On the final day of his homicide trial, Joseph Paul DeWise said he was wrongfully accused of killing his estranged wife and shooting and injuring her roommate, and didn’t deserve to go to prison.
A panel of 12 jurors took a little less than two and a half hours to decide they didn’t believe him.
DeWise was found guilty of homicide for the death of Lauren Walder DeWise and attempted homicide for shooting and injuring her roommate Ashley Van Hemert in Belgrade in January 2018. Judge Holly Brown set sentencing for Feb. 4.
The verdict came just after 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the seventh day of a trial that featured testimony from two of DeWise’s children and Van Hemert.
Gasps could be heard throughout the courtroom after the verdict was read. Gallatin County Sheriff’s deputies handcuffed DeWise and escorted him back to the Gallatin County jail.
Witnesses who testified that DeWise was abusive toward Lauren hugged law enforcement officers after DeWise left the courtroom.
The final day of the trial started with DeWise finishing his testimony, which he began Monday afternoon.
DeWise spent the first portion of his testimony trying to disprove that he was abusive toward Lauren, despite videos, audio recordings and text messages
presented by prosecutors that portrayed their relationship as volatile.
He said arguments where he threatened to hurt and kill Lauren were just him expressing what he was feeling at the moment.
“I didn’t mean it at the time,” DeWise told jurors.
He said a slew of text messages he wrote to Lauren throughout the time they were separated were sent out of habit because Lauren liked to message during the “healthy part” of their relationship.
DeWise said Lauren moving out was hard on his kids. He said his older daughter — who testified against him last Wednesday — looked up to Lauren and was devastated when she moved out.
He said his kids were like his best friends. He went on hikes and fished with his son — who testified Thursday that he saw DeWise shoot Lauren and Van Hemert — and said his youngest daughter was like his “little twin shadow.”
Prosecutors have asked why DeWise didn’t mention the weapon used to murder Lauren when law enforcement asked him what firearms he owned three separate times. He said Tuesday that was because the gun was in Lauren’s car and officers were asking him what guns he had inside the house.
The night of the shootings, DeWise said, he was at home and made a large batch of soup that him and the kids would eat over the next several days. He said he doesn’t remember doing much that day.
“I was sick. I would doze off and on throughout the day and be on my phone,” he said.
DeWise said he woke up around midnight after falling asleep around 9 p.m. He then went to Town Pump and bought himself a case of beer. He said he had a few beers, was on his phone and talked with his kids before going back to bed sometime around 2 a.m.
“It’s all very fuzzy at this point. I don’t remember it very clearly,” DeWise said.
When defense attorney Annie DeWolf questioned him, DeWise was calm and spoke softly in answering her. That changed when prosecutor Jordan Salo cross examined DeWise — he started by answering her first questions with a single word: “no.”
Asked about a separate felony for calling his daughter from jail, DeWise’s voice got louder. He said prosecutors had mischaracterized his statements throughout the investigation. He said that he had been falsely accused and didn’t deserve to go to prison.
“That’s why whoever did this is still out there,” DeWise said.
During his closing statement, prosecutor Eric Kitzmiller reminded jurors about the testimony they heard from DeWise’s son, who said he went with DeWise to kill Lauren, and his daughter, who said DeWise confessed to the murder the morning after. Kitzmiller pointed out recordings and videos that suggested DeWise was abusive toward Lauren. He also told jurors not to forget about gunshot residue found on a jacket DeWise was wearing the night of the shootings.
Kitzmiller said DeWise manipulated Lauren, and that her moving out of his house was her “breaking free from fear and intimidation of DeWise.” Kitzmiller said jurors heard DeWise in audio recordings telling Lauren that he would kill her and everyone around her.
“What happened that night was the fulfillment of what Mr. DeWise had previously told Lauren, that he would kill her,” he said.
Defense attorney DeWolf said the state hadn’t proved DeWise was the person who fired the gun. She said DeWise was cooperative with law enforcement when they asked to speak with him, turned over cellphones that had “damning evidence” and disclosed an incident when he hit Lauren.
The state needed to prove DeWise committed the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt, DeWolf said. It failed to do so, she said, by not having any witnesses who saw DeWise at the house the night of the shootings and failing to provide concrete evidence that he was abusive to Lauren.
“The government has to earn anything when they take away anyone’s liberty,” DeWolf said.
DeWise still faces two other felony charges. He faces a separate charge of felony tampering with evidence for calling his daughter from jail against a court order. He also faces a separate felony assault on a peace officer charge that accuses him of punching a detention center officer in the face.
He pleaded not guilty to those charges.