A Manchester, Iowa, teen sought advice on how to kill his grandparents two days before they were found shot to death, a former friend testified today.
Brandon Ahlers’ time on the witness stand was the most contentious on the first day of testimony in the trial of Isaiah R. Sweet, 18. Defense lawyers tried to paint him as someone who was testifying just to lessen the criminal charges he faced.
Sweet is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and operating a vehicle without consent. He is accused of killing his grandparents Janet and Richard Sweet, who were found shot to death May 13, 2012, in their Manchester home by family members coming for a Mother’s Day celebration. He then allegedly stole his grandfather’s truck.
A successful change-of-venue petition moved his trial from that city to Dubuque District Court.
Isaiah Sweet’s defense conceded in its opening statement that he had confessed to the killings but referenced other factors the jury must consider during the trial.
“You’ll learn all was not well in the house at 109 Deann Drive,” said defense attorney Jill Eimermann, referencing the Sweet home.
During his testimony, Ahlers told the court that Sweet texted him on May 11, 2012, to ask about different ways to kill people.
“We brought up poisoning with cyanide, arsenic, nicotine … shooting someone,” Ahlers said, noting that Sweet also asked him how to load an AR-15 rifle.
Ahlers said that shortly after midnight May 12, Sweet came to his residence with two guns and a TV and said, “I did it. It’s done.”
Prosecutor Denise Timmins held up a gun in court, which Ahlers identified as one he saw Sweet with.
Ahlers said Sweet told him the following morning that Ahlers could take whatever he wanted from his grandparents’ house. Ahlers broke in but immediately left after seeing the bodies, he said. He didn’t call police because he was scared, he said.
But defense attorney Jill Eimermann attacked Ahlers’ motives for taking the witness stand.
Ahlers was sentenced in September to 18 years in prison on multiple charges related to the killings and ensuing thefts. But two charges of first-degree murder were dropped as part of a plea deal. A condition of that deal was that he testify against Sweet.
“It’s to your benefit to testify today,” Eimermann remarked to Ahlers during cross-examination.
She noted that Ahlers broke into the Sweets’ home to steal items and that he admits changing the story he told investigators.
She also questioned why Ahlers didn’t alert law enforcement if his friend was plotting to kill his grandparents. Ahlers said he didn’t know if Sweet was serious about it.
Timmins called four other witnesses Thursday, none of whom faced extensive cross-examination.
Janet Sweet’s daughter Angela Camlin gave emotional testimony about how her daughter was one to discover the bodies.
“She was white as a ghost,” Camlin said. “She was screaming and crying.”
Iowa State Trooper Jon Stickney was the first officer on the scene May 13, 2012. He described the scene he saw inside the Sweets’ home and the fatal wounds to Richard and Janet Sweet. Timmins showed the jury five photos from the scene.
“You don’t forget a sight like that,” Stickney said of Richard Sweet’s head wound.
Two friends of Sweet and Ahlers also testified.
Damian Welsh said Sweet took him to his grandparents’ house on May 12, 2012, to look at a TV to buy, and Welsh saw the two bodies in the living room. Welsh was not cross-examined.
Cody Kuehl said Ahlers sold him the rifle police said was used to kill Sweet’s grandparents. He turned it over to police a day after the bodies were discovered.
Judge Michael Shubatt recessed the court until 9 a.m. today, when Timmins is expected to call more witnesses to testify for the prosecution.
A Manchester, Iowa, teen sought advice on how to kill his grandparents, his friend testified today.
Brandon Ahlers testimony against Isaiah Sweet was among the most contentious given during the first day of testimony in Sweet's trial in Dubuque. Sweet is accused of murdering his grandparents.
Ahlers, 21, said Sweet, 18, texted him May 11, 2012, about different methods of killing a person, including poisoning, beating with a baseball bat and shooting. Ahlers said Sweet intended to kill his grandparents.
But his testimony came under fire from defense lawyers, who tried to paint him as someone giving testimony to lessen his own criminal penalties.
Richard and Janet Sweet were found shot to death in their Manchester home on May 13, 2012, when relatives came to the house for a Mother’s Day celebration. Isaiah Sweet was arrested May 14, 2012, in Cedar Rapids, after police say he fled Manchester in his grandfather’s truck.
Ahlers was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his involvement in the deaths of Richard and Janet Sweet, but the sentence came after a plea deal in which several charges were dropped, with an agreement that Ahlers would testify against Sweet.
Ahlers was among the first round of witnesses called by prosecutor Denise Timmins. The jury of 10 women and two men also heard testimony from two friends of Sweet and Iowa State Trooper Jon Stickney, who described the scene at the Manchester residence.
“You don’t forget a sight like that," Stickney said of Richard Sweet, who was shot in the head.
Janet Sweet’s daughter Angela Camlin also gave emotional testimony about her daughter being the first to discover the two bodies in the living room.
Defense attorney Jill Eimermann questioned Ahlers more than other witnesses on cross-examination, pointing out that Ahlers’ plea deal to lesser charges hinged on his testimony against Sweet. She also noted Ahlers was initially dishonest with law enforcement and while meeting with the defense team.
“It’s to your benefit to testify today,” she remarked.
Judge Michael Shubatt recessed the court until 9 a.m. Friday, when the prosecution will call more witnesses.
The state has no more witnesses to call for today. Judge Michael Shubatt recessed the court until 9 a.m. Friday.
