The jurors would be loaded into four-wheel drives, perhaps four to a truck. They would head off-road, ascend the curved path of a long hill, and go down the other side to the corner of a grassy field. From there, they’d get out and judge for themselves just how remote and hidden they had suddenly become in the exurbs of Maryland, 25 miles north of Washington.
It is only by taking such a trip, prosecutors say, that jurors in the upcoming trial of Tyler Lewis Tessier can fully understand what he is accused of doing 11 months ago.
The 33-year-old drove the same route, prosecutors assert, with his pregnant girlfriend, Laura Wallen, by his side, ostensibly to show her land they would buy on which to build a house.
Instead, according to prosecutors, it was part of his plan to shoot her — once in the back of the head — and bury her in a shallow grave.
“Only one with an intimate knowledge of this area would be able to find this location,” Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorneys Donna Fenton and Mary Herdman wrote in court papers. “From the burial site, due to the complicated topography of the field, one cannot see any residence, any structure or any roads.”
The prosecutors are expected to argue Friday before Circuit Judge Michael Mason to grant their request. Also to be debated: a request from Tessier’s attorney, Allen Wolf, to forbid prosecutors from showing the jury pictures of Wallen’s deteriorated remains.
“These graphic photographs,” Wolf wrote in court filings, “would affect jurors’ abilities to fairly and impartially decide the issues before them without resorting to pity, sympathy, or emotion.”
Tessier’s trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 4.
Wallen, a schoolteacher who had lived in Olney, Md., disappeared the weekend of Sept. 2, 2017, after being last seen with Tessier. A massive week-long search for her by police included a news conference at which Tessier pleaded for her return, sitting beside her parents.
“Laura, if you’re listening,” he said to a bank of cameras, “it doesn’t matter what’s happened. It doesn’t matter what type of trouble. There’s nothing we can’t fix together.”
Wallen, 31, taught social studies at Wilde Lake High School in Howard County, where she did not show up for the first day of 2017 classes after spendingseveral weeks preparing her classroom. On Sept. 13, two days after Tessier’s public appeal, police found Wallen’s body in the remote field in the Damascus area of Montgomery County.
Tessier maintains his innocence. “He cared deeply about Laura Wallen and never would have physically hurt her,” Wolf has said.
Taking jurors to the scene of an alleged murder is uncommon but not unheard of.
Seven years ago, Montgomery County prosecutors persuaded a judge to allow a jury to visit the basement of Suburban Hospital in Bethesda in the case of a disgruntled employee who had stabbed his boss 70 times in the boiler room.
In the Tessier case, Wolf has not filed a written response to the request for a jury site visit, but he is expected to do so in court.
In filings, prosecutors argued that no amount of photographs or video would convey to jurors how remote and concealed the site is. “This area would not be found by happenstance,” they argued, noting that Tessier had lived nearby. “The state asserts the defendant had intimate knowledge of these fields.”
Prosecutors also submitted an aerial image of the site, a photo of a tree line at the site and a photo of a smiling Laura Wallen seated in a truck at the site. The tree line and Wallen photos were part of text messages sent to Wallen’s sister on the night before prosecutors said Wallen was killed.
In their telling, prosecutors say Tessier drove Wallen to the land in a truck on the night of Sept. 2. There, Tessier got out, and Wallen sat in the truck texting her sister that she was on an “adventure” with Tessier. A short time later, prosecutors say, Tessier took the smiling photo of Wallen. She is seen wearing the same silver hoop earrings found on her body when it was discovered.
“The jury must see this area in person to match the photographs taken Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017 . . . to understand the premeditated intent of the defendant,” prosecutors wrote. “It is the state’s belief that the defendant may have intended to murder Ms. Wallen Saturday night, but due to the intervening text conversations with [Wallen’s sister], did not carry out his plan that night and instead waited until the following day.”
The land is near KS Kuts, an animal processing facility, where a “skid loader” is kept. Prosecutors say Tessier used the skid loader to dig the shallow grave for Wallen’s body.
Prosecutors say Tessier also discarded Wallen’s front license plate in a trash bin on the property. They suggest that the possible murder weapon, a .22-caliber rifle, was kept in a nearby shop.
“The state would request,” prosecutors added in their court papers, “that following the viewing at the burial location, a stop be made at KS Kuts to observe the skid loader and location of the dumpster.”