MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A former Wisconsin man accused of killing his half brother and then hiding the body would torment the autistic man, beating him with a board and shooting him with a BB gun, a prosecutor alleged in opening statements Tuesday.
Jeffrey Vogelsberg, 30, is on trial in Dane County on charges of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse in the death of 27-year-old Matthew Graville. Prosecutors say Graville was killed in the summer of 2012, but his body wasn’t found until the following November.
Assistant District Attorney Robert Kaiser told jurors that Graville’s beating death was a secret kept by his half brother and three other people, exposed only after Vogelsberg’s grandfather, who cared deeply about Graville, pushed to learn his whereabouts.
Vogelsberg is also charged with intimidating a witness for allegedly mailing to his 75-year-old grandfather, James Robar, a police report of an interview Robar did with police, highlighting phrases that to Robar felt threatening.
Prosecutors say Graville died July 1, 2012, at the Mazomanie home of Robert McCumber, where Graville was living with Vogelsberg and his children while Vogelsberg’s wife, Shannon Remus, was in Army basic training.
In his opening statement, Kaiser said that McCumber told police that on the night and morning of July 5-6, 2012, he and Vogelsberg buried Graville’s body, which had been stored in a freezer since July 1, in a clandestine grave on an island in the Wisconsin River near Lone Rock.
By July 20, Kaiser said, Robar was asking where Graville was, because Graville was supposed to come live with him in Fort Atkinson.
The prosecutor told the jury that Graville died from head and chest injuries that he suffered during a beating the night of June 30, before Vogelsberg left Wisconsin to travel to Missouri for Remus’ graduation from basic training. McCumber found Graville dead in the living room the morning of July 1.
Kaiser said that Vogelsberg, traveling with his mother, told McCumber by phone to put Graville’s body in a freezer until he returned.
Graville’s death came after years of being tormented by Vogelsberg, Kaiser said, which included being beaten with a board, shot several times with BB gun, strangled to unconsciousness several times and being duct-taped to a support beam, “all the while laughing about it,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Robar testified that Graville didn’t appear at a party at his home on July 8 that celebrated Remus’ graduation, and couldn’t get a straight answer about where he was.
Although he was initially rebuffed when contacting police about looking for Graville, Robar testified that he later persuaded Graville’s mother to file a missing persons report with Madison police. That investigation eventually led to a statement from McCumber that Graville was dead and buried near Lone Rock.
Kaiser said McCumber took police to the spot where Graville was buried.
But Vogelsberg’s lawyer, David Karpe, told jurors that police had focused early on Vogelsberg and suffered “confirmation bias,” keeping them from seeing that McCumber was the more likely suspect.
In November 2012, Karpe said, McCumber was in custody and in trouble, but police gave him enough details about their investigation to help McCumber pin Graville’s death on Vogelsberg.
“They fed Robert McCumber a lifeline,” Karpe said. “They gave him a way to lessen his own troubles.”
While he said Vogelsberg was mean and dominating to Graville, they fought and wrestled like brothers do, including shooting one another with a BB gun.
“But Jeff did not cause Matt’s death,” Karpe said.
The trial is expected to last into next week.
Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj