OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – After a three-week Capital Murder trial, the fate of the Auburn man guilty in the 2019 Capital Murder of Auburn police officer Will Buechner has been decided. Grady Wilkes won’t face death for robbing Officer Buechner of his life. The jury who found Wilkes guilty of Capital Murder instead condemned him to a lifetime behind bars, without any chance of parole. This verdict was announced late Thursday afternoon, after nearly two hours of jury deliberation.
Just before he was sentenced, the convicted killer was asked if he had anything to say. Wilkes stated, “I am so sorry. I can’t put it in words. I can never make it up to you. I can never get him back.”
Lee County District Attorney prosecutors will likely comment at a later time. They had sought the death penalty based on several aggravating factors including Wilkes created a deadly risk, obstructed arrest, disrupted government function, and committed a cruel and unusual murder. Despite the prosecution’s arguments, all 12 jurors unanimously voted for a life sentence instead of death. Judge Christopher Hughes cannot overturn the jury and officially sentenced Wilkes to life in prison without parole. Wilkes will face sentencing in late September for his convictions related to the attempted murder of officers Evan Elliot and Webb Sistrunk.
In May 2019, Auburn officers responded to a distress call from Wilkes’s girlfriend. He had choked her and threatened her life. When officers approached the home, Wilkes opened the door wearing National Guard body armor, armed with a rifle. Officers were immediately fired upon as they ran away.
Despite the defense’s claims of a psychotic break, the jury rejected this argument, agreeing with the prosecution’s assertion Wilkes premeditated his actions.
Officer Buechner’s final words, captured on his body camera as he struggled for breath. The courtroom heard him whisper, “Lord, please help me,” before succumbing to his injuries.
The verdict and sentencing finally puts an end to the agonizing four-year wait for justice. But no verdict can ever erase the pain of losing Officer Buechner. This loss will eternally weigh heavy on the hearts of his family, friends, and the Auburn community, a wound time can never fully heal.
Yet, as we mourn his absence, Officer Buechner’s indomitable legacy rides on through the William Buechner Project. This initiative, which provides children with bikes and helmets, is a testament to his unwavering commitment to the community’s well-being. His name has been forever etched into Alabama law, immortalized by the William Buechner Act, a poignant reminder that the murder of a first responder is a crime of utmost gravity and is a capital offense. In a touching tribute, a multi-million dollar road connecting Hwy 14 to Richland Road at Creekside Elementary will soon bear Officer Buechner’s name. It will stand as a symbol of the path he walked, both as a dedicated officer and as a devoted husband, father, son, and friend.