OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – The future of a man accused in the capital murder of Auburn police officer William Buechner, and the attempted murder of three more officers is in the hands of a Lee County jury. Jurors began deliberations late Monday afternoon and then asked to go home for the night, and to resume deliberations on Tuesday.
Closing arguments, delivered before noon on Monday, marked a critical juncture in the case, with the jury receiving instructions afterward and being released to deliberate around 4:00 PM.
In May of 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 her. Offices arrived are were taking the female back to the mobile home to get a suitcase so she could leave for the night. Upon approaching the Arrowhead mobile home off Wire Road, officers encountered Wilkes wearing his National Guard body armor, including a body shield, helmet, a loaded semi-automatic rifle fitted with a laser sight, and four loaded magazines. Officers Will Buechner, Webb Sistrunk, and Evan Elliott were struck by the gunfire, while another officer managed to escape unscathed.
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.
Prosecutors staunchly disagreed, asserting 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 contends 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.
As the jury deliberates, they must weigh several options, 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 can consider a verdict of not guilty because of mental disease or defect.
The jury returns to the Lee County Justice center Tuesday morning to resume deliberations.