GREEN BAY, Wisconsin—In the murder trial of a young substitute teacher and mother of three, FitBit could prove one man’s innocence—and Google might send another to jail.
Almost two years after Nicole VanderHeyden, 31, was found strangled and beaten to death, a Virginia man named George Burch is now on trial for her murder in Brown County. Friends say Burch, who was released from a Southern jail in January 2016, moved north for a fresh start. Yet within the first months of his freedom, he allegedly killed VanderHeyden and dumped her body in a farm field.
But Burch, 40, isn’t the only man under scrutiny in the slaying.
While prosecutors named Burch as the sole perpetrator in the murder, the first week of testimony largely focused on cops’ original suspect: VanderHeyden’s live-in boyfriend, Doug Detrie.
Burch’s lawyers are claiming Detrie is the real killer. Police originally arrested Detrie, a 36-year-old building contractor and father of VanderHeyden’s baby, in connection with her death but released him 18 days later. He was never charged.
Now, the district attorney is using high-tech data—from Google Dashboard, Fitbit trackers, and cellphones—in hopes of proving that Burch was with VanderHeyden in her final moments, and that Detrie was an innocent man, asleep in his bed, unaware that he’d never see his girlfriend again.
It was supposed to have been Nicole VanderHeyden’s night out on the town.
Known as Nikki to those who loved her, VanderHeyden had given birth to her baby, Dylan, just six months before. She’d only let loose a few times since.
On May 20, 2016, she attended a Steel Panther concert at the Watering Hole bar with Detrie and nearly a dozen of his friends. VanderHeyden didn’t know his pals well, but the outgoing mom could get along with anyone.
VanderHeyden and Detrie arrived around 8 p.m. Greg Mathu, one of Detrie’s close friends, said the couple made last-minute plans and found a babysitter.
“I had encouraged Doug,” Mathu testified in court last week. “I’m sure that Nikki would like to get out of the house and we could go out and have a fun time. I’m sure she hadn’t really gone out since New Year’s, so this is five months later.”
Detrie testified that his girlfriend drank heavily that night. “She had two down and I was still on my first one,” Detrie added. “She was chugging them down.”
When the concert ended at 11 p.m., Mathu and Detrie caught up with some high school friends and got separated from VanderHeyden and the larger group. The two agreed to meet everyone at the next bar, the Sardine Can.
According to Detrie, VanderHeyden told him she was heading to the Sardine Can with his buddies. Detrie said he wasn’t concerned about VanderHeyden and that she was with “friends I’ve known a long time and trusted.”
But around 11:12 p.m., Detrie received a barrage of angry texts from VanderHeyden. “So what bitch ya with?” one message said.
“Fuck u, abusive ass hole,” another read.
“Wow, what slut are u with, bc none of your friends know,” VanderHeyden wrote Detrie at 11:18 p.m.
Detrie testified that he didn’t know why VanderHeyden was so angry. “I wasn’t upset,” Detrie said. “There really wasn’t a reason for it.” So he replied to her with, “LOL stop,” and “Be good. I’ll see you at the Sardine Can?”
Later, his text messages to her became more urgent. “Hello? Tried calling 10 times,” Detrie wrote.
Mathu and Detrie lost track of time, they both testified. Detrie bought his buddies a round of shots and soon it was around 12:20 a.m. “I told Doug, you know, we need to leave. It’s been longer than we thought it was,” Mathu testified.
Detrie testified that he “was drinking pretty heavily” at the Watering Hole, and Mathu agreed to drive them to their next destination.
While en route, Detrie called VanderHeyden. He testified she was upset and slurring. “She wasn’t making any sense, so I handed the phone to Mathu and said, ‘Here, talk to Nikki. She’s not making any sense to me,’” Detrie testified.
The call was around 12:36 a.m., and VanderHeyden had stormed out of the Sardine Can and was wandering the streets.
“[Detrie] was telling her, ‘We’re on our way. Just go back to the Sardine Can. We’ll be back in five minutes. Where are you? We’ll pick you up.’ He kept repeating that,” Mathu testified.
But while Mathu was speaking with VanderHeyden, her phone died. Detrie tried calling her several more times, but her phone went straight to voicemail. The men drove around the bar looking for VanderHeyden but didn’t see her.
None of their friends heard from VanderHeyden after that.
