Jury could visit remote burial site of pregnant Md. teacher

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County prosecutors told a judge Thursday that transporting jurors to Laura Wallen’s remote burial site — accessible only by a 4-wheel-drive vehicle — is crucial to proving their murder case against Tyler Tessier.

Meanwhile, Tessier’s lawyer wants to prevent jurors from seeing sonograms of Wallen’s fetus and her pregnancy records, because it “would be upsetting to the jury, enflame the jury, and lead to a verdict based on emotion.”

During a status hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court, prosecutor Donna Fenton informed Judge Michael Mason and Tessier’s public defender Allen Wolf she was drafting a motion requesting a rare site visit for jurors in the murder trial, which is set to begin Sept. 4.

“It is critically important to the state’s case,” said Fenton, saying the remote area was only accessible by 4-wheel-drive vehicle, but Tessier was familiar with it, because he was living nearby when Wallen, his girlfriend, disappeared on Sept. 4, 2017.

Mason wondered aloud why video and photographs wouldn’t suffice in illustrating where Wallen — a Howard County teacher — was buried.

“Until you are standing in that spot, where they were the day before the murder,” Fenton said, jurors would be lacking useful information in considering Tessier’s alleged role in Wallen’s death.

Mason said he would hear arguments and rule on the site visit during an upcoming motions hearing Aug. 24.

While the specifics weren’t detailed during the hearing, Tessier’s attorney filed a motion seeking to exclude several pieces of evidence the prosecution plans to present during the three-week trial. Prosecutors have said they would seek life in prison, with no chance of parole.

In the motion, Wolf argued prosecutors should not be allowed to show jurors sonogram images of Wallen’s fetus, or Wallen’s pregnancy records, because they wouldn’t be relevant.

“The defendant is charged solely with the common-law murder of Laura Wallen. He is not indicted for any offenses against Ms. Wallen’s unborn child,” wrote Wolf.

In addition, the defense asked the judge to exclude a paternity test which demonstrates Tessier was the father of Wallen’s fetus, and said Wallen had informed Tessier he was the child’s father.

Paternity evidence would suggest a motive for Wallen’s death, according to the defense.

Wolf also requested prosecutors not be allowed to show post-mortem photos of Wallen.

“There is no issue that Laura Wallen is dead, that the deceased person is Laura Wallen, or that she died from a gunshot wound,” according to the motion. “These graphic photographs would affect jurors’ abilities to fairly and impartially decided (sic) the issues before them without resorting to pity, sympathy, or emotion.”

Wallen’s parents and family members sat in the front row of the courtroom during the brief hearing. Tessier’s attorney had waived his client’s presence in court.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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