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Eilander testifies in his own defense on second day of trial

Attorneys met today to determine if rebuttal witness may be used

Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 11:26 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 11:28 a.m. CDT

Jury deliberations in the burglary and sexual abuse trial of Gary Lee Eilander are expected to begin today after District Court Judge Terry Rickers determined this morning that the state’s planned rebuttal witness would not be allowed to take the stand.

Assistant County Attorney Scott Nicholson said he planned to call the rebuttal witness — Bonnie Watson of Story City, formerly of Lynnville — to testify about events in January 2005 in response to Eilander’s testimony earlier in the trial.

Eilander’s attorney, public defender Jonathan Noble, objected to Watson’s testimony, stating her testimony — which described other alleged acts for which Eilander has not been charged — would be prejudicial and would neither prove or disprove the allegations in the current trial. Rickers agreed the testimony would be prejudicial and would violate Eilander’s due process rights.

Eilander testified in his own defense at the end of the trial day Thursday, providing his own account of what happened June 29 and 30 of last year. By his own account, he spent much of the day drinking and socializing with other residents of Lynnville.

He said he eventually went out drinking with Zach Rea, an across-the-street neighbor of the alleged victim and her family. Eilander said he and Rea drove to Grinnell, where they visited a bar and consumed more beer, and possibly other alcoholic beverages, while they were there.

Eilander’s testimony and Rea’s differed substantially in terms of where they went and when. But both agreed they eventually were involved in an unreported motor vehicle accident in which Eilander’s Ford Explorer went into a ditch on an unnamed gravel road.

At that point, Eilander said he does not remember anything — that he had “blacked out” — from the moment of getting the vehicle out of the ditch until he was being woke up by Jasper County Sheriff’s deputies the morning of June 30. He also testified that he did not go into the victim’s home, and that he did not touch her in any way.

Rea had testified — as a witness for the prosecution — that he witnessed Eilander making a comment about the victim’s appearance when they saw her return home from work the evening of June 29.

“He said, ‘She’s been looking good since she had the baby,’ and I said, ‘She’s just a kid,’” Rea testified. He said Eilander didn’t make any other comments after that.

Another prosecution witness, Joshua Hellickson, now an inmate at the Newton Correctional Facility, testified Eilander admitted to touching the victim inappropriately during an exchange at the Jasper County Jail while both were being held there. Hellickson has asked for reconsideration of his current sentence, but testified that request was in no way related to his testimony in this case.

Eilander said he did not make those comments. Asked under cross examination, he said he thought Hellickson was lying in an effort to get Eilander sent to jail, or a reduced sentence for his own offenses.

Also during cross examination, Eilander said that while he could not remember the events of the early-morning hours of June 30, 2012, he did not believe he was in the victim’s house. He said it wasn’t something he believed himself capable of doing, both by his nature, and by his condition as a result of consuming more than a dozen beers the evening before.

Also testifying for the prosecution were the victim’s stepmother, who related her observations of the incident in which Eilander is accused of being in her home. She said she first saw Eilander on the steps leading from the first floor to the second, heading down.

“I ran to him as fast as I could, and I kicked him in the back,” she said. “He sort of tumbled down the last couple of steps, just as [her husband] was arriving at the bottom ... [Her husband] must have caught him, because he didn’t fall down or anything.”

The victim’s biological sister also testified for the prosecution, saying she witnessed a man in her bedroom during the early-morning hours of June 30. She said she could not make out the man’s facial features, but that his silhouette was etched in her memory because of the fear she had from the incident. She also identified Eilander as the intruder.

Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty — at the time of the incident, Chief Deputy — testified about his observations of Eilander and his home the morning of June 30 when he took part in Eilander’s arrest. Among his observations was a scanner broadcasting the Sheriff’s Office communications channel and a pair of shoes that were wet and muddy.

Eilander said the shoes were wet and muddy from falling in the ditch after his truck went into it on the way back from Grinnell. Both he and Rea testified Rea was driving when the vehicle and it went into the ditch when he took his eyes off the road and reached for a cell phone.

Rea testified Eilander drove the truck the rest of the way back to Lynnville, dropped Rea off at Rea’s home, and then drove off. Eilander maintained he did not remember anything about how he got back to his home.

Daily News Editor Bob Eschliman may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 423, or at beschliman@newtondailynews.com.

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