UPDATE: Joseph Wielzen sentenced to life without parole for 2017 murder, rape of Etowah teen
UPDATE: Joseph Wielzen was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Thursday.
A McMinn County jury heard evidence and victim impact statements from family at Joseph Wielzen’s sentencing hearing.
Wednesday night, Wielzen was convicted of first-degree murder, felony murder, and aggravated rape.
Kelsey Burnette’s mom and dad told jurors this morning about losing their daughter two years ago and the weight of that loss they live with today.
“Kelsey was our backbone,” said Virginia Burnette. “She had a smile that lit up the room she was our protector in our giver she was there for everyone, and since we lost her no one wants to talk about the memories.”
“Her and her baby brother, she done everything for her brother,” said David Burnette. “And now he, I’ve got a watch him because it impacted him pretty rough.”
Virginia and David Burnette took the stand to speak to the jury that convicted Joseph Wielzen of their daughter's murder.
“It feels like an elephant sitting on your chest every day,” said Virginia.
Virginia Burnette told jurors she didn’t just lose a daughter she lost her best friend.
“I never got to tell her goodbye or see you later baby. I’ll never get to help her on her wedding day or see her become a mother,” said Virginia. “She was robbed of her adult life and all of her dreams.”
Jurors also heard from Perry Wielzen, Joseph Wielzen's father.
He believes his son can be rehabilitated and asked jurors to give him that chance.
“I know who he is, and he’s a respectable young man,” said Wielzen.
Two families touched by the death of a young woman whose death will forever change their lives.
The jury is in deliberation.
PREVIOUS STORY: Joseph Wielzen has been convicted of the 2017 rape and murder of 18-year-old Kelsey Burnette.
After just over an hour of deliberation the foreman of the read that they unanimously found Joseph Wielzen guilty of first degree murder, premeditated killing, and aggravated rape.
“It’s great, the DA everybody did a great job. We were really nervous waiting on the jurors and we’re just very pleased that it’s finally over,” said Virginia Burnette, Kelsey’s mother.
Virginia Burnette, Kelsey’s mother says even with the conviction, Kelsey is still gone.
“Every day that she’s gone is harder, it doesn’t get no easier,” said Burnette.
But she feels like justice has been done.
“I’m very happy, we’ve had a feeling from the get go that it was him and I’m just glad that it’s over with now and we can get back to all of her memories,” said Burnette.
District Attorney General Steve Crump talked about being able to embrace the Burnette’s after the conviction. He knows that it doesn’t bring Kelsey back, but it at least brings her justice.
“To be able at the end to sit down with them or rather stand with them and to give them a hug and to say it’s done is incredibly satisfying,” said Crump.
He doesn’t think it was any one piece of evidence that swayed the jury.
“That was the really unique thing I think about the facts of this case that they fit together so well in a way a lot of people didn’t expect,” said Crump.
Now Burnette says they’re going to move forward.
“Day by day, just try to get where we don’t have to worry about anything being brought up that has anything to do with Joseph Wielzen no more it’s all about her now,” said Burnette.
Sentencing will begin Thursday morning.
PREVIOUS UPDATE: A jury has found Joseph Wielzen guilty of the murder and rape of an Etowah teen on Wednesday.
The jury convicted Wielzen of first degree murder and aggravated rape in connection to the death of 18-year-old Kelsey Burnette in 2017.
Wielzen's trial lasted for six days.
Wielzen will return to the courtroom on Thursday for sentencing.
Stay with the WRCB app for updates to this story.
PREVIOUS UPDATE: The jury in the murder trial of Joseph Wielzen has reached a verdict on Wednesday night.
Channel 3's team in the courtroom says the jury will announce the verdict after they finish eating dinner.
Wielzen is accused of raping and murdering 18-year-old Kelsey Burnette in 2017.
His trial has lasted for six days.
Stay with the WRCB app for updates on this developing story.
PREVIOUS UPDATE ON DAY 6: We’re on day six of Joseph Wielzen’s trial. He’s accused of raping and murdering 18-year-old Kelsey Burnette.
DAY FIVE OF TRIAL: Day five of testimony in the Joseph Wielzen trial wrapped up Tuesday. Wielzen is accused of raping and murdering 18-year-old Kelsey Burnette in 2017.
Knox County Medical Examiner Dr. Darinka Mileusnic performed Kelsey Burnette's autopsy on July 5, 2017, a day after the 18-year-old was found dead.
Dr. Mileusnic on the stand said, "The position in the trashcan where the body was found is consistent with all the findings."
Investigators found Burnette's partially clothed body in a trash can 150 yards from the house on Athens Pike.
Mileusnic says the advanced state of decomposition and the presence of insects made her job difficult.
"They can actually affect or destroy the evidence including DNA," Mileusnic said.
In her exam she determined that blunt force trauma to the head is what killed Burnette.
