Diercks acquitted on burglary charges
If it was going to take three minutes, 30 minutes or three hours (the actual length), it didn't matter just as long Aaron Diercks heard those two fateful words Thursday, which he did, in Pierce County Circuit Court: not guilty.
Diercks, 20, 263 W. Summit Ave., Ellsworth, was charged with burglary to party to a crime for his role in the April 5, 2006, burglary of then-County Sheriff Everett Muhlhausen and Barbara Fritz's house. He was one of five charged, along with Cody Muhlhausen (Everett's son), Randy and Nick Ingli and T.J. Degroat. (For their roles, Randy Ingli pled guilty and has already been sentenced, Cody and Nick have also pled guilty and will both be sentenced March 1, while Degroat's next court appearance is a 2 p.m. motion hearing on Feb. 6).
Diercks' attorney, Francis Rivard of Menomonie, believed the key in all of this was intent, specifically Diercks didn't know what Muhlhausen's intent was that day, which he testified to in court, was to burglarize the house.
Among other key facets from the defense point of view:
--In his testimony, Diercks said no one told anything to him about breaking and entering. Furthermore, after Cody failed to kick in the back garage door (which they used to gain entrance into the house), Diercks did and questioned him about it. Cody told him, "I'm working and I'll be able to take care of it."
--Randy Ingli said during his cross-examination that he remembered Cody saying he was going to get his belongings and he believed he had permission to do so.
--Diercks' prior criminal history. He never had one before being charged with this crime.
--In relation to Cody, Diercks said, "I trusted my best friend with everything and I wouldn't be in this situation if it wasn't for him." He also said he felt he had Cody's permission to enter the house.
--While Cody testified all were involved in the discussion of the burglary, to show he wasn't credible, Everett Muhlhausen said that, during his cross-examination, Cody was given an opportunity to come clean, but never came forward.
--That at the end of their interview once he was arrested, Sheriff's Investigator Bob Rhiel said he believed Diercks was being honest.
And while the defense had their moments, it wasn't as if the prosecution didn't have theirs, highlighting how much the momentum went back and forth the entire day. Among them:
--Diercks said he was shocked and scared about what happened and felt sorry because he had gotten along with Everett real good and he was trying to make things better with him as quick as he could. If that's true, District Attorney John O' Boyle said during cross-examination, "why did you not contact him" between April 5 and 10, the date he was arrested for the charges?
--To emphasize the point he was trying to make things better for everyone else, a copy of Diercks' interview with Rhiel from April 10 was played. The first words out of Diercks' mouth were: "Are there any plea bargaining options?" "You were only trying to make things better for yourself," O'Boyle replied.
--That Rhiel met with Diercks and others associated with the crime the next day at the Pierce County Gun Range and Diercks didn't tell the real story then. Diercks' response was he was shocked and scared.
--That while he felt Cody "stabbed him in the back," O'Boyle said Diercks was there at Cody's plea hearing, saying he would co-sign his bond.
--That after kicking both the back entrance door and the door to gain access to the basement, Diercks along with Randy Ingli carried the gun safe out of the house. In the taped interview, Diercks said he didn't want to discuss the doors.
The taped testimony became a big factor, as nearly two hours into the deliberation the jury came back asking to see that again. O'Boyle was in favor of that request, saying it was like an exhibit, (i.e. pictures of the doors), while Rivard wasn't saying if the oral testimonies can't be replayed, why should the video? Pepin/Buffalo County Judge James DuVall agreed with Rivard.
And for the first time Thursday, the public got the background account of what led to the burglary. Cody said Randy came to him and said a drug deal had gone south and he was looking for a gun. Cody responded he knew where he could get some guns and the rest is history.