By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — Thirteen jury members were selected and six witnesses testified during the first day of a four-day jury trial regarding a murder in Warsaw.
Vickie Louise Wooldridge, 45, 19 M Dee Acres, Nappanee, is charged with murder, a felony; attempted murder, a level 1 felony; aggravated battery and attempted criminal confinement, both level 3 felonies; and battery while armed with a deadly weapon, a level 5 felony.
Wooldridge is being represented by Anthony Churchward. The state’s case is being presented by Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brad Voelz.
If found guilty of murder, Wooldridge could face anywhere from 45 to 65 years in prison.
Affidavit of Probable Cause
On Dec. 15, 2020, Kosciusko County Sheriff’s deputies went to a Warsaw residence on Westside Drive regarding a report of a stabbing incident. A woman at the home, Diane Burr, said Wooldridge had stabbed her husband, Bill Burr; and son, Matthew Lucas. Diane gave officers a description of Wooldridge.
According to court documents, officers found Bill seriously injured in a living room. He had suffered at least one stab wound to the chest. Officers also found Lucas in a bedroom. Lucas had multiple stab wounds to his neck, face and chest, and was pronounced dead at the scene by the Kosciusko County Coroner’s Office.
Bill was airlifted from the scene to Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne for medical treatment.
Officers spoke with Diane, who said she heard yelling in her residence. Bill told her he was yelling downstairs to Wooldridge and Lucas, who were arguing. A short time later, Diane heard more screaming and entered the living room, where she saw Wooldridge attacking Bill. Diane attempted to pull Wooldridge off of Bill when Wooldridge allegedly started attacking her.
Wooldridge hit Diane in the face. As Diane attempted to flee, Wooldridge tried multiple times to pull Diane back into the residence to stop her from leaving. Court documents state Diane required medical attention due to facial injuries, cuts to her hands and a loss of teeth from the attack.
Diane passed away from COVID-19 on Dec. 28, 2020, about two weeks after Lucas’ death.
An officer spoke with Bill, who said he heard yelling coming from downstairs, where Lucas and Wooldridge were at. He asked the two if everything was all right. Wooldridge said everything was fine.
Bill said a short time later, Wooldridge emerged from the basement, came up behind him and stabbed him in the chest while he was sitting in a chair. Bill yelled for Diane, who attempted to intervene. After Diane was safely out of the residence, Bill got a hold of Wooldridge’s weapon. Wooldridge then fled on foot.
Officers spent several hours searching the area for Wooldridge. A passerby reported seeing Wooldridge hiding in a dumpster several miles from the home. The passerby asked Wooldridge what was happening, at which time she got out of the dumpster and was taken into custody by law enforcement.
Nine men and four women were seated on the jury in Kosciusko Circuit Court just before noon Tuesday, Aug. 9, with Judge Michael Reed presiding.
In his opening statement, Voelz recalled information on the case and summarized what type of evidence the state intends to present. He said that drones, tracking dogs and a helicopter were used to look for Wooldridge, who eluded law enforcement for two hours on Dec. 15, 2020. She was later found near Pathway Church in Warsaw.
Voelz also said that there were more than 30 wounds found on Lucas’ body.
“We are confident that you will find Vickie Wooldridge guilty of the murder of Matt Lucas, guilty of the attempted murder of William Burr, guilty of aggravated battery on William Burr, guilty of attempted criminal confinement of Diane Burr, and guilty of battery with a deadly weapon on Diane Burr,” said Voelz.
In his opening statement, Churchward encouraged the jury to decipher what evidence actually proves which crimes Wooldridge committed. He also asked the jury to keep an open mind with the case and to hold the prosecution to its burden of proof.
“It’s easy to make an accusation but much more difficult to prove it,” said Churchward. “Hold the prosecution to its burden. When you hold them to that burden, you will find Vickie Wooldridge not guilty of murder and not guilty of attempted murder.”
Churchward also said most of the state’s evidence would not be cross-examined.
Voelz began the state’s case by calling six witnesses to the stand, the first of which being Gale Emmons, one of the Burr family’s neighbors.
