valdez that concerned him, but this was not reported until after the first trial ended. Nelson claimed that Valdez said he would shoot Reeson if Reeson ever touched him again. Valdez later denied saying that to Nelson when he later testified. During cross examination of Nelson, he reviewed the transcript of his prior testimony where he said Reeson was known to have a short temper.
Dr. Robert Corliss, the state's forensic pathologist, testified about the autopsy he conducted on Reeson's body a few hours after his death. He also performed a toxicology screen on Reeson, which showed marijuana in his system at the time of his death. He described the gunshot wound to Reeson's left shoulder. After entering the shoulder, the bullet travelled through multiple vital organs in the chest, (left lung, heart, liver, and right kidney,) and exited through the right buttocks. Dr. Corliss determined the wound was lethal despite any medical intervention. Dr. Corliss also viewed the scene with the intention of reenacting the scene to the best of his ability. Detective Brian Fitzsimmons assisted him during the reenactment. In his opinion, it appeared Reeson's left foot was on the third or fourth step when the shot was fired. Dr. Corliss said it was hard to determine whether Reeson's hand was reaching for the barrel or for the stairway handrail as he approached Valdez.
Wisconsin Crime Lab Examiner Mark Simonson testified that he received the 30-30 Marlin lever action for examination. He said that he was familiar with this type of rifle and that it is a common deer rifle in Wisconsin. Learning Valdez claimed he shot the rifle one-handed, he agreed it was possible to handle the rifle in that manner.
Witness Bobbi Jo Lease, testified she was together with Robin and Melanie Reeson at her house earlier in the evening. Kim Forbes, owner of The Wheel Bar, testified that Robin and Melanie Reeson were at his bar, before heading to Doodle's Bar. Ravin Berg testified to sitting next to the Reesons at Doodle's Bar, but could not recall flirting with Robin Reeson. Danielle Foss, another bar patron, testified she saw the Reeson's arguing. The Doodle's Bar's owner, Deb Schauf, testified she was with Melanie until closing time.
For the defense, Jill Knorr, a senior investigator for the State Public Defender's for 32 years testified. Knorr testified she went to the Reeson residence to retrieve the board Robin Reeson allegedly used for breaking the fish tank. Melanie's first husband, Will Hamilton, testified he was married to Melanie for eight years and helped raise Valdez since he was very young. He testified that he had a great relationship with Austin. After his divorce with Melanie, Valdez stayed with him and he taught Valdez how to hunt, fish, and proper gun safety. Hamilton said he taught Valdez about self-defense. Hamilton said that he kept his guns in a safe and that they were only used guns for hunting or, if ever needed, self-defense. He also testified that he went hunting every year with Valdez and felt he had no reason to be fearful around him.
The defense also called former Milwaukee Police Department Lieutenant Conrad Zvara, who served for the department for 25 years between 1977 and 2002. He also served as an adjunct instructor for empty hands arrest techniques, and impact weapons. After Wisconsin enacted the concealed carry law, Zvara taught concealed carry classes and the law of self-defense to civilians. Zvara testified that even though a person is unarmed, they can cause great bodily harm, and that the threat increases the closer an attacker gets.
Finally, Valdez himself took the witness stand to testify. Valdez testified that Reeson got home from a night of drinking before Melanie Reeson came home and flew into a rage. Reeson banged on his door after discovering the toilet still running. Valdez said while Reeson had a tendency to yell, he had never seen his stepfather, "that angry before." Valdez apologized to Reeson and after that Reeson went to sleep. When Melanie came home later, Valdez testified that he warned her multiple times to not wake Reeson up. Valdez recalled hearing giggling, then hearing glass shattering, yelling, and then hearing his mother say, "Robin, get off me. You're hurting me." Valdez said, "I remember thinking, I have to protect my mom." He was worried Reeson may hurt his mother or himself during the time it would take to call 911, and then got his rifle.
After Judge Sharp read the instructions to the jury, closing arguments were made by both sides. Deliberation began Thursday night until 9:00 p.m. and reconvened Friday. Around 1:45 p.m., the jury informed the court they reached their verdict. The Iowa County Clerk of Court read the Not Guilty verdict shortly thereafter. Valdez's attorney, Jeremiah Meyer-O'Day moved for entry of the judgment, Judge Sharp dismissed the case and thanked the jury for their participation.
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