Jury finds George Burch guilty of murdering Nicole VanderHeyden

Published: Mar. 1, 2018 at 8:44 AM CST
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A jury has found George Burch guilty of 1st Degree Intentional Homicide in the 2016 murder of Nicole VanderHeyden of Ledgeview.

The panel of 12 deliberated for about three hours before reaching a verdict. Judge John Zakowski polled the jurors after the verdict was read. When asked if they agree with the verdict, each juror said "yes."

The judge scheduled sentencing for May 4 at 1:30 p.m.

Nicole VanderHeyden, a mother of three, was killed May 21, 2016, after leaving a bar in downtown Green Bay. Her body was found in a field about three miles from her Ledgeview home.

A medical examiner testified that VanderHeyden was strangled and beaten to death. Nicole was described as "unrecognizable." A forensic dentist was needed to positively identify her. A bloody cord was found in near her home. Prosecutors say that cord was used to strangle her.

VanderHeyden's boyfriend, Douglass Detrie, was arrested shortly after the crime, but released 18 days later due to lack of evidence.

Detrie testified that he and Nicole went their separate ways after a concert at the Watering Hole in Green Bay. He said on the witness stand that he never saw Nicole again. She was last seen by a friend leaving the Sardine Can in downtown Green Bay.

Burch was arrested in September 2016 after testing showed his DNA was found on Nicole's body.

Burch's defense tried to point the finger at Detrie. They painted him as a jealous boyfriend who went into a rage and killed VanderHeyden after finding her having consensual sex with Burch outside the Ledgeview home. Burch testified that Detrie forced him at gunpoint to drive to an area off Hoffman Road in Bellevue and leave Nicole's body in a field there.

The state said Burch raped and killed VanderHeyden after she rebuffed his advances. The prosecution called the crime "horrific."

"It's not this sexual fantasy that this man has. She struggled. She resisted. He punished her for it," said District Attorney David Lasee during his rebuttal.

Ultimately, the jury found no reasonable doubt and convicted Burch after several hours of deliberation.

Attorneys for Douglass Detrie released the following statement about the verdict:

"Doug Detrie is pleased with the jury's verdict and appreciates that justice has been done for Nicole. The jury clearly rejected George Burch's lies and attempt to blame Doug for the heinous murder of his loving girlfriend and mother of his child. He would like to thank the justice system, including the Brown County prosecutors and law enforcement, for finding Nicole's killer George Burch, and bringing him to justice. At this time, Doug and his family ask for privacy, as they continue to grieve Nicole's death."

Action 2 News will continue to update this breaking news story.


Judge John Zakowski told the jurors Thursday that they must agree on a verdict of "guilty" or "not guilty" before he allowed them to begin deliberations. They must decide whether or not Burch is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury started deliberations at about 1:15 p.m.

Not long after entering the jury room, the panel asked for Burch's GPS and time stamp data, crime lab reports, and exhibits about the cord believed to be the weapon used to strangle Nicole VanderHeyden.

The judge says exhibits of DNA reports and Fitbit records will not be provided to jurors, who will need to rely on memory. The court agreed to give the jury exhibits regarding cords.

The state and prosecution wrapped up the case Thursday after final witnesses and closing arguments.


Assistant District Attorney Mary Kerrigan-Mares delivered closing arguments for the state. She started by saying the state has met the burden of proof.

Mares asks the jury, "Who has been proven to have been with Nikki in the final hours of her life? What does the independent, scientific and technical evidence show?"

VanderHeyden's body was found in a field, about three miles from her Ledgeview home, on May 21, 2016. A medical examiner testified that VanderHeyden was strangled and beaten to death. The ME said VanderHeyden was "unrecognizable." A forensic dentist was needed to positively identify her.

"He destroyed her face," the ADA says. She calls Burch's testimony "arrogant, ridiculous" and "an insult to intelligence."

Mares calls VanderHeyden's death "horrific." She shows a diagram of Nicole's 241 injuries.

On Wednesday, Burch took the stand and accused Nicole VanderHeyden's boyfriend of killing Nicole. Burch said Douglass Detrie found them having consensual sex outside the Detrie/VanderHeyden home in Ledgeview and killed Nicole and hit Burch over the head. Burch says Detrie forced him at gunpoint to dump Nicole's body in a field about three miles from the home.

"It was a rape," ADA Mares tells the jury. She challenges Burch's testimony that VanderHeyden, a substitute teacher and stay-at-home mom, would be into "rough sex" with a stranger outside of her home.

Mares questions why Burch never told anyone about the night of the killing. She questions why Burch searched for news stories about the murder.

"He didn't do anything to make sure the killer was brought in, because he was the killer," Mares tells the jury. She says his story is implausible.

Douglass Detrie was arrested shortly after Nicole's murder, but released 18 days later due to lack of evidence. Items taken from the Detrie home believed to contain blood came back negative for VanderHeyden’s DNA. Blood found in Detrie's garage belonged to a turkey.

that on the night of the murder, he and Nicole went to a concert at the Watering Hole in Green Bay. They had some drinks and went their separate ways for the night. He said on the witness stand that Nicole sent him angry text messages because she suspected he was hanging out with other women.

Other witnesses testified that Nicole was angry and walked away from the Sardine Can in downtown Green Bay This is her last known whereabouts. Detrie testified that he and a friend drove around looking for Nicole, but couldn't find her. Detrie says he went home and waited for her to return. He testified that he assumed she was sleeping it off at a friend's home.

Detrie said he tried to contact VanderHeyden that night, but wasn't too concerned until the next morning when she didn’t return home. He contacted friends and family, including VanderHeyden’s sister who told him to contact police.

Burch was arrested in September 2016 after tests showed his DNA was found on Nicole's body.

During closing arguments, ADA Mares goes over the parts of VanderHeyden's body where Burch's DNA was found, along with the cord used to strangle her. "He manhandled her and left his mark," Mares said.


Lee Schuchart delivered closing arguments for the Burch legal team. He says Douglass Detrie had motive to kill Nicole VanderHeyden, but George Burch did not. Schuchart puts up a sign with the word "motive." The defense has tried to paint Detrie as jealous and possessive of Nicole.

He tells the jury a wrongful conviction of George Burch will not bring justice to Nicole VanderHeyden.

Schuchart brings up earlier testimony from an investigator who said Detrie's home smelled of a cleaning agent.

Schuchart says DNA evidence and Google Dashboard data are consistent with Burch's story that he had consensual sex with Nicole VanderHeyden.

"George Burch explained that he was having consensual sex with Miss VanderHeyden. That he had to carry her body to that field. That explains why his DNA was on Nicole," Schuchart says.

The attorney says Douglass Detrie didn't show much emotion while he was on the witness stand, but his client did.

"That was probably the most tragic day of his life," Schuchart says of Burch.


District Attorney David Lasee answered the defense's closing arguments with a rebuttal. Lasee told the jury that defense testimony is "absurd."

Lasee calls Burch's testimony "pre-scripted."

"In his consensual, fantasy encounter that he had in the back of that car---because that's what he told you --her pants were off, her legs were up, we were having a great time! No. That's disgusting. It's harmful to her reputation. It's offensive. And it's untrue. That's not what happened. What happened is he forced himself on her, and she struggled. And it hurt. And it caused her to bleed," Lasee says.

Lasee says DNA evidence proves that Douglass Detrie did not kill Nicole VanderHeyden.

Lasee also questions the defense trying to paint Douglass Detrie as a jealous boyfriend. "If there's something he's guilty of, it's not caring enough," Lasee says of Detrie. Lasee says it's true Detrie was drunk that night but also "calm." Lasee says Detrie responded to Nicole's angry texts not with rage, but with a message saying "LOL Nikki, knock it off."

He says Detrie would not have left the murder weapon (the cord used to strangle Nicole) in the front yard for someone else to find. The cord was covered in blood. It was found by a neighbor a few days later.

Lasee shows photos of Nicole VanderHeyden's pants and underwear. He says her pants were found inside out. He says there is blood, hair, and dirt. Lasee says that shows sex between Burch and VanderHeyden was not consensual.

"It's not this sexual fantasy that this man has. She struggled. She resisted. He punished her for it," Lasee said.

"Six foot seven, 260 pound George Burch knocked out cold by something that didn't even create a mark on his head," Lasee said.

"You are not to search for doubt. You are to search for the truth. The only reasonable explanation is that George Burch killed Nicole VanderHeyden," Lasee says.


Prior to closing arguments, the defense called its final witness to the stand Thursday. April Reinerio is an investigators for the public defender's office and was hired to look at the East River Trial in relation to the murder.

The defense called Reinerio to attempt to show Detrie could have walked home from the area where Nicole's body was found. Reinerio says it took her 58 minutes to get from the field to Detrie's home in Ledgeview.

The defense also presented an aerial view of the Hoffman Road area that was found on Douglass Detrie's phone.

Reinerio testifies that she walked it while wearing a Fitbit device similar to the one owned by Douglass Detrie. Reinerio says her Fitbit is inaccurate some days.

Fitbit data has been a major part of the trial. The defense wanted all Fitbit evidence tossed because of the device's perceived inaccuracies. The state got a warrant for Douglass Detrie's Fitbit data. He was wearing it the night of the murder. The state says the Fitbit data didn't record Detrie's steps at the time of the murder, meaning he could not have been at the crime scene.

The judge allowed step-counting data to be presented without an expert. The defense has been trying to show that Fitbit data is inaccurate.

District Attorney David Lasee questioned the investigator about her use of a Fitbit that was years-old and that she had only used it for a short time.

The defense rested after Reinerio's testimony, and the state started calling its rebuttal witnesses. The first was Daniel Frankel with Progressive Insurance. He's an expert on the Snapshot device that was installed on Nicole VanderHeyden's car. Progressive Snapshot is a device that tracks driver habits for insurance discounts.

The state is using Frankel's testimony to try to show the jury VanderHeyden's vehicle didn't move from the garage during or after the murder.

The state's next rebuttal witness is Detective Sgt. Richard Loppnow with the Brown County Sheriff's Office. Prosecutors bring out a pair of VanderHeyden's pants found on the side of Highway 172. George Burch testified that he tossed her clothing out the window of his friend's Blazer as he was fleeing from the scene where VanderHeyden's body was dumped.

The state's final rebuttal witness was Tyler Behling, a tech analyst who was previously called to the stand to talk about Google Dashboard data placing Burch at key locations of the crime. Behling testifies that the aerial images on Detrie's phone are irrelevant. He says cell phones often store thousands of cached images generated by Google while looking for directions and maps.

That was the last witness in the case. The state was considering calling jailhouse informants who know Burch, but decided against it.

Action 2 News reporters Andrea Hay and Brittany Schmidt are on Twitter providing real time updates from the courtroom. Follow