Opening Arguments, Photo Evidence Presented During Sweet Trial
By Hayley Bruce, Reporter
DUBUQUE, Iowa - When law enforcement arrived at the home of Richard and Janet Sweet on Mother's Day in 2012, they found the couple sitting next to each other on the couch, dead, with gunshot wounds to the head.
"The first thing I saw was Mr. Sweet. He was the first person I saw. He was slumped over [...]," State Trooper Jon Stickney testified on Thursday. Stickney was dispatched to the scene at 109 Deann Drive in Manchester on May 13, 2012. He was also responsible for taking photos of the crime.
Isaiah Sweet, 18, of Manchester is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. During his trial on Thursday, each side made opening arguments, during which Denise Timmins, Iowa assistant attorney general, argued Sweet confessed to the murder in an interview with police.
"The state believes the evidence will show you the defendant fully admits to killing his grandparents, he admits the thought and premeditation that went into it," Timmins said during opening statements. "…the evidence in this case is overwhelming."
Defense Attorney Jill Eimermann told the jury this case was not a question of "who done it," but why it happened. Eimermann said the jury should expect to hear more background information that will help the jury put the incident in context, adding it is the jury's job to hold Sweet responsible only for the crime the state has been able to prove with evidence.
"There was a lot of turmoil within those walls," Eimermann said.
Photo evidence and witness testimony during the trial painted a picture of the scene law enforcement found shortly after 2 p.m. — minutes after the couple's granddaughter discovered their bodies inside the house and the family called police.
The state called five of its witnesses before court adjourned for the day, including Brandon Ahlers, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison last month for his role in the incident after he pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his testimony in the case.
Ahlers entered alford pleas for unauthorized possession of an offensive weapon and third-degree burglary, both felonies, two counts of accessory after the fact, both aggravated misdemeanors, and two counts of attempted third-degree burglary, both serious misdemeanors. He was originally charged with aiding and abetting and two counts of first-degree murder.
Ahlers testified that Sweet initiated a text conversation with him on May 11, 2012 about different ways to kill people. He said they discussed several methods — including poisoning and shooting people — whether people in town would be able to hear a gunshot go off, and how to load a gun. Though he said he found the conversation odd when prompted by Timmins, Ahlers did not contact police until two days later when he saw the Sweets dead on the couch in their home.
Ahlers said that Isaiah Sweet later came to his home with a TV, shotgun and AR-15 between 12 and 1 a.m. May 12 and wanted to exchange them for marijuana, eventually giving them to him for free. Ahlers kept the TV and sold the semi-automatic shotgun to his friend.
Ahlers testified Sweet later told him to go to his house and to take anything he wanted. When he did, he said he saw Sweet's grandparents dead on the couch and left immediately. After realizing the gun he sold was likely used in the murder, Ahlers testified he tracked the gun down and helped to turn it into police after talking to a family member, his uncle, about what he should do.
"I didn't believe that Isaiah had actually done that," Ahlers said. "I knew they (the Sweets) were there, but I was refusing to believe it."
In cross-examination, Eimermann questioned Ahlers on why he didn't contact law enforcement sooner, asked why he was surprised to find the Sweets dead in their home and said he was initially dishonest with both police and her about the events that happened the weekend of the murder.
The trial will continue Friday at 9 a.m. at the Dubuque County Courthouse.
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