Prosecutors: Man accused of killing pregnant girlfriend intentionally stalling trial date
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WJLA) —
Prosecutors explain a man who killed his pregnant girlfriend is now unethically attempting to delay his trial date, and there is a recorded jailhouse phone call to prove it.
In September, Montgomery County Police discovered Laura Wallen's body buried in a shallow grave on a secluded property in Damascus. Wallen was a teacher with Howard County Public Schools. Within days of her death, investigators arrested and booked Tyler Tessier for the heinous killing, which they allege he carried out after Wallen discovered he was engaged to another woman.
In October, both parties agreed to a 10-day trial, set to commence on April 9. However, during a pretrial hearing held Friday morning – four months later – Tessier's public defender, Allen Wolf, declared he was not prepared to move forward.
"This is a first-degree murder case. It's one in which, the volume of discovery, it’s the greatest volume of discovery that I've ever dealt with in a case," Wolf, who's been practicing law since 1985, said.
Wolf explained he knew from "day one" that he would not be ready for trial in April due to the sheer amount of evidence, to include hours of recorded police interviews, DNA testing, cell phone records, witness screenings, and paperwork - more than 4,100 pages worth. Wolf also took time to highlight the burdensome caseload the public defender's office is under in general, with extremely lean resources to boot.
"My office is not staffed in a way that would allow me to prepare a case with this magnitude of charge and volume of discovery in that time frame," Wolf remarked.
Assistant State's Attorney Donna Fenton argued that, with the exception of a few small elements, the defense received all of the prosecution's evidence well before Christmas.
"What we haven't heard, your honor, is what specifically has been done in order to prepare, because it's our position that nothing has been done," Fenton stated. "We had reached out, got that discovery and provided it to the defense. All to crickets. Because over the course of the last four months, the 10 plus emails that we have sent to Mr. Wolf, we have heard two replies."
Fenton also took issue with the implied suggestion that her office is blessed with more robust staffing and lighter workloads.
"There are 4,169 pages of discovery. Neither do Ms. Herdman or I have the opportunity to step back, get rid of our workload with a case of this magnitude, but we have somehow had to find the time," Fenton remarked.
The prosecution then played a roughly five-minute jailhouse phone call between Tessier and his father. Fenton opined that the call, which was recorded in October, made clear that Wolf and Tessier were conspiring to stonewall the trial's progress to gain an advantage in the courtroom.
Some of the excerpts from that phone include the following:
Tessier: “Trust me… it just looks better for me because, ya know, people forget, things happen. Like shootings in Las Vegas and stuff… When something more important happens, it puts me out of the public’s eye.”
Tessier: “They want to make me into this monster.”
Tessier: “I’m keeping the faith because I trust Mr. Wolf, and I trust our system and we’re just gonna go with that.”
Wolf, described the state's audio presentation as merely a "dog and pony show", which the state claimed it took offense to.
Following two hearings, with two separate judges, Tessier's trial date was moved to September 4, of this year – a five-month postponement. It is scheduled to span two full weeks. A contingent of Wallen’s family and friends left court in tears. Some shouted at Tessier’s father who was also in attendance.
In explaining his decision to push the trial back, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Michael Mason suggested Wolf contact private law firms to request pro bono assistance with the high-profile case. In the subsequent hearing, Judge Robert Greenberg stated that "justice delayed is justice denied", but at the same time acknowledged the public defender's office is notoriously overworked through no fault of its own.