Detrie said he and Mathu went into the Sardine Can around 1 a.m. and asked if anyone had seen VanderHeyden. Detrie testified he wasn’t particularly worried because one of her texts indicated she’d run into a friend there.
Mathu parked his car and found Detrie inside at the bar with two shots. Detrie didn’t have his wallet and asked Mathu to pay the bartender, who was annoyed. “Nikki is being stupid, what the fuck,” Detrie griped, according to Mathu’s interview with police.
They left the bar around 2:15 a.m. and headed to Detrie’s house.
Something had set VanderHeyden off that night, and she was crying. Detrie’s friends were worried about her.
Aaron Kulinski, a friend of Detrie’s, testified that his group planned to depart the Watering Hole after the concert, but he didn’t want to leave VanderHeyden alone. “I think I suggested to her that she should just come with us,” Kulinski told jurors.
Around 11:30 p.m., they arrived at the Sardine Can, where a live band was performing. VanderHeyden danced with other girls in the group and gabbed with the bartender and a male customer, Kulinski testified.
Kulinski said the friends wanted to find a bar closer to home, but Detrie and Mathu hadn’t yet appeared. VanderHeyden tried phoning Detrie, but he didn’t answer. Detrie picked up, however, when another friend in the group, Angela Delfosse, called.
“I could tell [VanderHeyden] was just baffled as to why he answered Angela’s phone call and not hers,” Kulinski testified.
Delfosse called Detrie a loser, Kulinski testified, and VanderHeyden rushed out of the pub. Kulinski ran after her. “I could tell she was crying. I was like, ‘It’s okay. Don’t worry about what other people are saying or what just happened. Let’s just get you back to your child,’” Kulinski testified.
VanderHeyden was inconsolable and fell to the ground before crying, screaming, and hitting Kulinski’s legs. Kulinski saw people gathering across the street, so he helped her up and let her go, apparently to avoid a confrontation.
Kulinski watched VanderHeyden use her phone as she walked off into the night. He shouted to her that the group had called an Uber and could get her home faster.
“I yelled, ‘You’re a babe in the woods!’” Kulinski testified.
VanderHeyden didn’t turn around.
Detrie and Mathu were loud and woke the babysitter when they got home.
Dallas Kennedy, a friend of VanderHeyden’s, had agreed to watch little Dylan that night. He slept in a bassinet upstairs in Detrie and VanderHeyden’s room, while Kennedy dozed on the living room sofa. The men arrived around 2:40 a.m.
Kennedy testified that she felt “scared” because she’d only met Detrie a few times and didn’t know Mathu, who paced around the hallway. The three of them discussed where VanderHeyden might be. “He said to keep calling her,” Kennedy recalled of Detrie, but VanderHeyden’s “phone was off every time.”
Detrie showed Kennedy the texts on his phone. He appeared concerned about VanderHeyden, Kennedy testified.
“We proceeded to go over… ‘Where could she be? What happened? Where is she?’” Kennedy said under questioning by the defense. Kennedy asked the men if VanderHeyden was with her sister or with friends, and whether she made it to the second bar.
“I pretty much spouted off everything in my head to him,” Kennedy testified. “I finally said, ‘Is she in the trunk of your car?’ He looked at me and said no.”
Mathu left and as Kennedy got ready to go, Detrie asked her for marijuana. She gave him some weed but declined to smoke herself. When she got up to leave, Detrie asked her for another hit. “Next time,” Kennedy said, before running to her car.
“I locked my door. I looked around the cul-de-sac. It was quiet. I stared into the garage. It was open, the light was on, and I just asked, ‘Where are you Nikki?’” Kennedy testified. She left the Detrie residence around 3 a.m.
Detrie testified that he fell asleep drunk around 3 a.m. on May 21 without hearing from VanderHeyden. He woke at 6:30 a.m. to feed Dylan some pre-pumped breast milk, then returned to bed. Dylan roused him again at 11 a.m.
Detrie told jurors he figured VanderHeyden was sleeping off a hangover elsewhere. But he messaged Mathu, Kennedy, and VanderHeyden’s sister, Heather Meyer, asking if they’d seen or talked to her. Detrie testified that he also tried sending VanderHeyden a Snapchat photo with Dylan to see whether her phone was on and whether she’d just been ignoring him.