Emmons told the court he knew both Lucas and Diane quite well prior to their deaths.
On Dec. 15, 2020, Emmons testified that he was downstairs in his residence when he heard somebody yelling for help. When he went upstairs, Diane was inside his home with blood on her hands and shirt, screaming about Bill and Lucas being attacked. Emmons then called 911 to report the incident.
Two officers with the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office also testified.
Sergeant Mike Mulligan was one of the officers who entered the Burr residence searching for the perpetrator. Mulligan said when he entered the home, he saw a man lying on a living room floor. Body camera footage from Warsaw Police Department Officer Gordon Allen was played in court.
The footage showed Allen making entry into the home and assisting other officers in searching for the suspect.
A photograph of the basement, which showed blood on the walls and Lucas’ body, was presented as evidence.
Deputy Justin Smith, who also responded to the scene, testified that he was directed to a neighbor’s house to speak with Diane about the incident.
Smith described her as being stressed and having a divided focus. He recalled her having blood on her hands and missing teeth.
Body camera footage from Smith showed Diane providing officers with a description of Wooldridge.
“She hit me so hard in the face she broke my tooth,” said Diane during one part of the video.
Bill Burr then testified about the incident. Bill was married to Diane and was Lucas’ step-father.
Bill said the basement of their home was converted to a bedroom and that Lucas lived with the Burrs. He told the jury that Lucas and Wooldridge had an “off-again, on-again relationship” and said that Wooldridge, whom he described as “very friendly” prior to the alleged incident, sometimes stayed in the home.
When asked about Lucas and Wooldridge’s relationship, Bill said the two got along fine but would occasionally have loud arguments. He recalled one incident where Wooldridge claimed Lucas hit her and said Lucas told him it was self-defense.
On that incident, Bill said reports were filed but charges were later dropped as the two decided to get back together.
On the morning of Dec. 15, 2020, Bill said Lucas was assembling religious crosses by using wood scraps. He testified that at one point, Wooldridge came upstairs to show him Lucas’ work. Later, Bill said he heard a loud commotion from downstairs, where both Wooldridge and Lucas were. He described the noise as furniture being moved around or bumped against a wall.
Bill said he went to the top of the stairs leading to the basement and yelled, asking if the two were okay, but didn’t receive an answer. When he yelled a second time, Wooldridge responded and said that everything was fine. Bill then returned to the living room and was sitting down when he heard Wooldridge say “Bill, it’s me, Vickie,” and felt an object hit his chest.
Bill told the jury that when he looked down, he saw blood.
“When I took a breath in, I could hear gurgling in my chest,” said Bill. “I thought the Lord was coming for me.”
Body camera footage of officers and medical personnel speaking with Bill at the scene was played in court. Bill was coherent and answered officers’ questions while lying on a living room floor, being tended to by medics.
Through cross-examination, Churchward asked Bill if he ever saw Wooldridge or Lucas be violent with one another, and if he heard any yelling or threats from downstairs during the commotion. Bill said he never saw the two be physically violent and didn’t hear anything verbalized in the downstairs commotion.
Medical personnel who tended to Diane and Bill’s injuries also testified. Dr. Tracy Rahall, an emergency medical physician employed through Parkview Health, said Diane sustained cuts to her chest and a wound to a finger on her left hand. Rahall said Diane was treated and released from care about less than two hours after her arrival.
Dr. Keith Clancy, a trauma surgeon with Lutheran Hospital Fort Wayne, coordinated the team who addressed Bill’s stab wound. Clancy referred to Bill’s case as “Level One trauma activation,” which Clancy said is the level involving the highest likelihood of death.
Photos of Bill in the hospital, as well as a close-up of Bill’s wound, were presented as evidence.
Clancy said Bill’s stab wound to his chest was about an inch away from his heart. According to Clancy, Bill spent several days in the hospital’s ICU to make sure he remained stable. Bill was discharged from the hospital on Dec. 21, 2020.
When asked if Bill’s injury was significant enough that he could have died from it, Clancy answered in the affirmative.
The trial will continue at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, with more witnesses scheduled to testify.