Kentucky v. Justin Willhelm

This case involved a defendant charged with murder.  The defendant claimed he shot through the windshield of a car as an intruder, attempting to escape while driving the car, tried to run down, and presumably kill, Mr. Wilhelm with the car.

This case is remarkable for the level of assistance requested from the FBI.  The FBI (more Title 5 and the great beltway money machine) sent a team of one crime scene investigator and two graphic artists to assist.  The cartoons produced by the “artists” were stunning in their escape from reality in order to gain a conviction.

By the time I was called in, Mr. Wilhelm had already signed the waiver for speedy trial.  The FBI had come and gone.  I started with an inspection of the car.  A very earnest and sincere detective sergeant asked if I was going to repeat the FBI “dowel rod test”.  I played stupid and he disclosed the shenanigans of the FBI.  They rammed a dowel through the hole in the center of the windshield and took it to the assumed chest of a driver sitting at the steering wheel.  When they could not get that to match, the “artists” theorized that Wilhelm had stood to the side of the car and fired at the windshield and through the open front passenger window.

From what was left of the windshield I saw no sign that any of the bullets had gained entry to the windshield on a low obliquity shot (obliquity is the opposite of angle, ie. 90 obliquity is perpendicular to the surface at the point of impact and 5 or 10 obliquity is 5 or 10 degrees up from parallel to the surface at the point of impact.).

I then examined the alleged death bullet.  The striations and markings on the bullet clearly showed that it had impacted and gained entry to the windshield at near 90 obliquity.  Further, the jacket had mostly separated from the leaden core and the two had reacted much as an unstable binary star system, ie. they veered in unstable free flight in the same manner as the rifling twist, to the right.  A mark superimposed over the circular marks on the core showed that the bullet had stopped its spin stabilization.

This fit with the autopsy report, which had been given to the public defender.  The report described an odd shaped entry between two ribs, severing the aorta and then hitting the left lung.  But careful reading of the report indicated that the left lung did not fill with blood and this would contradict the state’s contention that the shot had been from the passenger side of the car.

The public defender did not have any autopsy photographs, had been told that they “did not show anything” and that the photographs “were not important”.  She believed that.  I urged her to visit Mr. Wilhelm in the jail and to encourage him, and also to get the autopsy photographs.  She told me she was too busy but she did request the photographs in writing.

I had to drive back to Paducah a second time and went to the ME’s office.  The reception was chilly and I got the photographs only on my third request and after being told they did not show anything.  I looked through them, paused on one, and then walked out with the photographs.  As I did, I heard the assistant mutter to the ME “Sh#t, he knows.”.

The photographs showed absolutely no blood in the nose, mouth or airway.  The conclusion was clear; the shooting incident happened exactly as Mr. Wilhelm said it did and that the FBI’s contention that an unendangered man murdered the driver by firing from the passenger side was total fiction.

The deceased actually bled to death from the severed aorta and was found sitting upright in the driver’s seat, car pushing against a tree, engine idling, transmission in drive.  The defense would have won at trial.

However, Mr. Wilhelm had been scheduled for hip replacement before the incident.  He sat in the county jail pretrial and was denied medical attention, to include necessary opioid pain medications, for over a year. The prosecution continued to delay his trial.  Wilhelm could not endure the suffering and pled for time served so he could get proper medical treatment.  The prosecution technically scored a “win” but at least Mr. Wilhelm was freed and got his surgery.