Meyer testified that Detrie sent her a Facebook message, as he didn’t have her phone number, around 1 or 2 p.m. “I normally wouldn’t communicate with Doug,” she told jurors. “We’ve never really talked before that.”
By 2 p.m., Detrie grew worried. At Meyer’s suggestion, Detrie called the local jail and hospitals looking for VanderHeyden. He decided to call the Brown County Sheriff’s Office to report a missing person around 4:30 p.m.
By then, police were swarming a farm field on Hoffman Road. Two teenage boys working the land that afternoon spotted what they thought was a dead deer. They quickly realized it was a woman’s body, and an adult had called cops around 1:54 p.m.
Deputies arrived at Detrie’s house after 5 p.m. They testified that Mathu, Detrie’s parents, and VanderHeyden’s family were there.
Sgt. Tracy Holschbach testified that when Detrie descended his stairs, he looked pale and hungover. She searched for but didn’t see any scratches or marks on his arms and hands. “This was not a typical missing person’s report,” Holschbach told jurors, when asked whether she was suspicious of Detrie. “I knew there had been the ability for this to be something more.”
Deputies knew that the anonymous dead body, which was naked save for a sock and concert wristband, resembled VanderHeyden but they didn’t tell that to Detrie.
Holschbach testified that she sat across from Detrie at his kitchen table and secretly recorded their conversation using a key fob camera. Jurors were presented with video stills, which showed a Fitbit on Detrie’s wrist.
The sergeant said Detrie was “cooperative” and volunteered his phone for forensic analysis. She asked Detrie why VanderHeyden called him “an abusive asshole” in a text message. “She gets that way sometimes if she’s drinking or gets something in her head,” Detrie replied, according to Holschbach.
After law enforcement left, Meyer received a text about a body found in the nearby village of Bellevue. The discovery made the 10 o’clock news, Detrie testified, and both the Detrie and VanderHeyden families began to panic.
Deputies returned around midnight and asked Detrie to go to the sheriff’s office. Once there, Detrie denied any involvement in VanderHeyden’s disappearance and gave deputies permission to search his house.
Investigators told Detrie the body had a pink wristband, like those given out at concerts. Deputy Jason Katers testified that Detrie “pretty much lost it” when he heard this. “He was crying, sobbing, seemed to be hyperventilating,” Katers recalled.
“I was trying to hold out any hope that that wasn’t Nikki,” Detrie testified. “That pretty much confirmed it for me.”
Detrie’s parents picked him up at 3 or 4 a.m. and took him to their house. Later that day, deputies called seeking a DNA sample from Detrie. At the advice of his family’s lawyer, Detrie denied the request and awaited a warrant.
Detrie recalled thinking, “Oh, my God. They think I did this.”
Detrie is not the man on trial for Nicole’s murder this week—but defense attorneys for George Burch have tried to emphasize the alleged instability and toxic nature of Detrie’s relationship with VanderHeyden in the months before her death.
The couple met at a bar and restaurant called Jimmy Seas in January 2015. Weeks later, VanderHeyden was pregnant with Dylan. By the end of the summer, she and her two kids from a previous marriage moved into Detrie’s Ledgeview home.
It was a house built by Detrie’s family, which runs a contracting firm. Detrie works for his parents as a subcontractor, he testified.
He told jurors that he envisioned marrying VanderHeyden someday. The couple talked about their son walking with them down the aisle.
One of Burch’s lawyers, Lee Schuchart, asked Detrie if he was closer to breaking up with or marrying VanderHeyden in May of 2016. “In between,” Detrie answered, adding they argued over minor things but always talked it out.
In court, Schuchart read aloud texts between Detrie and his mother. “When this house sells we are going separate ways I’m sure,” Detrie wrote. (It’s unclear if Detrie actually planned to sell his home.)
“I’m very seriously thinking about telling Nikki and the kids they have to move. I’m not cut out for this life one bit,” Detrie added. (Court filings indicate Detrie sent these messages on May 10, just 10 days before VanderHeyden’s death.)
When questioned about the texts to his mother, Detrie testified, “I was having a downer day and sent it to my mom without truly meaning it.” Detrie said he’d been on leave after Dylan was born and was getting back into a normal routine.
Other texts between the couple seem to suggest a troubled union, too, according to a motion filed by the defense last August.