The state called Brandon Ahlers to the stand. Ahlers was charged with assisting Isaiah Sweet in planning and covering up the killings. He was sentenced to 18 years of prison in September in a plea bargain. As part of the bargain, he agreed to testify at Sweet's trial.
Ahlers said he texted with Sweet about killing Sweet's grandparents. Sweet asked Ahlers how Sweet could kill them. Ahlers said he and Sweet discussed poisoning, beating with a baseball bat and shooting.
Sweet told him he could give him some items in his grandparents' house when he "got rid of them." Ahlers said Sweet complained that his grandfather was mean.
Ahlers says Sweet came to Ahler's home in his grandfather's truck after midnight Saturday. He said, "I did it, it's done," and asked for marijuana in exchange for two guns be brought. Sweet then asked the best way to get out of town.
Ahlers said Sweet told him the morning of May 13, 2012 to take what Ahlers wanted from the house. Ahlers broke in, but immediately left after seeing the bodies. He did not call police because he was scared.
Ahlers said he contacted the Delaware County Sheriff's Department on May 14, 2012 because he knew they were looking for him. He said he was not initially honest about everything but he came clean in a second interview.
Prosecuting attorney Timmins displayed a gun in evidence to Ahlers. He said he recognized it as one of two Sweet had on May 12, 2012.
In the cross examination, the defense asked Ahlers if he gave Sweet money or drugs for the guns or TV. Ahlers said no.
The defense pointed out Ahlers broke into the Sweet home May 13, 2012 with the intent to steal items. Previously he denied this. The defense said Ahlers also changed his story with investigators. The defense said a plea deal and testifying were in Ahlers' best interest.
The defense asked Ahlers if he thought to alert law enforcement about the texts Sweet sent about killing methods. Ahlers said no.
Prosecutor Timmins called Damien Welsh to the stand. He said he is friends with Isaiah Sweet and Brandon Ahlers. Ahlers was convicted of five counts related to the incident and sentenced to 18 years in prison earlier late last month.
Welsh said Sweet offered him a television, saying that he "found it." He went with Sweet to his grandparents' house to see the television and saw the two bodies. Welsh said he walked right out of the house.
Welsh said neither one spoke on the drive back to Ahlers' home. Sweet then left in his grandparents' truck. Welsh took home one of the two guns Sweet brought, and he later gave it to investigators. The defense does not cross examine Welsh.
Timmins next called an Iowa state trooper to the stand. The trooper had been called to the Sweet residence for a shooting. He took photographs and secured the house to make sure no one was inside.
Timmins motioned to submit five photos the trooper took at the crime scene. Defense attorney Jason Dunn objected to one of them. Judge Shubatt overruled the objection, and the photos were displayed to the jury and audience.
The trooper told the jury about the crime scene photos. He said there was blood splatter throughout the living room where the bodies were found. Sweet family members reacted with emotion to the victim photo. The defense did not cross examine the trooper.
Janet Sweet's daughter, Angela Camlin, was the first witness for the state. Her daughter discovered the bodies at the Sweets' house
Camlin, 44, described her mother and stepfather. The two were together since Camlin was 11.
Camlin said Isaiah Sweet is the biological grandson of Richard Sweet. He came to live with his grandparents at age 4 because of issues with Isaiah's mother. He has lived with them ever since.
Camlin said she moved from Texas to Waterloo, Iowa, to be closer to her mother, who was sick with leukemia. She said on Mother's Day 2012, she and other relatives arrived at her mother's home at 2 p.m. No one ansẅered the door or picked up the phone, and Richard's truck was missing.
Camlin's daughter went through an open window to open the door and get the phone number for Janet's doctor's phone number. The daughter came out screaming and crying, telling family to stay back. She said Richard and Janet were dead and blocked everyone from entering the house.
Defense attorney Jill Eimermann gave her opening statement. She said the case is not a "who dunnit" since Sweet confessed, but the level of accountability for him needs to be determined.
Eimermann said as the jury hears evidence, it will learn "all is not well" in Sweet household. She asked the jury to hold Sweet responsible but only for charges the state is able to prove. She sid the state will not prove charges beyond reasonable doubt for first-degree murder.
Prosecutor Denise Timmins shared her opening statement this afternoon. She said the Sweet family was supposed to have Mother's Day Dinner with Janet and Richard Sweet. Instead, Janet's daughter, Angela Camlin, made funeral plans. Camlin's daughter discovered the Sweets' bodies
Timmins said she will present evidence to show Isaiah Sweet killed his grandparents.
Timmins said Isaiah Sweet lived with his grandparents since he was 4. She read a text messages Sweet apparently sent to a friend asking the best way to kill his grandparents.
Opening statements in the trial expected to start at about 1:15 p.m. following lunch break.
A jury has been selected. Ten women and two men will make up the jury, with two alternates still to be chosen.
Opening statements expected this afternoon.
Multiple potential jurors have been excused already today, as jury selection continues in the trial of a Manchester, Iowa, teen accused of killing his grandparents in May 2012.
The prosecution and defense teams continue to pare down the juror pool for the trial of Isaiah R. Sweet, 18. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and operating a vehicle without consent.
Questions today have focused on topics such as how much media coverage the potential jurors have seen and if they could give Sweet a fair trial if they heard he had confessed to the killings.
Check back to Thonline.com today for live coverage of the court proceedings or follow #SweetTrial on Twitter.