No one saw who slashed a west Cumberland County man’s throat or stabbed him 18 times in January 2018.
Billy Joe Wannyn, 51, whose address was listed as Depot St., Sparta, was charged with first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated armed robbery in the death of Albin Von (Salvatore) Buechel, 71.
The state’s case rested on circumstantial evidence that simply couldn’t be answered by the defense. The final piece of the giant puzzle fell into place on the testimony of the state’s last witness.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Jordan Ragon, a crime lab forensic biologist, testified that swabs of blood submitted to the Nashville area lab contained a mixture of DNA from two males, with Wannyn’s blood being the major contributor of DNA
Samples with the mixture were submitted from the door knob inside the Buechel home, droplets of blood just 5 feet from the victim’s body, on the door, front porch, driveway and yard all contained the same makeup.
Items seized during a search of Wannyn’s car had no traces of blood.
Buechel lived off Arthur Seagraves Rd. west of Pleasant Hill and not far from the White/Cumberland county line.
Buechel called himself “The Gold Man” and “Goldfinger” on social media. He bought and sold gold, silver, jewelry and guns at his home. Defense attorneys likened the business as a pawn shop.
During the four-day trial, witnesses testified Wannyn’s girlfriend, Wanda Parks, was in jail and Buechel did not have enough money to pay a bondsman to bail her out. He told the bondsman he would have to go “about 10 or 12 minutes” west of Kroger and get the money and would be right back.
He returned with the cash within the hour.
Surveillance video from a pawn shop prior to that showed Wannyn trying to pawn a “gold nugget watch” without success. The state also produced a text from Wannyn to Buechel stating he had a gold nugget watch to sell because he “needed the money.”
Video from before that incident show Wannyn did not have an injury to his right hand. Video of Wannyn at a Peavine Rd. convenience store after Parks’ bond was made shows Wannyn not using his rag-wrapped right hand.
Backing up the state’s theory was testimony from several investigators who stated it was common for someone stabbing a person to death to suffer a cut or cuts to their own hand.
Medical Examiner David Zimmerman, a forensic pathologist who testified about the autopsy he conducted, said one of the injuries — a knife stab that cut the carotid artery and struck bone, was capable of causing a cut to an attacker.
Nearly 80 exhibits were entered into evidence during the four-day trial. The following is a snapshot of testimony from witnesses who testified:
First witness called by the state was Reggie Dillon, a former reserve deputy who, along with Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Loshbough, responded to the Buechel residence to conduct a welfare check. He was questioned by Assistant District Attorney Allison Null.
Dillon, who was working as a ride-along with Loshbough, testified it was his first day volunteering with the sheriff’s office. Deputies were dispatched to the residence at the request of a family member who had been unable to contact Buechel.
“I knocked on the door, looked around, looked in some windows,” Dillon testified. He said he noticed what appeared to be blood smears or droplets “on the door jamb,” and “a lot of shell casings on the front door near the porch.”
A second try at gaining entry to the residence through the front door was successful. Just inside, lying face down in a large pool of blood, the two officers found Buechel’s body. The house was cleared to make sure no one was hiding inside, and investigators were called to the scene.
Dillon testified he noticed a pot on the stove with the burner on. Inside the pot was something that had burned. However, it came out during later testimony that investigators were not informed one of the eyes of the stove was left on.
When defense attorney Sam Hudson cross-examined Dillon, he responded to many questions with, “I don’t recall,” or, “I don’t remember.”
Former TBI Special Agent Hunter Locke was the second witness called and spent much of his testimony introducing photos of the scene, blood droplets from the front yard to the kitchen area and evidence seized during the investigation.
Assistant District Attorney Philip Hatch led that questioning and emphasized Locke’s testimony about the trail of blood drops from the body to the front door, driveway and yard.
Among the items taken into evidence was the victim’s cellphone.
The first afternoon was laced with out-of-jury arguments over the admissibility of portions of the cellphone transcripts and messages that Hudson argued were hearsay evidence.