“Yelling at Dylan this morning and talking about moving out. He is just baby and feeling your hatred… it makes me want to cry all day,” VanderHeyden wrote on May 16. Detrie replied that he didn’t remember yelling and added, “I’m so sorry Nikki and Dylan!”
On the morning of May 8, VanderHeyden wrote, “Ne thing i even say u just snap at me, so i dont say much” and “Thanks for making me feel like a piece of shit everyday.”
Last year, Burch’s attorneys asked to present evidence on Detrie’s past romantic relationships, which they claimed were rife with alleged abuse. They also focused on Detrie’s internet activity in the days before VanderHeyden died, as well as statements from her family, including one suggesting she didn’t want to have Detrie’s child and considered having an abortion. Judge John Zakowski ruled the testimony inadmissible.
In court papers, the defense claimed VanderHeyden’s murder “was the culmination of a toxic and abusive relationship.” They highlighted statements from one ex-girlfriend, who dated Detrie in 2012 and claimed he put software on her phone to track her location. The woman claimed Detrie would appear at her job unannounced and wait outside for her. (Detrie’s attorney did not return a message left by The Daily Beast.)
After their relationship ended, Detrie allegedly continued to contact his ex on Snapchat and via text and called VanderHeyden “crazy.” He also tried hooking up with her while he was dating VanderHeyden, the court filings claim.
On the day before VanderHeyden’s death, Detrie visited numerous ads on Backpage.com for Green Bay escorts, Burch’s attorneys claimed. And he allegedly researched “how to tell if backpage escort is undercover.”
Throughout April and May, Detrie was allegedly texting women saved in his phone as “Erika NY” and “Quonetta.” Quonetta and Detrie exchanged “sexually explicit material,” while Erika NY and Detrie discussed exchanging photos and videos that were destroyed, court papers allege. Detrie allegedly asked Erika NY why she deleted them.
On May 12, Detrie texted his mother to gripe about VanderHeyden. “Nikki is absolutely no help with trying to motivate me or get me going whatsoever,” he wrote. “She’s nothing but negative and is just making my bad situation worse.” Detrie added that he could hardly muster the resolve to wake up and do anything.
“The is going to be nothing but hell for 18 years,” Detrie wrote. “I feel bad for Dylan whoever he’s with.”
The morning of May 21, Matthew Petersen was mowing his lawn when he saw a pool of blood at the grassline.
Petersen, who lives across from Detrie on Berkley Road, figured the blood belonged to an animal. Their neighborhood lies near a shrub- and tree-lined creek and is home to a variety of wildlife, he testified.
Then Petersen’s mower hit a piece of black cord, which he assumed fell off a vehicle. He tossed it on the curb but forgot to throw it away. “I didn’t even think about the possibility that it was a crime scene,” Petersen told jurors.
He called police two days later, when his wife informed him of news reports identifying VanderHeyden as the dead woman found miles from her home.
Monica Janke, a now-retired sheriff’s detective, secured the scene around 5:45 p.m. on May 23. She remembers it being hot and muggy, and with the wind picking up, she was concerned rain would wash away the evidence.
Cops found dried blood splatters in the street, with hair stuck to them. Janke covered the spots to prevent the strands from blowing away. Police also found clumps of blonde hair and bobby pins, along with two pieces of cord. They sent the items to be tested for DNA.
As a result of the discovery, authorities searched Detrie’s home for the second time and took Detrie into custody that day.
Sgt. Brian Slinger, the lead detective on the case, testified that Detrie was arrested based on investigators’ initial information and evidence.
Slinger knew that when VanderHeyden’s body was found, she had herringbone shoe-prints on her back that may have matched shoes found in Detrie’s home. The soles had possible blood spots. There was also blood on the garage floor, near VanderHeyden’s vehicle, which was covered in smudges.
Prior to May 23, cops weren’t sure where VanderHeyden had died, Slinger said. Now they figured the crime scene was just outside Detrie’s house.
Still, Detrie was released on June 10. “All these pieces of evidence that we thought we had, turned out to have answers for them,” Slinger testified.
The smudges from VanderHeyden’s car were not her blood; the blood on the garage floor likely belonged to a turkey Detrie shot weeks before; and spots on the bottom of Detrie’s shoes didn’t test positive for blood, Slinger said.
