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Opening arguments in Rachael Wilks murder trial set to begin

A key question in the first-degree murder trial of Rachael Wilks – for which opening arguments were set to occur in a Gainesville courtroom on Wednesday – is how far from Brian Brown’s head was the gun used to kill him on New Year’s Eve in 2021.

Dr. William Hamilton was the medical examiner of Brown’s body the day after Wilks allegedly shot him inside their bedroom on Northwest 31st Avenue. Wilks was pregnant with twins; he was the father and living there with her four other children, according to court documents.

The shooting happened around 11:30 a.m., police said. Sixteen minutes later, Wilks drove her children to her parents’ home while she dialed 911. She told police she had fired her weapon, claimed self-defense and requested emergency services check on Brown, court documents show.

Police arrested Wilks on Feb. 1, 2022, after finding inconsistencies in her telling of what happened. Her attorneys have sought to invoke Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in her defense.

During a pretrial hearing last June in Eighth Judicial Circuit Court, Hamilton testified that the gunshot was probably fired from more than two to three feet away.

“Considering the size of the wound and internal injuries … yes, it looks like a distant-range gunshot wound,” Hamilton said, according to a hearing transcript.

The defense team asked the medical examiner if it was possible that Brown had knelt down to pick something up from the floor before Wilks shot him.

“It is possible,” Hamilton said.

However, prosecutors asked him if a different scenario was possible – one involving a straight-on shot, meaning Wilks and Brown were standing at the same height when she shot him.

Yes, Hamilton testified.

Wilks initially told police that she and Brown got into a verbal and physical altercation the previous night, Dec. 30, and noted a long history of domestic violence, the arrest report said.

The next day, she called a non-emergency police dispatch line just after 9 a.m., inquiring about removing someone from her home. However, because Brown had established residence there, Wilks was told she would have him formally evicted.

Her next internet search was “eviction cost gainesville fl,” according to the arrest report.

Two hours later, she called police again, this time to report the shooting.

While Wilks allegedly said that Brown was physically abusive the night before, police found no markings consistent with that claim, according to the pretrial transcripts.

Wilks also described their relationship issues during initial interviews as aligned more closely with financial hardship rather than physical abuse, Detective Desiree Russano testified.

“She said that as far as any type of domestic violence, he had struck her once with an open hand while she was pregnant, early in the pregnancy,” Russano said. “But later on in the interview, she described several instances, while she was pregnant, where he had battered her with open hand slaps, closed hand, choked her.”

The location of her gun was another inconsistency, Russano said. Wilks had originally told the detective that she kept her firearm in her closet, but removed it because she was worried about Brown’s behavior. She said she put the gun in her purse, and kept it with her the entire night.

Later, Wilks said she typically kept the gun in her purse, and not in her closet, Russano said.

Virginia Bernal, another detective assigned to the case, also testified that she noticed inconsistencies between the various interviews she conducted with Wilks. In a second interview, the day of her arrest, Wilks left large chunks of the day out of her answers, Bernal said.

Wilks is invoking two provisions of the Stand Your Ground law, which allows someone to use deadly force without retreating if they are rightfully present and perceive an imminent threat. The provisions are “standard fear of death or great bodily harm,” and the castle doctrine, which means a resident can use deadly force to defend their “castle,” according to the transcripts.

Prosecutors argue that the defense has failed to “shift the burden,” that is, failed to establish self-defense immunity. In that case, the evidence for self-defense would change from “preponderance of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”

Brown wasn’t forcibly entering Wilks’ home, Assistant State Attorney Ryan Nagel said, according to a pretrial transcript.“The most that this motion says is that, at the worst, Brian Brown was a trespasser,” Nagel said. “A trespasser isn’t forcefully entering.”

Ella is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.