ROCKVILLE, Md. — Tyler Tessier, the boyfriend charged with shooting his pregnant girlfriend, Laura Wallen, in the back of the head has been granted a five-month delay in his murder trial.
Tessier’s public defender, Allen Wolf, made the request in front of two Montgomery County Circuit Court judges Friday, in an out-of-the-ordinary battle of courtroom strategies, between Tessier’s attorney and prosecutors for Montgomery County.
Tessier made his first appearance in court Friday since being indicted for Wallen’s murder. He was initially scheduled to go on trial April 9, before Friday’s courtroom maneuvering.
Prosecutors have said they intend to seek life with no chance of parole for Tessier. An autopsy determined Wallen, a Howard County teacher, had been shot in the back of the head. Wallen, who taught at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, was 14 weeks pregnant when she was murdered. Her body was found buried in a shallow grave, in Damascus, Maryland.
Early Friday morning, assistant state’s attorneys Donna Fenton and Mary Herdman opposed Wolf’s request for a delay, saying Tessier’s attorney was “purposefully delaying” the trial.
Fenton and Herdman told Judge Michael Mason they wanted to play a secretly-recorded jail phone call between Tessier and his father, where Tessier said a trial delay would be in his best interests.
Prosecutors said they thought Tessier “would want to hear of the failure of his defense counsel to be effective.”
Wolf waived his client’s presence before Judge Mason.
“The State wants to do a little bit of a show and they want him here,” Wolf said. The judge agreed, so Tessier was not in the room to hear the phone call, which Judge Mason played. During it, Tessier mentioned the Las Vegas shooting tragedy.
“People forget; things happen. When something more important happens, it puts me out of the public eye,” Tessier said in the phone conversation.
Mason agreed to delay the trial date to June 18, however since that would be beyond Maryland’s 180-day requirement for a speedy trial, he compelled Tessier to appear before Chief Administrative Judge Robert Greenberg to personally approve of the trial delay.
Wearing only an electronic security cuff on his left wrist, Tessier looked straight ahead, showing no emotion as prosecutors played the recorded jail call for Greenberg. Tessier occasionally fiddled with his thumbs.
Tessier told his father he was “keeping the faith” and expressed confidence in Wolf, saying “we’re going to fight this.”
After a bench conference, Greenberg said prosecutors had realized they had a scheduling problem with the June date Mason had set, and rescheduled the trial, again, to Sept. 4, a year and one day after the date prosecutors believe Wallen was murdered.
In October 2017, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy announced Tessier would not face additional charges for the death of Wallen’s fetus.
McCarthy said that under Maryland law, he would have had to prove that Wallen was carrying a “viable fetus,” that could have survived on its own.
Wallen’s mother, Gwen, and more than a dozen family members and friends were in the courtroom as the defense sought the trial delay.
Last month, Wallen’s parents lent their support — and their daughter and unborn grandchild’s name — to a bill that would do away with the viability requirement in murder or manslaughter cases: “Laura and Reid’s Law.”
Tessier’s public defenders have not disclosed their defense strategy.
In October, public defender Wolf told WTOP, by email: “Tyler Tessier is innocent of the charges against him. His family and friends know that he is a quiet, peaceful person. Although he has made mistakes in his personal life, he cared deeply about Laura Wallen and never would have physically hurt her.”