Things got testy this morning during witness testimony in the Robert Heitbrink murder trial.
Heitbrink, the former president of the Jacksonville realtor’s association, is accused of stabbing his father-in-law, 70-year-old William McElhaney to death in the garage of Heitbrink’s 37 Ivywood Drive residence in Jacksonville in July 2013.
Yesterday, Day 1 of the first-degree murder trial, featured testimony from law enforcement and first responders at the scene, as well as the 911 call made on the Saturday morning the stabbing took place, photos of the crime scene, and some initial autopsy photos.
Testimony in Morgan County Court this morning began with Shelley Heitbrink, the ex-wife of Robert.
Shelley shared many details that jurors had already heard from Appellate Prosecutor Charles Colburn during Thursday’s opening statements, including how Robert, who had been up drinking with William, kicked open the door where William’s wife, Connie was sleeping, and allegedly said, “get your child-molesting husband.”
Shelley also explained how a half-hour prior to that, when Robert had gone up and demanded to talk one of his two sons, who had gone on a month-long vacation with the McElhaneys, that he reached into a cabinet in the bedroom and pulled out an unknown object.
Heitbrink’s defense attorneys asked if Shelley knew it was a knife, and she said she didn’t. She also said she didn’t know what had happened that led to her seeing her stepfather lying in a pool of blood, and said she didn’t hear anything from the bedroom.
When Robert first came up, he allegedly said, “someone’s gonna get hurt,” according to Shelley. When she went downstairs, she saw Robert and William standing in different parts of the garage. She asked him why he would say something like that,” and Robert reportedly responded, “I don’t know, I guess I’m just crazy.”
Shelley Heitbrink also answered questions about her marriage to Robert. They divorced in 2005, got back together in 2006, and renewed their wedding vows on a non-legal basis in July 2013, while the McElhaneys were on vacation with their children.
It was also revealed how Robert Heitbrink and William McElhaney became friends after William married Connie about 17 years ago.
The Heitbrinks had been married since 1990. She said Robert and William remained in contact after the Heitbrinks divorced, and when asked by defense attorneys if it was their “method of operation” to stay up and drink when the McElhaneys visited Jacksonville from the Carolinas, Shelley agreed.
The Heitbrink children were interviewed for testimony. They painted a positive picture of William McElhaney, and all said there was no inappropriate touching by any members of the family of them, or a request for similar action.
Robert and Shelley’s daughter, Emily Heitbrink, said she got a tattoo dedicated to William, and that, “I will carry it with me until I see him again.”
Defense attorneys asked Shelley Heitbrink if her son, who Robert had tried to get to come downstairs, remembered telling Jacksonville Police that her son had anxiety issues, and had gotten counseling and medication for it in 2013.
Shelley said she didn’t. No further questions on that topic were asked.
One of the Heitbrink boys confirmed a question from defense attorneys that Robert Heitbrink and his sons had a passion for collecting knives. It was revealed during Thursday that there were dozens of knives in the house; the knife allegedly used to stab William McElhaney was found tucked in a blue tote bin in the garage underneath under items.
The volatile portion of testimony came when Christian Moroney took the stand. Moroney said he was riding his bike past the Heitbrink residence when he “heard a ruckus,” and saw Heitbrink standing over McElhaney, pointing at him, appearing angry.
Moroney said he thought they were having a “drunk fight” and sped off.
Moroney was sentenced to four years in the Illinois Department of Corrections in November of 2013 for two counts of residential burglary, and was arrested in connection to a rash of car thefts in 2013.
He said this morning he was in the neighborhood of the Heitbrink residences looking for cars to break in to when he apparently went past 37 Ivywood.
He said he didn’t say anything about the incident until two days after he was arrested in October, but when defense attorney Larry Elmore questioned his motives for testifying, he said he was “acting as a good citizen.”
Elmore criticized Moroney and asked why jurors should be expected to believe a convicted felon.
In a trial that has featured very serious testimony, an almost-comical moment came at the beginning of Moroney’s testimony when he referred to Elmore as “ma’am.” He said he couldn’t see well without his glasses, but he assured everyone he had his glasses on the night of the stabbing.
Things concluded this morning with the showing of surveillance video at Top Shelf Liquors when Heitbrink and McElhaney were shown to have gone in the store to purchase alcohol before going back to the house.
This afternoon, Jacksonville Police Detective Brad Rogers took the stand as pictures were shown of William McElhaney following his death at Passavant Area Hospital. They included a picture of a leg with a deep wound, and McElhaney’s severely-beaten face.
Rogers also talked about the fact that he provided Christian Moroney with a cell phone to ensure that he’d be able to make it to Jacksonville for the trial. Rogers said the practice has been done previously.
Several neighbors on Ivywood Drive testified. Reito Itoh, who lived at 34 Ivywood, said at around the time of the incident on Saturday morning, she heard loud music, followed by a male voice saying “I’ll kill you” multiple times.
She then said she heard a woman say “What did you do? Get out”, and then saw a man she believed to be Heitbrink pacing outside the house prior to police arriving.
Friday’s events concluded with Connie McElhaney. While she didn’t provide much new insight to what happened, she spoke positively of her husband, saying he was soft-spoken, had a sense of humor. She said he tried to be a role model to his children and Connie’s. She also talked about how she held William in her arms following the stabbing, and tried to apply pressure to the wound before EMS crews arrived.
The Robet Heitbrink murder trial resumes at 9 a.m. on Monday.