OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – It took a Lee County jury about six hours of deliberations to find the man who killed Auburn police officer Will Buechner guilty of Capital Murder and guilty of the Attempted Murder of officers Evan Elliott, Webb Sistrunk. The defendant was found not guilty of the Attempted Murder of officer Ron Askelson. Now, it’ll be up to the same jury to decide if convicted cop killer Grady Wilkes will be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison without parole in the slaying of Buechner. 

Four years after 37-year-old Will Buechner was gunned down in the line of duty, his killer has been judged and found guilty. Many of Buechner’s family and friends were either in the courtroom or an overflow room when the verdicts were read. Buechner was a loving husband to his wife Sara and a father of two, a son Henry and a step-daughter McKenna. Buechner served as an Auburn Police Officer for 13 years. He also found a brotherhood within the Gunners Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club. 

On May 19, 2019 Auburn officers responded to a distress call from a female victim who alleged Grady Wilkes, her boyfriend and the father of her child, had choked her and threatened to kill her.  Offices arrived are were taking the female back to the mobile home to get a suitcase so she could leave for the night. When officers knocked on the door of the couple’s home, Wilkes answered the door wearing his National Guard body armor, including a body shield, helmet, loaded semi-automatic rifle fitted with a laser sight, four loaded magazines, and a Glock. According to body cam footage Wilkes immediately began firing. Officers Will Buechner, Webb Sistrunk, and Evan Elliott were struck by the gunfire, and Askelson escaped without injury. 

Describing the severity of the situation, Jessica Ventiere, the Lee County District Attorney, emphasized in her closing remarks, “They are running away before he even fires the first shot. He intended to kill every single living soul that was on that porch.”

Officer Buechner was hit twice, with bullets severing his spine and puncturing his lungs. The courtroom listened to Buechner’s final words, captured by his body camera, as he struggled for breath, whispering, “Lord, please help me” before succumbing to his injuries.

In contrast to the prosecution’s assertion Wilkes harbored murderous intent, the defense contended Wilkes was experiencing a psychotic break, precipitated by a fight with his girlfriend and fear she would take their child away from him According to the defense, Wilkes had armed himself as a means of self-soothing and not to harm the officers.

“This isn’t a person that laid in wait for the police to show up. He didn’t plan for battle with the police,” argued defense attorney William Whatley.

The jury didn’t buy his defense and agreed with prosecutors who asserted Wilkes had indeed premeditated his actions. Ventiere emphasized, “He was mad, and he was going to prove he was in power not scared Lil’ Wayne. Not poor, unsafe Wayne. But powerful Wayne; that’s what he wanted to show.”

The defense contended Wilkes was unaware of Buechner’s presence and did not realize Buechner had been shot until officers informed him afterward. However, the prosecution introduced body camera footage seemingly contradicting this claim, showing a green laser sight from Wilkes’ rifle trained on Buechner just before the shots were fired.

The jury was able to weigh several options during their deliberations including a guilty verdict on charges of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder, or finding Wilkes guilty of lesser included charges like manslaughter and assault. Additionally, the jury could have considered a verdict of not guilty or not guilty because of mental disease or defect.

WRBL remains in the courtroom as the Jury now begins to decide Wilkes’s ultimate punishment for taking Buechner’s life and attempting to take the others.