Hatch countered the purpose of entering the document was to establish a timeline of events surrounding the slaying.
Criminal Court Judge Wesley Bray ruled that the phone log was admissible because it was not being presented as evidence of the crime, but he did order a message being disputed to be deleted.
Locke testified that he used a program called Cellebrite on Buechel’s phone that led to Wannyn becoming a suspect, based on the incoming call list. A text from Wannyn to Buechel described a gold watch Wannyn wanted to sell.
Locke, Sheriff’s Investigator Gary Green and District Attorney Investigator Chris Isom traveled to Spencer to make contact with Wannyn after he was located by Van Buren County deputies at the home of his girlfriend’s mother on Old Hwy. 111.
Under questioning from Hatch, Locke testified Wannyn was cooperative and provided a statement and allowed a search of his room and his Nissan Maxima. Wannyn also agreed to a buccal smear, a form of DNA sample gained by swabbing the mouth with a cotton swab.
Seized from Wannyn’s vehicle was foreign currency, $14 in cash from the ashtray that had a reddish brown stain, four knives, a night stick and a receipt from the D&D Market on Peavine Rd. Also seized was a black leather jacket.
Up to 42 exhibits were entered into evidence the first day, and testimony ended with Locke still on the witness stand. He was scheduled to be cross-examined by Hudson the following morning.
Hudson wasted no time on attacking proponents of Locke’s testimony, which led to confrontational questioning and answers between the two.
When Hudson asked about Buechel’s reputation for defending himself, referring to a 2016 attempted robbery during which Buechel fatally shot one attacker and wounded a second man, Hatch objected to the question.
“It is an improper question. Agent Locke did not investigate the shooting and was not even a TBI agent at the time,” Hatch told the court.
Bray took notice that Locke had already testified he had knowledge of that incident, which Hudson said was referred to several times in search warrants and other documents.
Hatch countered there was nothing in the search warrants referencing the earlier fatal shooting by Buechel.
Bray cautioned that form of questioning must weigh whether it makes unfair prejudice to someone who is not a character witness.
Important to both sides was the establishment of a timeline of events. Dispatcher logs show Loshbough and Dillon were dispatched at 2:30 p.m. and arrived on the scene at 2:53 p.m., taking 23 minutes to respond from Crossville.
Hudson also questioned Locke about why the stove eye found left on was not noted in the crime scene log.
Locke responded, “I don’t have any knowledge on whether it was on or off … I did not know. I would like to have known.”
He then questioned why Locke did not interview Loshbough and Dillon on his arrival on the scene, insinuating that information might have been forthcoming. Testimony so far showed the two did not tell anyone about the burnt pot on the stove.
Concerning the text from Wannyn to Buechel found on Beuchel’s phone, the text started, “Hi. The watch is 14K gold,” and then gives the weight of the watch and ends, “what is the max you will pay. I need money. We all know the stores all close at 5 on Fridays.”
Wannyn did not text Buechel again, records show.
Isom was the next witness called to testify. He said he responded to the scene and observed the body. When the victim was rolled over from the face-down position, Isom testified Beuchel suffered a cut “under the jaw and across the neck.”
He also observed blood drops leading from the area of the body to the front door, onto the driveway and in the yard, which led him to conclude that the person who committed the homicide cut themselves in the process.
Under cross-examination from Upchurch, Isom testified he observed no footprints around the body.
The state next called Curt Boston, manager of Tabor’s Pawn Shop on West Ave. in Crossville. Boston’s testimony included a video surveillance recording showing Wannyn and a woman entering the pawn shop around 4:28 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.
A watch was offered for either sale or pawn. But a price was not agreed to, and Wannyn left the store with the watch. Boston said he did not know the man identified as Wannyn or the woman.
He also testified he had knowledge of Buechel buying gold, silver and jewelry at his home.