"When I examined Kelsey, I said in the area of the forehead there was a minimum of four blows," Mileusnic explained.
Additionally, she found evidence of a sexual assault.
The defense argued that Burnette's injuries could have been caused by consensual sex. Wielzen admitted to having consensual sex with Burnette the night she went missing.
"I stand by my report. I’m not changing one ounce of my report, and my report says that she was raped," Mileusnic said.
Mileusnic also found a knife wound on Burnette’s forearm. She was shown the knife that Faith Sisson identified as belonging to her ex-boyfriend, Joseph Wielzen. The knife was found in a hole 15 feet away from Burnette’s body.
"Could this be a knife or the knife that could inflict that injury and the question is yes it could be. I didn’t say it is. I said it could be," Mileusnic testified.
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DAY FOUR OF TRIAL: Saturday, the jury saw a video of Joseph Wielzen’s statement taken on July 4, 2017, the day 18-year-old Kelsey Burnette’s body was found.
Jurors heard Joseph Wielzen tell TBI Special Agent Danny Fay that he was with Burnette on the front porch of an Athens home before walking in and taking a shower at 5:00 am.
“She asked me hey Jojo can you hand me my phone? So I handed her the phone and I went and jumped in the shower,” said Wielzen.
Wielzen claims he was only in the shower for 10 minutes. Fay calls the timeline suspicious.
“Because of the timeframe, she walked off that porch, she would have had to get injured and put in that garbage can and then taken off,” said Fay.
Wielzen first admitted to kissing Burnette, but only seconds later admitted to having what he called consensual sex with Burnette the night she went missing.
“I cheated on my girlfriend with Kelsey and Kelsey cheated on Nick,” said Wielzen.
“Yes,” said Wielzen.
Wielzen then gets emotional in the video.
“If Nick finds out he tells Austin, I lose two of my best... my brothers,” said Wielzen.
And when asked if he had anything to do with her disappearance this was his response:
“This was my best friend’s girlfriend I swear I thought she just took off,” said Wielzen.
Another testimony, from TBI Special Agent Miranda Gaddes, confirmed that the paint specks found on Kelsey Burnette’s skull are consistent with the red baseball bat found at the scene. The DNA on the bat also matched Kelsey Burnette’s.
The trial will continue on Tuesday, November 19.
DAY THREE OF TRIAL: Testimony continued in McMinn County on Friday in the Joseph Wielzen trial.
He's the man accused of raping and murdering 18-year-old Kelsey Burnette in 2017.
On day 3 of the trial both a detective and one of the TBI investigators testified.
It was during the evening hours of July 1, that Detective Jim Shaw with the Etowah Police Department got a call about Kelsey Burnette.
At the time, she was only missing.
"I was called to 108 Athens Pike on a Saturday night," said Detective Jim Shaw.
Things moved quickly in the investigation.
A SIM card that was found by Nick Rose, Burnette's boyfriend, changed the dynamic of the investigation.
"She was still missing; but from what I've seen in my career in law enforcement, there was a problem a serious problem," said Shaw.
A search warrant was carried out at the house on July 2. That's when Shaw found a red baseball bat in the backyard.
District Attorney General Steve Crump asked, "The item that you are now holding in your hand, is that in fact the bat that you collected from the residence pursuant to the search warrant?"
Shaw replied, "Yes sir.”
While cross-examining Detective Shaw, defense attorney Andrew Brown asked, "It was really just an intuition on your part more than anything, right?”
Shaw replied, "Yes sir. It was out of place.”
Two days later Burnette's body was found in a trashcan about 115 yards from the back of the house at 108 Athens Pike, according to Detective Shaw.
"We decided to get something to eat,” Shaw said. “We sit down to eat, we hear our officers dispatched to Athens Pike.”
“Something was in a trash can," Shaw added.
The TBI had already been called in to investigate.
TBI Special Agent Brittany Burke Pickle took the crime scene photos.
"I was looking for any signs of a struggle, anything that showed that it could've possibly had signs of blood or bodily fluids or anything like that,” said Pickle.
Just feet from where Burnette’s body was found there was a hole covered with a concrete slab that contained a knife and gloves.
"It was found by officers with the Etowah Police Department who were helping me, just as we did a final walk-through of the scene,” said Pickle.
It was July 6, when officers took DNA samples from Austin Burke and Rose. A year later, they took Joseph Wielzen's DNA sample as well.
Wielzen’s attorney Andrew Brown asked, "[It] wasn't until June 22nd of 2018 when you actually came for Mr. Wielzen's DNA?”
During testimony, Detective Shaw did say that it's normal for a homicide investigation to take one to two years.
The trial continues on Saturday at 8:30 a.m.
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DAY TWO OF TRIAL: Thursday, five witnesses were called in Joseph Wielzen's trial. Four of the five were at the same house the night 18-year-old Kelsey Burnette went missing.
