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‘She had a fear’: Wilks’ attorney tells jury she killed boyfriend in self-defense

Rachael Wilks was afraid for her life when she shot and killed the father of her unborn twins inside their Gainesville home on New Year’s Eve 2021, her attorney told a jury Wednesday.

“After going through multiple instances of domestic violence, after going through multiple occasions of being told by Brian Brown that he was going to kill her; after going through multiple versions of how he was not only going to kill her, but he was going to kill the children inside of her – she had a fear that those threats were going to be real,” the defense attorney, Aaron Kelley, said during his opening statement at the Alachua County Courthouse.

Wilks, who turned 32 on Monday, is on trial for first degree murder before Judge William Davis in Eighth Judicial Circuit Court. She was arrested on Feb. 1, 2022, after detectives found inconsistencies in her telling of what happened before the shooting occurred.

While not yet offering the jury a motive, prosecutors contend Wilks did not act in self-defense when she shot Brown, 31, once in his head inside their bedroom on Northwest 31st Avenue.

“Take everything Ms. Wilks says with a grain of salt,” Assistant State Attorney Danny Ley said in his opening statement.

The inconsistencies included the location of her gun and the amount of abuse she had endured the day before the shooting, Ley said. In one police interview, Wilks said she left the bedroom to retrieve her gun from her purse and then held it in front of her to show Brown, Ley said. In a later interview, he said, the defendant said she held the gun behind her back.

Wilks also initially told police that Brown had physically abused her, but in later interviews she was vague about the abuse and the events that occurred the day before, Ley said.

Saying Wilks watched TV and ate breakfast the morning of the shooting, Ley added, “These are not things that someone would be calmly doing if they’re in the midst of a hectic situation.”

Instead, Ley told the jury that the evidence would prove Wilks is guilty of first degree murder, “Because that is exactly what she did.”

Kelley said Wilks and Brown met in high school in the early 2000s, but began dating sometime between 2019 and 2020. Wilks had four other children – then ages 4, 5, 5 and 6 – and Brown lived with them as a family, court documents show.

Around the same time, Wilks started a new job as a nighttime delivery driver, which prompted her to buy a gun for protection, Kelley said. She typically kept the gun in a holster in her purse when away from home, but in a high shelf in a bedroom closet while she was there, he said.

Noting that Wilks and Brown were expecting twins, Kelley said: “There were obviously good moments in that relationship. But the downs were really down.”

The events leading to the shooting started the night before, after Wilks and Brown decided to take her four children to the beach. He drank the entire day, and after they returned home, he continued to “drink a lot more,” Kelley said.

A physical and verbal altercation ensued, and Wilks made it clear she wanted Brown to move out. The next morning, when Wilks reiterated that she wanted him gone, he became agitated again, and they got into another altercation, the attorney said.

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

Kelley told the jury that the interview inconsistencies resulted from the trauma Wilks experienced. In the end, he said, “She was justified in the reaction that she had, and the law will require a not guilty verdict.”

After the opening statements, prosecutors presented nine witnesses, including Brown’s mother, Reba Clark. She testified that she had met Wilks twice: Once in passing, and when her son brought her over for dinner.

Clark became emotional when recalling how she learned what had happened to her son.

“That’s when she told me,” Clark said, recalling a conversation with a detective.

“I said, ‘Dead?’ She said, ‘Yes, dead,’” the mother told the jury.

Clark said the detective then added, “He got shot in the head.”

After the judge dismissed her, Clark left the courtroom crying.

Dr. William Hamilton, the longtime medical examiner who has since retired, reviewed for the jury his autopsy report of Brown, whose body he examined on Jan. 1, 2022.

Hamilton said the location of the wound, slightly above Brown’s right ear, didn’t give any indication of what Wilks was doing when shot.

Many times throughout the day, attorneys for both sides mentioned Wilks’ children and the possibility of them testifying about matters related to the case. However, the attorneys and Wilks ultimately signed a stipulation making it unnecessary for the children to do so.

Prosecutors were expected to summon more witnesses Thursday, with the jury to hear closing arguments and begin their deliberations Friday. If convicted, Wilks faces up to life in prison without parole. The state is not seeking the death penalty in this first degree murder case.

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