FORT DODGE, Iowa – A detective who interviewed an Iowa woman the night she killed her 20-year-old neighbor testified Thursday he believed she was telling the truth about defending herself during a home invasion and assault.
Former Sac County sheriff's Lt. Dennis Cessford testified that he believed Tracey Richter's demeanor in the hospital and bruises on her neck, hands and legs were consistent with her story. Cessford said Richter appeared concerned and perhaps scared when he interviewed her at a local hospital and investigators "took her information at face value."
Richter, 45, of Omaha, Neb., is on trial for first-degree murder in the Dec. 13, 2001, death of Dustin Wehde at her former home in Early, a town in northwest Iowa. Prosecutors say she shot Wehde, planted a notebook in his car that implicated her ex-husband in a murder-for-hire scheme and then falsely claimed she was a victim of a home invasion.
Richter has claimed all along that she shot Wehde to protect herself and her three children after Wehde and another man broke into her home and strangled her with pantyhose. She claims that she was able to break free, unlock her gun safe, grab a gun and shoot Wehde over her shoulder. She says she then shot him again with a second gun after he was trying to get up.
Cessford said that one thing that "bothered me" about her story was the way she used two guns, ending up with one in each hand. He said that was something he had not seen in his experience or would have thought to do himself.
As the prosecution continued making its case, retired Division of Criminal Investigation crime scene team supervisor Robert Harvey testified he arrived at the home hours after the shooting and was skeptical of the story immediately.
He said investigators examined all the doors and saw no signs of a forced entry. He said there also were no items in the house that were knocked over or out of place that would have suggested a struggle. He said he did find a pair of pantyhose on the kitchen floor, a baseball bat and a revolver on the kitchen counter.
"In a struggle you would have a tendency to run into things and knock things over ... none of that was there," said Harvey, who retired in 2006.
Cessford said law enforcement officials found a pink spiral notebook in the front of Wehde's car the day after the shooting in which he had written that Richter's ex-husband had hired him to kill her and her 11-year-old son and make it look like a murder-suicide. He said police decided immediately to keep the notebook a secret because "that would be a key piece of evidence that only the person responsible for that evidence would know about it and talk about it."
Cessford said investigators looked at whether Richter's husband at the time, Michael Roberts, was involved in the events leading up to the shooting but ruled him out after determining he had been out of state on business. But under cross-examination from Richter's defense lawyer Scott Bandstra, the officer acknowledged that prosecutors no longer have the cell phone records he reviewed that helped him reach that conclusion.
Bandstra has suggested that another man was the alleged second intruder, but part of the defense strategy also appears to be raising doubts about Roberts' potential involvement. The defense noted Wednesday that Roberts had planned a business trip during the shooting and gave an employee who went with him a $5,000 bonus and a $20,000 raise shortly afterward. The employee testified the pay increase was for his performance and had nothing to do with the shooting.