On August 19, Gary Wenkle Smith wrote: Today the jury acquitted my client of three counts of murder. He shot and killed three people. I argued self-defense. He walked out of the courthouse today a free man. The voir dire, opening statement, cross-examination, direct of our witnesses, and closing were all based upon what I have learned from TLC.
The San Bernardino County Sentinel: Friday, August 26, 2011
Deliberating A Single Day, Jury Acquits Flechtner On All Counts
V I C T O RV I L L E
Dennis L. Flechtner was acquitted of murder in the 2009 shooting deaths of three people, three days after he took the witness stand to testify in his own defense. Flechtners straight-forward account of what occurred the night of October 4, 2009 had far greater resonance with the jury than did the testimony of the prosecutions star witness, Whitney Telliano. Telliano, the lone surviving witness to the shooting other than Flechtner, had accompanied the deceased, Angela Leird, Adam Owen and Robert Light, to Flechtners
residence in Phelan that fateful night. And while Dennis Flechtner held up under
the cross examination of prosecutor Robert Brown, Telliano fared less well under questioning by defense attorney Gary Wenkle Smith.
In large part, the district attorneys office had moved ahead with the prosecution of Flechtner based on what it presumed was the strength of information that Telliano had provided the Sheriffs department and District Attorneys office investigators in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Once on the witness stand, however, she provided testimony that in many respects appeared to vindicate rather than implicate the defendant, even before Smiths cross-examination began.
And when Smith cross-examined her, Telliano admitted lying and exaggerating in her initial accounts to investigators and minimizing the self-defense aspect of what had occurred because she knew if she spoke truthfully that Flechtner, who had remained in
custody for more than 21 months until his acquittal, would be let go. Telliano testified she had previously lied to sheriffs investigators. She testified that she saw the 41-year-old 62 1/2, 337-pound Owen and 41-year-old 61, 376-pound Light smoke speed prior to their block-and-a-half sojourn on foot from Leirds home to Flechtners on the night of October 4, 2009. As they made their way to Flechtners place, Telliano said, there was
continual talk of how Owen and Light were going to, in her words, kick his [Flechtners] ass and that they were going to f**k him up. Telliano, who was not
shot, did not come onto Flechtners property. All three of the deceased were found by authorities in the dirt roadway off of Flechtners property, a circumstance that led investigators and prosecutors to theorize, at least early on, that Flechtner had ambushed
them in the street. But forensic evidence presented at trial showed a trail of Owen and Lights blood leading from Flechtners property and down his driveway into the street where their bodies were found huddled with Leirds. Leirds blood was not found on
Flechtners property, but she was wearing several layers of heavier clothing than her two male companions, which an expert witness testified would have absorbed her blood and prevented it from dripping onto Flechtners property as she stumbled away and out to the street where she collapsed.
Telliano, under cross-examination, placed Leird, who was determined by a coroners examination to be under the influence of alcohol and Fentanyl at the time
of her death, on Flechners property, along with Owen and Light. Smith utilized Tellianos testimony and physical evidence to show that Leird, Owen and Light
approached Flechtner, who was standing on his own property, from his left, center and right, with Light seeking to draw Flechtners attention so Owen could blindside him.
According to Telliano, Owen picked up a rock at one point. The rock was found in his pocket after he died. Telliano said that all three of the deceased were closing in on Flechtner just prior to the shooting and both Owen and Light had grabbed Flechtner in
the seconds before the shots rang out.
Flechtner, who was 55 years old at the time of the shooting and had undergone a
spinal fusion that limited his mobility, testified that Owen had grabbed him by his hair. There was stripling around Owens gunshot wound, indicating he had been shot at
a distance of around five inches. Coroners evidence showed Owen and Light had methamphetamine in their systems at the time of their deaths. Flechtner testified to six separate threats made by Owen against him, two of which were captured on video. Smith
arranged for the jury to view both videos. The second video captured Owen threatening to rape both Flechtner and his daughter.
The animus of the deceased toward Flechtner
appeared to stem from an incident that occurred nearly a decade prior to the shootings. Until 1999, Flechtner and Leird, whose residential properties are located on adjoining streets in the rustic Phelan area and share a common property line at the back end of their respective lots, had been on amiable terms. Leird was previously in a dating/live-in relationship with Rusty Jones. Flechtner had met and befriended Jones through his acquaintance with Angela Leird. Leird and Jones relationship ended when Leirds daughter, Chelsea, accused Jones of molesting her. The mother and daughter approached authorities and Jones was arrested and subsequently charged by the District Attorneys office, but the case was later dismissed. Flechtner expressed skepticism about the accusations and maintained his friendship with Jones. This antagonized Leird, and her relationship with Flechtner sharply deteriorated. The property line between their lots became a matter of an escalating dispute and five years ago, Flechtner, claiming Leirds fence intruded into his property, erected a 10-foot-high barricade between their yards.
At Flechtners trial, Chelsea Leird testified that Jones had indeed molested her, but she
made clear that Flechtner had not taken part in those molestations and had never touched her. Nevertheless, Leirds daughter testified, her mother had grown to hate Flechtner because he had sided with Jones in the dispute over the molestation.
Flechtner testified that the shooting was the manifestation of his worst nightmare. Prosecutor Robert Brown did not reconstruct the crime scene. Nevertheless, he told the jury that Flechtner had lured Leird, Light and Owen over to his residence that night so he could lie in wait and pull a sneak attack on them. Over multiple objections
from the prosecution, Smith put on an expert witness, licensed crime scene reconstructionist Brian Burnett. Burnett who provided crucial, uncontested testimony with regard to where Flechtner, Leird, Owen and Light were standing when the
shooting occurred. Flechtner was charged with three counts of murder and lying in wait, a special circumstance that would have made him eligible for the death penalty.
The jury was given three options on the murder charges: First or second
degree murder or a finding that Flechtner was not guilty and that what occurred was justifiable homicide in the furtherance of self-defense. According to a survey of the jurors afterward, some members of the panel were troubled by the consideration that one of those killed was a woman. After deliberations on Thursday, August 18, the jury retired
for the evening and returned on Friday August 19, to register acquittals on all charges. Flechtner left the courtroom a free man for the first time in nearly two years.
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