Meanwhile, DNA analysis also confirmed the blood and hair found in the neighbor’s yard belonged to VanderHeyden, and that VanderHeyden’s DNA was on the pieces of cable—along with DNA from an unknown male.
Then, in August of 2016, police got their big break.
Kevin Scott, an analyst with the Wisconsin State Crime Lab, called Slinger and said he’d extracted a DNA sample from VanderHeyden’s sock. Scott entered the sample into a national database. It matched with a Virginia man named George Steven Burch.
After receiving the DNA match, Slinger checked a local police database for Burch. He determined that Burch indeed lived in the area, and that the Green Bay Police Department had been in contact with him on June 8, 2016, over an unrelated incident.
A police report reviewed by The Daily Beast shows that Burch was suspected in the theft of a red Chevy Blazer. The vehicle belonged to the wife of his friend Edward Jackson, with whom he was staying. The couple reported the SUV missing on June 8, 2016, and learned it was suspected to be in a hit-and-run the night before.
The SUV was found on fire around 2:52 a.m. that day, a few blocks from Jackson’s residence. Burch was never charged with a crime.
Edward Jackson knew Burch, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound felon who goes by his middle name Steve or his nickname “Big Country,” when they lived in upstate New York a decade ago. His wife told cops that Burch had moved to Wisconsin “to start over and get his life straightened out.”
Within months of moving to Wisconsin, Burch was apparently a suspect in two separate, serious crimes.
The divorced dad was released from jail around January 2016, after pleading guilty to grand larceny in York County, Virginia, court records show. Burch received a suspended sentence for the crime, which occurred in October 2015. On May 24, 2016, he was charged with violating the conditions of his release and listed as a fugitive.
Burch was also indicted for heroin possession in Hampton Circuit Court, and a trial was scheduled for March 2016, according to court records.
Years earlier, when he lived in Newport News, Virginia, a 19-year-old Burch was accused of shooting a gang leader and rival in the head in 1997. At the time, jurors told a local newspaper that the prosecution’s case wasn’t strong enough. Five shots were fired from at least two weapons, and the fatal bullet was never recovered. Burch was acquitted.
In early 2016, after his jail stint for grand larceny, Burch called up his old buddy Edward Jackson, who was now living in Wisconsin. In September 2016, Jackson’s wife, Lynda, told police Burch phoned her husband and told him “he had just gotten out of jail and wanted to start somewhere new.” The couple offered to give Burch a vehicle and a place to stay.
On Monday, Edward Jackson testified that Burch told him that he and his wife were “on the outs” and he had nowhere to go. The couple bought Burch a train ticket from Newport News to Chicago, and Edward Jackson picked him up on Feb. 29, Lynda Jackson testified.
Edward Jackson said he charged Burch $100 in weekly rent but that Burch fell behind on payments. (Under questioning by the defense, Lynda Jackson said Burch made back payments after he moved out.)
Shortly after arriving in Green Bay, Burch got a job at a restaurant, then a new gig at a landscaping firm. “We told Steve [Burch] that the vehicle was for getting to and from work and not going out drinking,” Lynda Jackson told the Brown County Sheriff’s Office.
On May 20, Burch told Lynda Jackson that his ex-wife was removing him from her cellphone plan. That day, Jackson took Burch to get a new phone. That mobile would apparently end up tracking Burch’s activity on the night of VanderHeyden’s murder.
The Jacksons testified that on May 21, hours after VanderHeyden vanished, Burch joined Edward on a fishing trip to Racine.
According to Edward Jackson, he and Burch left for Racine around 1:30 p.m. on May 21. Jackson testified that he didn’t remember anything unusual that morning, and that Burch napped most of the 2.5-hour drive.
Later that day, they sent Lynda Jackson a photo of Burch hoisting the Coho salmon he caught. Lynda Jackson told police she didn’t “recall anything out of the ordinary from that weekend.” On Monday, she testified that she reviewed the snapshot after Burch’s arrest and believed it showed “dark areas” on Burch’s right hand.
The men returned to Green Bay the next day. Jordan Schuyler, Burch’s ex-girlfriend, testified that she saw Burch hours after he returned from the fishing excursion. She didn’t notice any injuries on his head, hands, or body.
Not long after they returned, Edward Jackson and Burch watched a Fox 11 report on VanderHeyden’s death.
