OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – The Auburn man convicted of killing Auburn police officer Will Buechner in 2019 awaits his fate: death or life in prison will be decided by the same jury who found him guilty. 

Wednesday Buechner’s loved ones including his sister, parents, and widow shared their pain with the jury through their victim impacts during the sentencing phase of the trial.

Sara Buechner’s statement from the stand laid bare the agony of losing, then enduring life without her husband and children’s father. Here are just some of the crushing statements she shared. 

“1,549 days, 1,549 days since I’ve seen my husband alive. Heard him say I love you. The last time he kissed his baby boy. I haven’t slept a full night in years. The nightmares are intense. It’s gut-wrenching to wake up and reach for your husband and only find an empty pillow. His clothes are still in the closet. His shoes are still where he left them. His toothbrush is still in the bathroom because I can’t bring myself to throw it away. I have woken up my precious children screaming for Will. My daughter has taken on a role no child her age should ever have. She comforts me when I’m screaming for Will. His son was his world, and all he ever wanted to be was a daddy. He (Will’s son, Henry) doesn’t understand why his daddy can’t be there to teach him how to play baseball or soccer because everybody else’s dads are there. Henry recently started school and wondered why his daddy wasn’t there when all the other kid’s dads were and he wasn’t, and he never will be. Mommy, I miss Daddy. Mommy, can we go to Heaven and see Daddy,” Buechner said. 

Buechner was a loving husband and a father of two, his Henry and the step-daughter he adored,McKenna. Buechner served as an Auburn Police Officer for 13 years. He also found a brotherhood within the Gunners Motorcycle Club. 

Prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty due to their allegations of Wilkes’ deliberate creation of deadly risk, obstructing lawful arrest, disrupting government function, and the brutal nature of Buechner’s death – the officer was briefly conscious after he was shot- and knew he would die.

His killer, Grady Wilkes, motionless in court, faced impact statements as his defense fought for his life using such mitigating factors as no major prior criminal history, alleged mental defects, intoxication during the shooting, family history of mental illness, and supportive character witnesses.  

It took a Lee County jury about six hours of deliberations to find the man who killed Auburn officer Will Buechner and who prosecutors say tried to kill officers Evan Elliott, Webb Sistrunk, and Ron Askelson guilty of Capital Murder and two counts of Attempted Murder.  Now, it’ll be up to the same jury to decide if will be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison without parole. 

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 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. Officers Buechner, Webb Sistrunk, and Evan Elliott were struck by the gunfire, and Askelson  escaped without injury. Wilkes was found not guilty of trying to kill Askelson.

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 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.

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.

Alabama law requires a 10/12 juror vote for the death penalty; judicial override is gone. What the jury says goes.

WRBL will keep you updated.