Sevierville Police Officer Camden Davis — a former Crossville police officer — testified he and Officer Van Rudden were called to the Quality Inn on a complaint of an overstay customer who was not answering the door to a room.
This occurred Friday, Jan. 18, at 12:06 p.m.
Wannyn and a woman were found in the room, and Davis’ dash camera recorded the couple removing their personal belongings and placing them in a car before they left the motel.
The woman — later identified as Wanda Parks, Wannyn’s girlfriend — was taken into custody on a warrant for failure to appear in court. In the room was observed several gold coins and foreign currency.
Davis testified Wannyn followed his patrol car to the Justice Center to make arrangement for bond.
Michael Anthony Krether, a records custodian for Verizon, was the last witness Wednesday morning. He testified to the accuracy and authenticity of the Jan. 19 cellphone call records requested by investigators.
Wednesday afternoon, bail bondsman Arnold Allen testified he was called at 2:01 p.m. by Wannyn to make Parks’ bond. He said Wannyn did not have enough money to pay for the bond services and left to get more money, returning at around 3 p.m.
He testified he did not notice an injury to Wannyn’s hand or blood on his clothing.
Cumberland County Sheriff’s Investigator Scott Griffin was then called to identify a video of the sheriff’s office lobby that shows Wannyn meeting with Arnold.
Wannyn reportedly told Arnold he had to travel to about 10 minutes from Sparta to get the additional funds.
Bhrub Patel, owner of D&D Market on Peavine Rd., testified and described a video entered into evidence that showed Wannyn entering the store at around 9 p.m. Jan. 20.
TBI Agent Darrin Shockey was the next witness. He is a member of the TBI’s violent crime response team and was called to assist Locke in the investigation.
He testified in the numerous stabbing cases he has helped investigate, “the suspects typically cut their hands.”
Sheriff’s Investigator Lt. Jeff Slayton was the final witness called Wednesday. He testified about retrieving the store surveillance video from D&D Market and noted that while shopping, Wannyn’s hand is viewed as being wrapped in a black cloth.
Under cross-examination from Upchurch, Slayton was asked if the investigator was aware a weapon tied to the case was never found. Slayton’s answer included he was aware Wannyn was not wearing shoes on Jan. 20 at 4:29 p.m. when he entered the store.
The third day of testimony opened with TBI Special Agent Andrew Valle testifying about cellphone records he examined from Verizon. Valle has testified in state and federal courts as an expert witness on numerous occasions and examined the cellphone records from Beuchel’s and Wannyn’s accounts.
On Jan. 20, 2018, Wannyn’s phone showed activity from 2:13-2:27 p.m. traveling west from Crossville toward the White County line and area around Beuchel’s home. The same day starting at 2:40-3 p.m. the phone showed activity as it was returned to Crossville.
Under cross-examination, Vallee stated the records only indicate the tower near the general area of the phone. They do not show where the phone was physically located or where Wannyn was at that time.
Medical Examiner Dr. David Zimmerman was then called and testified that the cause of death was “sharp-force injury to the upper neck” and that the manner of death was homicide.
The medical examiner’s testimony included the introduction of several autopsy photos that showed Beuchel’s neck had been slashed under the jaw line and that there were 18 stab and cutting wounds. The slash wound, Zimmerman testified, had “a significant amount of force” to inflict the damage.
He continued that it would have taken five to 10 minutes to “bleed out” with two arteries cut at the same time.
Upchurch asked the ME if he was aware of enemies Buechel might have had and asked Zimmerman if the injuries could indicate “an up-close and personal attack.”
He asked if the medical examiner had been given four knives seized from Wannyn’s car to compare with the wounds to see if one or more were used in the fatal attack. Zimmerman said he had not been given the knives.
In reference to the cut found on Wannyn’s hand, Upchurch said, “You cannot say what caused the wounds … it could have been caused by anything. You can’t tell when the cut was made.” Zimmerman agreed.