“I said, ‘The scumbag that did it ought to be taken down,’” Edward Jackson testified.
Deputy DA Mary Kerrigan-Mares asked Jackson if Burch reacted to the TV news. Jackson replied that Burch was “intensely looking at the TV” but didn’t say anything. At the time, Jackson wasn’t suspicious and didn’t see injuries on Burch.
Weeks later, Burch was suspected of crashing the Jacksons’ SUV and setting it ablaze. Lynda Jackson told police Burch wouldn’t admit to the wreck, but she was suspicious because of a gash on his head and his knee. She also found a gas can in her Jeep.
On June 8, 2016, a Bader Street resident reported a hit-and-run involving Lynda Jackson’s Chevy Blazer at 2:11 a.m. The Blazer hit a parked vehicle and nearly smashed into a light pole, a police report stated.
About 40 minutes later, a resident of South Maple Avenue—about 4 miles away—called cops saying the Blazer was on fire, police records show. Lynda Jackson reported her Blazer missing at 7:31 a.m.
Burch claimed he drove the Jacksons’ Blazer to a bar called Richard Craniums the night before, and said it had been stolen, a police report shows. He denied being involved in a hit-and-run accident and said he drove the vehicle straight home. When Green Bay police questioned Burch about the accident, he gave them consent to search his cellphone, the report indicates.
Meanwhile, the Jacksons decided their trust in Burch was frayed. Edward Jackson testified that on June 19, he asked Burch to leave and got him a bus ticket back to Virginia. Lynda Jackson told investigators she believes Burch never left town that summer and that a 22-year-old girlfriend picked him up instead.
Indeed, Burch bunked with his Richard Craniums buddies.
Jeffery Hemmen testified that Burch said his mother died and he couldn’t return to Virginia because he ran out of funds. Hemmen agreed to let Burch sleep on a basement couch and help him land a job at Bay Area Plastering, where Hemmen worked. Hemmen said he asked Burch to move out for “personal reasons” that had “nothing to do with him,” and continued to give Burch a lift to and from work.
Burch then crashed at the one-bedroom pad of Matthew Wassenberg. Wassenberg hoped Burch would move in with his girlfriend but instead he spent money on other things, like new Air Jordan sneakers. “I asked him why he was looking to buy a brand-new pair of Jordans when I thought the other ones looked fine,” Wassenberg testified.
Burch stayed with Wassenberg until he was arrested in September.
The June vehicle probe was briefly mentioned in Burch’s trial last week. Sgt. Janke testified that after cops identified Burch’s DNA in the VanderHeyden case, cops wanted to search the SUV for evidence. But the vehicle had already been shredded by a metal scrapyard and the pieces would be impossible to find.
Yet Green Bay police did retain one key piece of evidence from that June run-in with Burch: the data they extracted from Burch’s Samsung Galaxy phone.
Investigators reviewed this data when Burch’s DNA was found on VanderHeyden. They noticed he repeatedly viewed a news story on VanderHeyden’s death after her body was discovered. There were no other web searches on his phone except for pornography.
In opening arguments, Lasee said Burch searched for news on VanderHeyden on May 22, 24, 25, 26, and June 5 and 6.
“He is consistently very curious about this case, and no other case,” Lasee said.
Richard Craniums bar was Burch’s local haunt. Later, after police arrested Burch in connection to VanderHeyden’s murder, his defense team claimed he met the young mother there on the night of her death.
In court papers, Burch’s attorneys claimed VanderHeyden entered the pub and struck up a conversation with their client. The prosecution hasn’t disclosed whether they believe VanderHeyden was at the bar, or how she got there from the Sardine Can.
The Sardine Can is on a quiet stretch of North Broadway, toward the end of a retail district. Richard Craniums is a 13-minute walk, under an overpass and onto the seedier and more industrial South Broadway. The dive bar sits next to a sex shop.
Defense attorneys didn’t say what time Burch encountered VanderHeyden, who was still walking and talking to Detrie around 12:36 a.m. Phone data shows Burch was at Richard Craniums from 11:54 p.m. to 2:32 a.m., according to the criminal complaint.
Burch’s DNA was found on VanderHeyden’s body, one of her socks, and the cord used to strangle her.
