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Jurors to decide Kiplinger's role in slaying

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By Vince Luecke

Confessed murderer O'Brien may testify about night Bobbi Jo Braunecker was killed

ENGLISH - Two women who saw Kyle Kiplinger and Darrick O'Brien the night they allegedly murdered Bobbi Jo Braunecker in August 2006 testified Tuesday that both men had changed clothes and appeared wet after returning from what was supposed to be a quick nighttime trip to Wal-Mart.

O'Brien's wife told jurors her husband and Kiplinger, co-workers at a local cleaning contractor, were missing for more than two hours. It was during that time, prosecutors allege, that the two men beat and choked Braunecker, a 41-year-old Cannelton resident, during the early-morning hours of Aug. 16. They allegedly threw her body, her shirt missing and jeans pulled down, in the Ohio River.

Police officers testified about their investigation into Braunecker's death before a Crawford County jury this week as Kiplinger's murder trial began to unfold, nearly two years after he and O'Brien were arrested.

O'Brien is serving a 65-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to murder. He has been subpoenaed for Kiplinger's trial and may be called to testify late this week or early next week.

Perry County Prosecutor Robert Collins and defense attorney Rod Acchiardo presented opening statements Monday after a jury of six men and six women was seated in the Crawford County Courthouse.

The case was moved to Crawford County after potential jurors from Perry County said they knew too much about the case and would be unable to render an impartial judgment.

Collins and Acchiardo painted far different pictures of who was responsible for beating Braunecker during a violent attack prosecutors said was triggered when she resisted having sex with O'Brien.

In his opening statement, Collins said Kiplinger, 22 years old at the time, choked Braunecker while O'Brien tried to remove the woman's pants after Kiplinger drove them to an area along River Road between Tell City and Cannelton.

But Acchiardo said O'Brien acted alone in killing the woman and while Kiplinger witnessed the attack and did not try to stop O'Brien, he is not guilty of murder.

Collins disagreed. "O'Brien told Kiplinger to knock her out," he told jurors in his opening statement. "He hit her in the head, but did not knock her out. Kiplinger then choked her while O'Brien tried to pull her pants down."

Collins said the two men then carried the woman's battered body through woods and threw her into the river. A family found the partially clad, decomposed remains in the river near Sunset Park the afternoon of Aug. 18.

Before the discovery of Braunecker's remains, Kiplinger allegedly told another co-worker, Scott Board, about what he and O'Brien had done. Incredulous to the claims, Board was shown jeans, underwear and socks allegedly shed by O'Brien after the slaying and later thrown in a dumpster.

Board allegedly told police the clothing smelled of river water. He was expected to testify Wednesday afternoon.

Indiana Conservation Officer Phil Schuetter, one of the early investigators into Braunecker's death, later sifted through 6 tons of trash and found the clothing.

Collins said Kiplinger later returned to the scene of the attack to check for evidence and removed Braunecker's purse and headband.

After learning that a body had been discovered in the river, Board drove to the Tell City Police Department and told officers about what Kiplinger told him. Police obtained warrants within hours and arrested Kiplinger and O'Brien at their homes Sunday, Aug. 20.

Kiplinger took police to the area where Braunecker was attacked that afternoon and allegedly confessed he was there when she was killed.

The evidence, Collins said, would prove Kiplinger guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

"After all the evidence is presented by the end of the trial, I'll ask you to find Kyle Kiplinger guilty of murder while committing or attempting to commit rape," Collins told jurors.

Defense

Acchiardo asked jurors not to form a judgment during the prosecution's presentation of evidence that began Tuesday. Defense witnesses, he said, would show that O'Brien, not Kiplinger, killed Braunecker after she met the two men at a party in Cannelton.

Acchiardo said O'Brien already knew Braunecker and rode with him in the back of Kiplinger's sport-utility vehicle to the isolated area off River Road.

The defense would acknowledge that Braunecker was murdered, Acchiardo said, but told jurors there was no physical evidence to tie Kiplinger to her death.

"We don't contest Kyle Kiplinger was at the scene of a murder Aug. 15 or Aug. 16," Acchiardo said.

The question is whether his client knowingly took part. What really happened that night only three people know, Acchiardo said, Kiplinger, O'Brien and Braunecker.

Jurors would hear evidence, Acchiardo pledged, that ties O'Brien to Braunecker's death, including the blunt-force wounds to her body he said were caused by O'Brien's steel-toed work shoes.

"Kiplinger didn't lay a hand on this woman. It was O'Brien," Acchiardo said. "When O'Brien plead guilty to murder, it was because he was guilty of murder. Mr. Kiplinger did not assist in killing this woman."

Presentation of evidence began Tuesday, with Schuetter taking the stand for direct examination on the discovery of the body and the recovery of clothing allegedly worn by O'Brien.

Jessica O'Brien, O'Brien's wife, testified that he and Kiplinger left O'Brien's apartment to purchase a movie the night of Aug. 16 but never returned.

She and a friend, Brittany Hartloff, searched for the two men for more than two hours in Cannelton, Troy and at Tell City's Wal-Mart before finding them back at the O'Briens' apartment on the north side of Tell City.

O'Brien found her husband removing articles of clothing she said were wet. Kiplinger, too, appeared to have changed out of the clothes he had been wearing only a few hours earlier and had wet hair.

Hartloff told jurors a similar story.

The two men allegedly said they fell into a pool.

Another witness, Peggy Bland, said Kiplinger and O'Brien were drinking with Braunecker late that night at a home in Cannelton. She said Braunecker left with the two men between 2 and 2:30 a.m.

Under cross-examination by Acchiardo, Bland admitted she did not see Braunecker get into the sport-utility vehicle Kiplinger was driving. She told jurors Braunecker was sitting in Kiplinger's lap while in the home but that he didn't appear to be interested in the woman.

Acchiardo also asked Jessica O'Brien why her testimony had changed since offering a deposition in the case. O'Brien began crying and said she remembered details she did not mention earlier. She also claimed to be upset because her husband and Kiplinger were present when the deposition was taken.

Ronnie Wilbur, testifying Tuesday afternoon, said he saw Braunecker the evening of Aug. 16 and had given her $20 to spend at a local tavern. The bill was found in the woman's front pocket when her body was pulled from the river the following Friday.

Indiana State Police crime-scene technicians testified Wednesday and Board was expected to take the stand in the afternoon.

The trial is expected to continue into next week.

Perry County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Lyn Hayse handled direct examination of some witnesses Tuesday. Collins asked Schuetter questions as the trial began.

This story will be updated as needed at www.perrycountynews.com.