Trial opens in grisly slaying

Posted: 24th June 2011 by Doc in Uncategorized
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STOCKTON – A murder trial began Thursday for two of three people charged with shooting, stabbing and beating a man before lighting him on fire in a Stockton home last year.

Graphic photos and gruesome descriptions of torture that 49-year-old Jeffrey Wheatley suffered proved unsettling in court. A relative of the victim could be heard crying in the rear of the courtroom.

San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Mark Ott’s voice quivered in his opening statement as he described the excruciating death Wheatley experienced on April 7, 2010.

“He was subjected to the highest levels of pain and suffering any human could endure,” Ott told jurors inside the San Joaquin County Superior Courtroom.

On trial are 26-year-old Valerie Nessler, who was a roommate of the victim, and 33-year-old Robert Turner. A third defendant, Allen Periman, 31, will be tried later.

According to the prosecution, Nessler had heard Wheatley brag of killing a man in 1994 with a gun. That crime, as he described it, resembled the way Turner said his own brother had died, Ott said.

Yet, Ott added that the accused killers didn’t have the facts correct. Turner’s brother died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot, something Turner and his family never could accept.

Nessler told Turner about her roommate’s story of killing a man, and then she set him up to be killed, the prosecutor said.

On the day of his death, Turner and Periman kicked in the door to the home in the 8300 block of Sussex Way, Ott said.

Turner shot Wheatley twice with a shotgun, the prosecutor said, adding that Nessler and Periman next stabbed him 30 times, and they doused him with gasoline.

Wheatley was able to get up and stumble to the front door before falling. That’s where Ott said the trio lit him on fire, engulfing the entire home. When Stockton firefighters arrived, they found the body inside, launching a murder investigation that led to the three defendants.

Turner’s attorney, Deborah Fialkowski, told Judge Edward Lacy that she would give her opening statement to jurors later in the trial.

Nessler’s attorney, John Panerio, said his client admits that she was there. In a video of her statement to detectives, Nessler admitted to once stabbing at Wheatley, but only because Turner ordered her to do it.

“Any aiding and abetting she did in this murder, she did out of fear,” Panerio said. “She was terrified.”

Panerio, who said the residents of the home were using methamphetamine, asked jurors to focus on the big picture. The prosecution will not meet the burden of proof, Panerio said.

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