ESCH— Opening arguments began on the second day of the Trenton Esch trial on Wednesday, June 16. Trent, 45, is facing three alleged felony charges of first-degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony, and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Prosecuting the case from the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office are Michael Guinan and Zachary Blackman, while Trent is represented by James M. Davis.
Blackman gave the opening statement for the State and said that this entire case is about a lifelong hatred of his stepmother Crystal Esch. Blackman stated the hatred against his stepmother had been brewing for years, dating back to when Trent’s father committed suicide and the following legal battles where Trent had attempted to obtain land that he believed was his.
Blackman said through the testimony of multiple witnesses, the evidence would show that Trent had planned to kill Crystal because he blamed her for his father committing suicide and that the shooting was ‘deliberate and premediated.’
James Davis made his opening statement by saying this would be an easy case as they were not going to argue that Trent was in possession of a firearm or had used the firearm in the homicide. Davis said the difficult part of the case would deciding on the degree of homicide if it was 1st-degree murder, 2nd-degree murder, or manslaughter. He noted that the State has the burden of proof to prove the degree of murder.
Davis also said that there was a clear history between the family, but not a life-long hatred. He stated that Trent had taken the gun to protect himself against a family member who he was afraid would shoot him. Davis said that Trent spoke to Crystal on the night of the shooting, had no intention of shooting her, but something snapped and he killed her. Davis said he believed the lack of evidence for 1st degree murder would show that he shot her because of an argument and it was not premeditated.
Following opening statements, the State began to present evidence and witnesses beginning with responding officers from the Custer County Sherriff’s Office (CCSO) and Nebraska State Patrol (NSP). CCSO Chief Deputy Adam Miller testified that his presence had been requested immediately as a shooting had taken place near Broken Bow in the evening hours of July 11, 2020. Miller stated that he had been made aware that Crystal had been shot and Trent was the primary suspect and was still ‘at-large.’
CCSO requested the NSP Airwing Division and NSP Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) while also setting up a perimeter at the Trent Esch residence where he was located. After Trent had given himself up to NSP S.W.A.T. at his residence, CCSO and NSP began to collect evidence at the scene where they recovered multiple weapons including rifles, shotguns, and pistols as well as the red Ford pickup that Trent was alleged to have been driving at the time of the homicide.
NSP Criminal Investigator Mike Dowling also testified that he had assisted at the Trent residence to help with negotiations as Trent was hidden in a shop on the property. After Trent had willingly left the residence Dowling stated he then voluntarily asked about the condition of Crystal, whom, at the time, Dowling did not know who she was. Davis argued there were inconsistencies between what Dowling testified to and what was in his report, specifically the name used by Trent.
Lead Investigator from NSP, Dion Neumiller, took the stand in the afternoon and testified to the process of the gathering of evidence at Crystal’s residence which included taking photographs and gathering evidence such as shell casings. Neumiller stated that ten total .22 caliber shell casings were recovered from the scene which included 6-7 bullets or bullet fragments. Joint stipulations were also received into evidence regarding touch DNA on the .22 handgun used in the homicide as well as the autopsy results that were conducted later the showed multiple gunshot wounds was the cause of death.
Two juvenile witnesses also briefly took the stand prior to the end of the day with the first juvenile witness simply stating that a man, who he did not know at the time, entered Crystal’s residence where they argued. According to the juvenile, the man entered the home and said, “I’ve had enough” which Crystal replied, “you need to leave.” The man then shot Crystal and fled the home. The two juveniles stated they then left the home and ran down the road where they were found by their father.
Testimony will continue tomorrow (Thursday, June 17) at 9 AM.