Koty Moore was the last person called to the witness stand. At the time of the disappearance, Moore was living in the house on Athens Pike with his girlfriend and son.
Moore says he was next door at the neighbor's house most of the night, but he was back and forth caring for his grandmother regularly throughout the night.
"At any point in time when you were going back and forth and you came in the front door, did you see Kelsey Burnette or Joseph Wielzen on the front porch?" asked Assistant District Attorney Coty Wamp.
"I think I remember seeing Joseph on the front porch, but I didn't remember seeing Kelsey," said Moore.
Nick Rose, Burnette's boyfriend, also testified on Thursday. He along with all the other witnesses that were there the night of June 30, 2017 described it as a night of drinking.
Rose said he'd had too much.
"They were helping me lay down because at that point I was puke sick, falling down, falling over. So they helped me into the vehicle and I guess tried to put me to bed pretty much," said Rose.
He recalls that as the last time he saw Burnette before falling asleep. Wielzen and Caleb Wyrick were also helping Burnette put him to bed.
It wasn't until the next morning that Rose along with Austin Burke and Joseph Wielzen realized Kelsey was gone.
After leaving the house to search for her, including a stop at Burnette's uncle's house where they thought she had gone, they came back after an hour. It was then that Rose found a SIM card in the toilet.
"I happened to see a little card at the bottom of the toilet and it just didn't seem right. So I picked it up and I realize that it was the same carrier that she had," said Rose.
He brought the card out and showed it to Wielzen and Austin Burke and that's when they started to think she ran away.
"That's when Joseph said well my mom ran away and she threw her SIM card in the toilet and flushed it to get rid of it so that way they can't track her," said Rose.
Rose put the card in his pocket. He still had it when police came to talk to him.
Burnette's phone was found dumped in the bushes next to the house, on Athens Pike without a SIM card on July 4.
Austin Burke was the first witness called to the stand on Thursday, where he answered questions for several hours.
He lived at the house on Athens Pike on June 30. He was friends with both Nick Rose and Kelsey Burnette. He too testified that they were drinking on the night of June 30.
But it wasn't until the next morning that he along with with Rose and Wielzen realized Burnette was missing.
Rose asked Wielzen where Burnette was.
"And what did Mr. Wielzen say?" asked Wamp.
"The last time he had seen her was when they were talking on the front porch," said Rose.
Burke talked about the demeanor of Rose and Wielzen as they were searching for Burnette. He described Rose first, saying he began to panic when Burnette wasn't immediately found.
Then Burke described Wielzen's demeanor.
"He was trying to calm everybody down, going it's not a big deal. I'm sure she'll turn up soon and we'll find her. She's probably at a friend's house," said Burke.
When defense attorney Andrew Brown got the opportunity to question Burke, he asked about an argument between Burke and Burnette the night prior.
"I wouldn't call it an argument, no," said Burke.
"Well how would you describe it?" asked Brown.
"More of about a ten second disagreement," said Burke.
Burke sent a text message to Rose on July 1. At that time they thought she had run away. Burke thought the disagreement may have been the cause. They didn't know that Burnette's body would be found a few days later on July 4.
The trial continues at 8:30 am Friday morning.
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DAY ONE OF TRIAL: The trial for Joseph Wielzen began in McMinn County on Wednesday.
Wielzen is accused of raping and murdering 18-year-old Kelsey Burnett in 2017.
Testimony began in the trial; however, it was hard getting started because of some controversy, due to an issue with a potential juror.
The issue was over text messages exchanged between two women who are not jurors.
One of the women apparently text the other saying that ‘it was all going to be okay,’ implying that she knew someone on the jury. However, a brief hearing on the matter cleared up the misunderstanding.
Judge Sandra Donaghy ruled that there was no contact with the juror in question.
“The juror denied any contact, denied any knowledge of these people, and I now make a specific finding that nobody has had any direct contact with this juror,” ruled Judge Donaghy.
The jury was then called into the courtroom and opening statements began around 4:00 p.m.
“Over the course of the trial, the state’s proof will show that Joseph Roberto Wielzen made sure that Kelsey Burnette couldn’t tell Nick what happened,” Assistant District Attorney Paul Moyle said in his opening statement.
“Mr. Wielzen is not the one that perpetrated this crime and the killer is still at large,” defense attorney Andrew Brown said in his opening statement.
The first witness the State called was Virginia Burnett, Kelsey Burnett’s mother.
“She’s beautiful. She was outspoken. She helped anybody that needed help,” Virginia Burnett said during her testimony.
Virginia said she still feels like Kelsey might walk through the door and it is painful knowing that will never happen.
“My heart knows it. My body knows it and when you have a child, you’re used to the phone calls every day. When you physically with your own eyes do not see that, you still watch for that,” said Virginia Burnett.
The trial will resume on Thursday at 8:30 a.m.
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