TBI Special Agent In Charge of the region Dan Friel was next called to testify and told of the cast-off blood found spattered around the walls and floor where the body was found. This would indicate a frenzied and continual attack, the agent summarized.
“It is common to find that blood, wet during repeated stabbings will cause a knife to slip” and cause injury to the attacker, Friel said when asked by Hatch.
Friel testified that videos from interactions with bail bondsman Allen, from Tabor’s Gun and Pawn Shop where a gold nugget watch was presented for sale or pawn, and from a CPD dash camera did not show indications of an injury to Wannyn’s hand.
During the playing in court of a video of Wannyn’s stop at the D&D Market on Peavine Rd. the evening of Jan 20, Friel noted it appeared Wannyn was not using his right hand and that it was shown wrapped in a black rag.
Wannyn was also wearing different clothing, the agent noted.
Under cross-examination from Hudson, Friel noted that he had knowledge of a 2012 incident when Buechel shot and killed one of two people who he said showed up at his house to rob him.
When asked why only one blood droplet found in clusters were tested instead of all droplets, the agent replied it would have been time prohibitive to test all the droplets found at the scene. It was reasonable to test one of a cluster, Friel indicated.
Friel was asked about an interview with Summer Iles, who had volunteered that others were involved in the killing of Beuchel. Friel said her statements did not match up with the investigation and her claim was discounted.
Special Agent Jordan Ragon was the last state witness and the crime lab forensic biologist testified about Wannyn’s DNA being found in blood droplet mixtures at the scene.
At 3:35 p.m. Thursday, the state rested its case and defense attorneys made a motion for acquittal on the basis of no premeditative motive was established, no evidence of robbery proven no property was recovered.
Judge Bray denied the motion.
Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Loshbough was the first witness called by defense attorneys. He testified about being dispatched to the Beuchel residence for a welfare check and eventually gaining entry to the house, finding the victim’s body. He also said he noticed the eye of a stove on with a pot on the stove.
He remained on the scene outside the house while investigators worked inside.
Cumberland County 911 Director Terry Williams then was called about the time line on the day the body was discovered and about the response time on May 22, 2012, when a person was shot during the attempted robbery. It took an ambulance 22 minutes to reach the scene on that day.
The last witness called on Thursday was Thomas Caldwell of Sparta, who testified he had only met Wannyn twice — once when he cut his hand looking at a tire and rim on a Friday in January 2018 and another time while both were incarcerated in the White County Jail.
Under cross-examination, he answered questions from Hatch with, “I don’t know” when asked about details.
The final day of the trial started with Wannyn telling Bray he was invoking his right to not incriminate himself and that he would not be testifying.
Bray noted that his right not to testify, under law, could not be held or used against him during the proceeding.
Null opened final arguments by reviewing the evidence and told the jury the state’s case proved the motive behind the killing as being robbery.
Upchurch told jurors the case was complex but that there was no proof that Wannyn went to Beuchel’s home when the state said he did. He added that in the medical examiner’s 22-page report, the approximate time of death was never listed.
Upchurch also suggested that the burning eye on the stove, with the absence of smoke or smell, likely set the time of death on the day the body was discovered, not the day before.
“The time frame does not match up,” Upchurch said.
Hudson noted that Beuchel advertised his gold and silver business on social media and anyone could have had a motive for the murder. He explained that Wannyn’s hand cut by tin covering the tire he was looking at prior to his visit to Beuchel to sell the gold nugget watch explained the presence of his DNA inside the house.
“It is up to you to decide credibility — credibility in the proof,” Hatch argued.
He told the jury, “at 2:23 p.m., Albon Buechel didn’t know he had 37 minutes to live.”
Wannyn didn’t have money to pay a bondsman to bail his girlfriend out of jail. He left and came back a short time later with more than enough money to pay the bond.
“What is the value of human life? Just under $300,” Hatch closed his argument.
The jury of eight women and four men then deliberated around 6 hours before returning a guilty verdict to all three counts charged
Sentencing is set for July 15.