OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) — A jarring first day of testimony unfolded Monday in the capital murder trial of Grady Wayne Wilkes.
Wilkes was accused of donning his National Guard armor and wielding an AR-15 in the deadly shooting of Auburn police officer Will Buechner, and the wounding of two other officers as they responded to a domestic violence call.
We do want to caution you, testimony included the playback of distressing body camera videos, which may be traumatic for some individuals.
Assistant District Attorney Clay Thomas began the prosecution’s opening statements by sharing Officer Buechner’s last words “Lord, please help me” with the jury.
“He said these words as he was lying in a drainage ditch, at Arrowhead trailer park dying from gunshot wounds,” Thomas told the jury. “He died in the line of duty because of the intentional conduct of one person, the defendant. Grady Wayne Wilkes.”
Wilkes’ defense team doesn’t dispute he pulled the trigger but claimed he’s not guilty because of mental disease or defect. Defense attorney William Whatley told jurors in opening statements that Wilkes suffers from a laundry list of mental health issues including PTSD, disassociation, and hypervigilance.
“Wayne, at the time of the shooting, was suffering from bipolar disorder, long-standing depression exacerbated by excess alcohol use,” Wheatley told jurors.
Prosecutors said in May 2019, Auburn officers met with a female victim who reported that Wilkes, her live-in boyfriend and child’s father, choked her and threatened to kill her. She informed Officer William Buechner, Officer Webb Sistrunk, Officer Evan Elliott, and Officer Ron Askelson she wanted to break up with Wilkes, but he didn’t and had refused to leave the mobile home.
Her account of being assaulted and threatened by Wilkes was captured on Officer Evan Elliott’s body cam and played in court while Elliott was on the stand.
“So he pushes me on the bed, and he chokes me and tells me he’s gonna kill me,” the girlfriend can be heard saying to the officers.
After a discussion with the police, the girlfriend agreed it would be best to stay somewhere else for the night. The officers were going to go to speak with Wilkes, so the girlfriend could safely pack a suitcase.
According to testimony when officers got to the mobile home, Officer Buechner was positioned at the backdoor. Officers Elliott, Sistrunk, and Askelson were at the front porch. Elliott knocked on the door. Wilkes opened it, dressed and armed for battle.
“Mr. Wilkes was standing there wearing a helmet, body armor, and bearing an AR-style rifle,” Elliott testified.
The jury saw what happened next via Officer Elliott’s body cam. The officer knocked on the door, then you hear the alarm in his voice as he sees Wilkes.
“Hey Bud. Hey. Hey. Hey Bud. Hey Bud. Hold up. Hey Bud. Hey!! Get Back!!! (Gunshots). Officer hit. Officer Hit,” Elliott said.
Buechner’s final moments were documented on his body camera and played for the jury. As soon as Buechner heard the shots, he ran towards the threat to help his fellow officers. Quickly, Buechner encountered Wilkes who fired several shots.
Officer Buechner then fell into a drainage ditch where he is then heard gasping and struggling to breathe as he whispers “Lord, please help me” before dying at the scene.
The testimony revealed that several hours after the shooting, Wilkes was located some distance away from the mobile home. Wilkes later took investigators to a creek bed near Interstate-85 where he had stashed the rifle used in the shootings.
Wilkes was arrested and charged with one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder.