Confession disputed in murder trial
However, the 41-year-old defendant’s court-appointed attorney, Carol Fredrick of McMinnville, disputed the validity of his confession.
“His statements were a result of confusion and coercion,” Fredrick said. “They were not genuine.”
She said Wolfgang was not responsible for Adelman’s death.
“He did not do these crimes,” she told Collins, who is hearing the case without a jury.
During a video-recorded walk-through of the crime scene, Wolfgang told detectives Kevin Gardner and Robert Eubanks he killed Adelman on Tuesday, April 17, and showed them how he carried out the crime, Wiles said. The prosecutor related the incident this way in court:
The 77-year-old Adelman was plagued by health problems and hobbled from hip replacement surgery. Wolfgang and Adelman argued and engaged in a physical confrontation.
They walked up some stairs and into a manufactured home that was being refurbished. That’s where the attack on the victim took place, with Wolfgang striking Adelman with a piece of wood about the head and torso. A possible murder weapon was never found.
When Wolfgang noticed Adelman was still conscious, he beat the older man with the makeshift club until there was no sign of life. Some of Adelman’s personal belongings were discarded into a creek. His body was found in a barn. He was naked. His clothes were found in a bag in Wolfgang’s living quarters on the property.
The investigation was led by Gardner, and Wiles said it served to confirm Wolfgang’s account.
“Police work corroborated his chilling explanations of what happened,” he said.
Wolfgang is being tried on one count each of murder, first-degree assault, second-degree abuse of a corpse and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, all felonies. If convicted of the murder charge, he faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.
He opted for a bench trial before Collins, waiving his right to have a jury hear the case.
Wolfgang, who was convicted of felony forgery and grand theft charges in 1996, was on the run at the time of his arrest. A superior court judge in Northern California’s Santa Cruz County had issued a pair of arrest warrants for him in November 2010, alleging he had violated terms of his probation.
The case began as a simple welfare check. It was requested by daughter Melissa Adelman of Southwest Portland, who was called to the stand on the opening day of the trial Tuesday.
She said she called the Yamhill Communications Agency’s 911 dispatch center about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, because she had not heard from her father for several days. She said they spoke almost daily, so that worried her.
She said he was in the process of renovating property at 17451 E. Rock Creek Road, near the point where East Rock Creek Road branches off from Rock Creek Road. The property features a mobile home, a barn and some small outbuildings.
Patrol deputy Michael Samerdyke was dispatched to conduct the check. He discovered Wolfgang and Adelman’s Subaru Forester, but Adelman was nowhere to be seen.
Samerdyke was soon joined by patrol deputies Roy Harrell and Justin Schwartz. All three testified Tuesday as well.
They said they initiated a search, in the course of which Schwartz located Adelman’s badly beaten body. An autopsy conducted at the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Portland attributed his death to blunt force trauma
Detectives learned Adelman had placed an ad on Craigslist, soliciting a handyman to help him do odd jobs on the property. He offered free room and board in one of the outbuildings, and Wolfgang responded, they learned.
According to a probable cause affidavit, they submitted in the case:
Wolfgang said Adelman woke him up the morning of Tuesday, April 17, to confront him about a job that had not been completed. He said that made him angry, and he lashed out when the opportunity presented itself.
The sheriff’s office received assistance with the investigation and apprehension from the Yamhill County Interagency Narcotics Team and Oregon State Police. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office also assisted, working together with Adelman’s family in Tigard.
Fredrick said Wolfgang cooperated with detectives in their initial investigation. He had used Adelman’s vehicle in the past, and could have fled in it, but chose to stick around, she said.
She described Wolfgang as slightly built. She questioned his ability to move the body to the barn as alleged.
Fredrick urged Collins to take Wolfgang’s mental state into consideration. She said he does not really remember what happened.
The three patrol deputies, Gardner, Eubanks, sergeants Brandon Bowdle, Chris Ray and Todd Whitlow of the sheriff’s office, Melissa Ademan, Dvora Tempkin of Portland, a longtime friend of Adelman’s; Kim Aldrich, a county wastewater inspector; Marcus Cox, a Sheridan electrician, Dean and Colleen Lee, who own property adjacent to Adelman’s property and two employees of Macy & Son Funeral Directors in McMinnville all testified Tuesday and Wednesday.
The proceedings hit a potential snag early Tuesday, when Fredrick expressed concern about Wolfgang’s health, his treatment at the jail and his preference for a judge other then Collins, who had been handling the case from the outset.
“I’ve heard you to say that you would prefer another judge,” Collins said. “This is a serious situation, and I can assure you that you will receive a fair trial.
“I heard the pre-trial motions, and usually the judge that handles pre-trial motions presides over the trial. That’s the way that’s handled.”
Collins said he wanted Wolfgang to feel at ease in the courtroom.