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‘It was a miracle’: Jury acquits Rachael Wilks of murder charges in boyfriend’s killing

At 5:29 p.m., a 12-person jury gave the court its verdict in the trial of Rachael Wilks: not guilty.

Wilks faced murder and manslaughter charges in the 2021 killing of her boyfriend, Brian Brown, and a guilty verdict could have meant life in prison.

Instead, Wilks walked free on Friday night. As the courtroom learned of the jury’s decision, one juror stared at Reba Clark, the mother of the deceased Brown.

Once announced, Clark quickly exited the courtroom. In the last row of the center aisle, Wilks’ family cried. Her mother, Andrea Evely, 65, collapsed onto the bench in front of her, sobbing.

“It was a miracle,” she said, “The truth was told and seen.”

On Friday morning, Assistant State Attorney Ryan Nagel and Rachael Wilks’ defense attorney, Aaron Kelley, presented the jury with competing closing arguments before Judge William Davis in the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court. Prosecutors had charged Wilks, 32, faced first- and second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Wilks said she shot Brown on New Year’s Eve 2021, after multiple arguments about him leaving. She maintained throughout the trial that she was acting out of self-defense. Brown threatened their unborn children and herself, according to Wilks.

Nagel flicked through a PowerPoint presentation in front of the jury. He stopped at a picture of Brown, who was smiling. His mother, Reba Clark, watched from the second row of benches, about 15 feet away from the jury.

Nagel listed adjectives that described the 31-year-old: a son, a brother and a murder victim.

He clicked the keyboard, and a picture of Brown’s dead body filled the screen. Clark exhaled shakily, rocking herself back and forth.

“He was evicted in a body bag,” Nagel said.

Nagel was given about an hour and a half to conduct a closing argument and a rebuttal. He used about an hour of that time to disprove Wilks’ claim.

“That’s not self-defense,” he said. “That is premeditation. That is ‘Give me a reason so I can kill you. Say it again so that I can kill you.’”

Wilks presented claims of domestic violence, but the jury could not act in sympathy, according to Nagel. Whether Brown was kind or not didn’t matter because it didn’t excuse Wilks’ actions under the law, he told the jury.

“There’s nothing in the law that says you got to be a nice guy, you have to be a kind guy,” he said, “That if someone says leave, you have to. Maybe Brian should have. That would have been the nice, kind thing to do, but that does not give her the authority or excuse to kill.”

Kelley, Wilks’ defense attorney, focused on the state’s burden of proof. He presented the ideas of justifiable homicide and the justifiable use of a deadly weapon. In other words, Florida’s law dictates that the use of deadly force is not illegal if a person reasonably believes that it can prevent death or significant harm to themselves.

“When she hears that he’s going to kill her before anyone can get there for help,” he said. “When she sees the movement toward her, that is the reasonable belief that something was going to happen.”

Kelley also referred to the testimony of the former medical examiner, Dr. William Hamilton, noting the trajectory of the bullet that killed Brown and the potential gaps in information it leaves.

“You cannot tell the relations of people based on that because there’s too many other things that could be going on,” he said.

Kelley finished his argument by addressing the inconsistencies across the multiple interviews conducted in the investigation and the testimony that Wilks gave Thursday. He outlined the commonalities across the three. Kelley ended with the potential impact that trauma can have on a person’s ability to recall memories.

“Trauma typically changes recollection,” he said. “We talked about trauma. We talked about being able to recall certain things and details and how that changes.”

In his 20-minute rebuttal, Nagel asked the jury if a person would call the police rather than shoot Brown if he was an imminent threat. Clark, Brown’s mother who Nagel said was a reasonable person, suggested to call the police.

“What does a reasonably prudent person do?” he asked. “Call the police. How do we know that? Because a reasonably prudent person, Miss Reba Clark, says ‘Call the police.’”

Wilks’ actions demonstrated premeditation, according to Nagel.

“It’s not self-defense,” he said. “It’s closer to an execution.”

The jury deliberated for about five hours and 15 minutes before the foreperson read the verdict to the judge and courtroom.

Wilks turned to the judge and asked if she could hug Kelley. She clung to him for a few minutes before turning to Canaan Goldman, the other defense attorney. Kelley’s eyes filled with tears as he exchanged hugs with Wilks’ family.

“I’m going to hug her and try not to take the breath out of her,” Evely said. “Get her some good food and a nice soda.”

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