District Attorney Dave Lasee says Google Dashboard data also proves Burch was at all three crime scenes—VanderHeyden’s home, the Bellevue farm field, and the on-ramp where her clothes were discovered—in the early hours of May 21, 2016.
VanderHeyden was murdered sometime between 3 and 4 a.m.—just 118 feet from her front door, prosecutors say.
At that time of night, prosecutors claimed in court filings last year, Detrie was asleep—and that his FitBit activity tracker proves his alibi, as The Daily Beast previously reported.
This evidence has been ruled inadmissible at trial, because of lawsuits FitBit is facing over alleged inaccuracies of its sleep data, which is reportedly off by as much as 45 minutes.
However, the judge ruled that Lasee can present evidence on FitBit’s step-counting data. The DA claims Detrie’s FitBit showed few steps on May 21, around the time VanderHeyden was killed, and argues the data is at odds with the defense’s narrative.
Meanwhile, data from Burch’s cellphone reveals he was outside the Detrie-VanderHeyden residence during that critical time frame.
“He’s there for 52 minutes,” Lasee said in opening arguments. “No known relation with Nikki. No known relation with Doug Detrie. No reason to be in front of Nikki’s house. No reason for his DNA to be on her body.
“Follow the evidence, follow the facts, it will lead you to truth,” Lasee added.
Everyday technologies appear to play a vital role to the murder case.
While Detrie has apparently been exonerated by his FitBit, prosecutors say Burch will be incriminated by the movements tracked by his Android cellphone.
Lasee told jurors Burch took “an odd route home” after allegedly discarding VanderHeyden’s body and tossing her clothing off a highway on-ramp. The Google data charting his whereabouts indicate he’s unfamiliar with the area, Lasee said.
The tech evidence has yet to be presented in further detail at the trial.
In opening arguments, Burch’s defense team claimed there’s “a completely innocent explanation” for his curious movements that night.
The lawyers haven’t presented their case yet, but the narrative was detailed last year in a motion seeking to introduce evidence that Detrie allegedly killed VanderHeyden.
This explanation—which prosecutors dismissed as a “fantastic tale” in court filings—begins with Burch meeting VanderHeyden at Richard Craniums bar, stopping by his house for a condom, then driving to the home she shared with Detrie for a hookup.
They stayed in the car because a light was on inside the house, Burch claims. He says Detrie came outside, discovered them having sex and knocked Burch out. Burch claims he later woke up to find VanderHeyden’s lifeless body. He claims Detrie then forced Burch, at gunpoint, to haul VanderHeyden’s corpse to a field 3 miles away in Bellevue.
Once they dumped VanderHeyden, Burch says he pushed Detrie down a ravine and drove off. Panicked, he flung VanderHeyden’s clothes out the window.
“For the most part, we agree with all of the state’s evidence,” said public defender Scott Stebbins in opening statements. “That evidence, once you have all the pieces of the puzzle, is consistent with George’s innocence.”
Stebbins said VanderHeyden’s slaying “wasn’t a random act.”
“The evidence will show you that Doug had the motive to murder Nicole. The state didn’t offer you one reason why George would have any reason to kill Nicole. Doug did have that motive,” Stebbins told the jury.
Stebbins shared one of VanderHeyden’s texts to Detrie: “You’re an abusive asshole,” she wrote in the hours before she died. “Why do you always hurt me?”
On the night VanderHeyden was killed, Stebbins told jurors, Detrie left VanderHeyden with his friends, chatted up other women at the bar, and snorted amphetamines with a friend. (Detrie testified that he didn’t remember snorting Adderall that night but assumed he did. He also said he only recalled speaking to married acquaintances at the Watering Hole.)
“You’re going to hear at first that everything went smoothly,” Stebbins said of the couple’s night out at a glam-rock concert. “They were drinking, laughing, dancing and having a good time. What the state didn’t tell you is that changed.”
Last week, medical examiner Agnieszka Rogalska, testified to the extent of VanderHeyden’s gruesome and fatal injuries. VanderHeyden’s face was beaten to the point of being “unrecognizable,” and she was identified through dental records.
The cause of death was ligature strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head, and she had injuries consistent with sexual assault, Rogalska said.
“These are substantial repeated physical injuries,” Lasee told jurors. “There can be no doubt as to intent to kill.”
One thing the jury won’t learn, however: that George Burch was acquitted of murder once before.
Burch’s murder trial resumes today.