|2/8/2019 1:36:00 PM|
Jury begins deliberations in reckless homicide case
|If driving the intersections between West Merrimac Street and Montgomery Street on Monday, one may have noticed some unusual signage indicating detours around the area.|
This wasn't because of the recent weather, this was because of a reckless homicide case affecting the Iowa County area for almost a year.
Austin Valdez, 20, was charged with first degree reckless homicide by Iowa County District Attorney Larry E. Nelson, when Valdez shot and killed his stepfather Robin Reeson in the early morning of March 24, 2018 in Ridgeway. Valdez's defense attorneys are Jeremiah Wolfgang Meyer O'Day and Taylor Hart. At last Friday's pretrial, Honorable Judge Craig Day presided over the court session in place of Judge William Andrew Sharp, who suffered a medical emergency that took him away from being on the bench. The pretrial began with clearing areas that needed to be addressed prior to trial proceedings.
Jury selection began Monday morning, when 12 jurors and 2 alternates were named to hear the evidence at hand, and to determine Valdez's fate. Earlier in the morning, the courtroom was filled with 120 possible jurors, which was later condensed to 14 members based on questions from Judge Day, Meyer-O'Day, and Nelson.
In the afternoon, opening statements from both Nelson and Meyer O'Day were heard by the jury. Judge Day reminded jurors that opening statements must not be considered as evidence, and that jurors must make their decisions based only on evidence admitted by the court. The right side of the courtroom was filled with members of Robin Reeson's family.
"The purpose of the opening statement is to give the lawyers an opportunity to tell you (to the jurors) what they expect the evidence might show so that you can better understand the evidence as it is introduced," Judge Day said.
Attorney Nelson, during his opening statement, informed the jurors that Valdez is charged with first degree reckless homicide.
"The state has to prove the defendant caused the death of his stepfather Robin Reeson, in a criminally reckless conduct," Nelson said. "A criminally reckless conduct means the defendant created a risk of death or great bodily harm to another person."
In addition the state must prove that the defendant acted in utter disregard for human life. Nelson stated that the evidence will show that Valdez armed himself with a loaded 30-30 rifle that was used in shooting his stepfather. He continued by saying that Valdez lived with Robin, and Melanie Reeson, who is Valdez's mother for about four years. The only individuals present at the time of the shooting were Robin, Melanie, and Austin. Shortly after shooting and killing his stepfather the defendant gave statements to the detectives of the Iowa County Sheriff's Department.
"By all accounts, according to the defendant, he had a great relationship with Robin," Nelson said. "They hunted together, they fished together, they trapped, they worked on cars together. In the defendant's words they were best buddies. They went everywhere together. Robin was like a dad to him."
Nelson informed the jurors on the day of the shooting Melanie and Robin had gone to a friends house and then went to the bars in Ridgeway. Robin came home at around 1 a.m. and found that Valdez left the toilet water running. Angry about this, Robin went up to Austin's bedroom pounding on the door causing it to break. After a few minutes, Valdez came down and apologized to Robin. Sometime after 2:30 a.m., Nelson said Valdez heard his mother Melanie come home, and Valdez informed Melanie not to wake Robin up. Melanie went over to the couch where Robin was and became very passionate with him. Then Robin pushed Melanie off of him, took a 2x4, broke a fish tank and asked Melanie where she was. Valdez was in his bedroom when the fish tank broke. When he heard this happened, and heard his mother say "Get off me, you're hurting me," he grabbed a rifle and stood at the stair landing with the rifle in his right hand at his side.
In Valdez's statement it was said that Robin was "hitting, slapping, choking and pulling Melanie's hair."
Nelson said according to Melanie that Robin grabbed her jaw, because she was yelling for Robin to stop and Robin wanted her to quit yelling. He told the jurors that the evidence would show that Melanie said that Robin was not hitting, slapping or pulling her hair. He added that the only person harmed was Robin, when he was fatally shot in the upper left chest by the defendant.
When Valdez told Robin to stop, Robin went toward the stairs and stepped up the stairs which was approximately 21 feet away from the defendant. It was said that Melanie could only see a silhouette and didn't know that Valdez had a rifle.
