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‘I just reacted’: Rachael Wilks testifies that panic caused her to kill her boyfriend

After a night into morning of arguing with Brian Brown, Rachael Wilks demanded again that he leave their Gainesville house on New Year’s Eve 2021. He refused, and said once more that he wanted her and their unborn twins dead, she testified in her first degree murder trial Thursday.

Hiding her handgun behind her back as they yelled at each other in their bedroom, Wilks told a jury at the Alachua County Courthouse, she warned Brown she would call the police if he didn’t leave. He threatened her again while reaching for his phone and moving in her direction.

That’s when Wilks fired her weapon, closing her eyes and turning her head away as it discharged, she said. “He was just moving so fast,” she said. “And I just reacted.”

Wilks, 32, testified for two and a half hours on the second and final day of testimony before Judge William Davis in Eighth Judicial Circuit Court.

After prosecutors had spent a day and a half trying to prove that she had told too many inconsistencies to be believed, she sought to persuade the jury that she killed Brown, 31, in self-defense. Wilks said of the inconsistencies, “There was a lot going on in my brain dealing with this traumatic event: The loss of somebody that I love and still love.”

Led through her direct examination by defense attorney Aaron Kelley, Wilks said she and Brown had taken her four children to St. Augustine to enjoy a day at the beach.

While she had told detectives in prior interviews that he had started drinking alcohol in the evening, Wilks testified that Brown had been drinking beer and other adult beverages throughout the day. They also stopped on the way back home at a liquor store to buy more alcohol.

“Every time that there has been an incident where he put his hands on me,” Wilks told the jury, “there was alcohol involved.”

After making sure her children – then ages 4, 5, 5 and 6 – were in their bedrooms, Wilks went to the living room, where Brown threatened her and their unborn twins, she testified.

She said she called Brown’s mother, Reba Clark, who agreed to come get him. Brown and Wilks had visited Clark the prior Thanksgiving, and Clark had told Wilks to contact her if she needed anything, Wilks said. Clark also briefly mentioned his anger then, according to Wilks.

“She’s like, ‘Well, you know he’s got a temper,’” Wilks told the jury.

When Wilks called her on New Year’s Eve, Clark told Wilks she would come get her son.

“She yelled at him,” Wilks said. “She’s like ‘Stop that. See, that’s how I know you’ve been drinking. Why are you acting like that? That girl and those kids are home.’”

In her testimony earlier in the day, Detective Desiree Russano said that while Clark had told police she knew the couple had been arguing, she was not aware of her son being violent.

“The only thing she was told was that he was acting up, but there was no mention of violence,” Russano said. “Just that he was drinking and being disrespectful, essentially.”

Wilks testified, however, that Brown continued to yell at her even after his mother told him to stop. Clark then encouraged her to call the police, Wilks said.

Because she wanted him gone, Wilks said she lied to Clark over text messages that her son had calmed down. “Because of how bad it sounded when she was on the phone,” Wilks told the jury. “Maybe he would scare her from coming.”

Brown soon made his way to a trash bin where he started to dry-heave, she said. He fell asleep on the floor, close enough to the bed that she couldn’t get up without arousing suspicion.

Wilks said she fell asleep herself – laying on her purse, with her gun inside.

She awoke while Brown was still asleep. She ate ice cream and cake, and then called the Gainesville Police Department’s non-emergency number, asking if he could be taken away without going to jail. She told the jury she feared having him arrested because of his threats about killing her.

“‘If you call the police on me, I’m going to kill you,’” she quoted Brown as saying. “When I love, I love hard.”

When Brown awoke, he called for Wilks to help him find his clothes. She had put his clothes by the door, for him to grab on his way out. However, he refused to leave and pinned her to the bed, she testified.

She begged him to let her go, and he eventually did. She checked on the children, who were elsewhere in the home. She then took her purse off her arm, set it down in the living room and took out her gun, and then returned to the bedroom and asked Brown again to leave.

The shooting happened moments later.

Throughout multiple police interviews afterward, and in her testimony, Wilks said she rushed to get her children and leave the house after she fired the shot.

“I’m just trying to get out of the house, because I don’t know what the result of that was,” she told the jury. “I don’t know if he’s coming after me. Maybe it missed him.”

Wilks said she called 911 to get someone to check on Brown while she rushed to her mother’s house, checking her rearview mirror to see if he would appear behind her.

She testified she was returning to the scene when police stopped her vehicle.

During cross-examination, Assistant State Attorney Ryan Nagel tried to clarify what happened before the shooting, and why Wilks didn’t just leave the house if she feared for her safety.

At times, Wilks told Nagel she agreed with the narratives the detectives suggested to her during the interviews conducted between the hours after the shooting and when she was arrested on Feb. 1, 2022. However, when Nagel showed the video of those moments she was referring to, Wilks agreed that she had suggested the timeline of events, not the detectives.

During this back and forth, some members of the jury raised their eyebrows.

The prosecutor also noted that she had opportunities to leave without having to shoot him: While Brown was asleep. While she checked on the children. While he reached to grab his phone.

“What ultimately leads you to shoot and kill Brian Brown is a statement he makes to you, correct?” Nagel asked. “He says something to you – and that’s when you shoot and kill him, right?”

“Yes,” Wilks agreed in a quiet voice.

Continuing to press her on the inconsistencies, including her calling a police non-emergency number, Nagel said, “None of that makes any sense.”

Her voice trembling, Wilks retorted: “I think that it’s easy for us to be in a courtroom. So you can see those things and try to poke holes in what I’m saying, or how it doesn’t make sense to you here now not having experienced that, but at the time this is what made sense to me.”

Nagel later questioned just how much Wilks had truly cared for the man killed by her gun.

“A couple times today, you sort of broke into some emotion when we’re talking about some topics,” he said. “You haven’t shed a single tear for the deceased Brian Brown.”

The jury was expected to hear closing arguments and begin 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.

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