Nelson concluded that Valdez will claim self defense.
"In Wisconsin, the law of self defense provides that the defendant may only use force which is likely to cause death, or great bodily harm, only if the defendant reasonably believed that the force used was necessary to prevent imminent death to himself or to others," Nelson said. "The evidence will show the defendant's use of force and the shooting and killing of Robin Reeson was not justified. It was unnecessary and it was excessive. The defendant had plenty of other options to do anything other than shoot and kill Robin Reeson."
Defense attorney Meyer-O'Day then addressed the jurors during his opening statement.
He began by saying that while there may not have been any permanent marks that Melanie sustained it still appeared that Robin had himself positioned over Melanie with his hands around her neck.
"The reason that's important is because several things led up to the definition of self defense," Meyer O'Day said. "One of the more important ones being that it is not just that you reasonably believe that you need to stop someone from inflicting death on you, but you also reasonably believe that someone can seriously hurt you. That justifies using force."
Meyer-O'Day said that it is also left out that a belief can be reasonable although mistaken.
He said that lighting was very dim that its not necessarily obvious as to what happening from 21 feet away. He said that when Valdez came to the landing of the staircase, he saw his stepfather who is a large powerful man, hunched over his mother after he heard her say, "Robin stop, you're hurting me."
In addition to hearing the fish tank break, that could be heard from 21 feet away, according to Valdez.
In addition to hearing the commotion, Meyer O'Day said that Robin's anger in this situation is bigger than he had ever seen before. This time was different, despite being in his home, he was really afraid when he gathered up his courage and left his room with the rifle in his hand.
"He intended to officially warn his stepfather that he had a gun and would use it as necessary," Meyer-O'Day said to the jurors.
In one of the interviews when Valdez was asked why he had a gun, he recalled thinking "you may be bigger than me, you might be able to kick my ass, but with a gun in my hand I'd like to see you try."
"He did that because he knew his mom was in trouble," Meyer-O'Day said. "Because again this time was different he had never seen Robin this angry before. The way he described it, it was the difference between pissed off and raging."
When Valdez saw what was happening, he immediately said to Robin, "Robin thats enough." According to Valdez, when Robin came near him it was at a very fast rate. When Robin reached to the bottom of the stairs, Valdez said to him, "Robin stop." It was then said after Robin was at the third step and about a foot away from Valdez, that Valdez fired the shot.
The rage described during the shooting, was also described as the same type of rage that happened when the toilet water was running. After apologizing to Robin about the toilet water, he heard his stepfather say to their dog, "Don't worry Bam-Bam, we'll take care of them one by one."
Meyer O'Day said that this incident is not the only incident where this type of rage occurred. He said in testimony it would be heard that there are incidents where his mother been thrown on the ground by Robin, from what Valdez had heard.
"At any rate he made the choice, to use the gun to keep Robin from reaching him and to keep Robin from getting ahold of the gun," Meyer-O'Day said. "He fired to stop Robin, he really didn't want to hurt him."
"This time was different, this time Austin shot Robin in self-defense and in the defense of others," Meyer O'Day concluded.
*This portion depicts the opening statements given by D.A. Larry Nelson and Defense Attorney Jeremiah Wolfgang Meyer-O'Day.
On Monday both attorneys interviewed Iowa County Sheriff's Department detective Brian Fitzsimons and Timothy Dostalek who was the patrol deputy on call for the Sheriff's department when the incident happened.
On Tuesday the jury watched the interview videos that the Iowa County Sheriff's Department had with Austin Valdez. They also were bussed to Ridgeway where they toured the house where the shooting took place.
Testimony was heard from Dr. Robert Corliss, a forensics pathologist for the state of Wisconsin who performed the autopsy on Robin Reeson. Dr. Corliss is on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin as a professor of pathology.
The jury also heard testimony from Iowa County Sheriff's Department detective Lana Bowers, a 20 plus year veteran of law enforcement who interviewed both Valdez and his mother, Melanie Reeson, after the incident last March.
Due to space and timing of publication, further details of the jury trial for Austin Valdez will be further ironed in the next issue of The Dodgeville Chronicle. Jury was dismissed early on Tuesday due to impending inclement weather.
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