Prosecutors say man charged with murdering Brookside attorney left ‘his mobile, his van, his voice’ | KCUR 89.3
Dr. Emily Riegel was in her bathroom getting ready for work at the family home in Brookside around 8am on October 25, 2017, as her husband, Tom Pickert, finished breakfast with their two son and gathered them for school.
Her school-aged sons were “running around, clumsy,” Riegel recalled Tuesday, and she said to them, “I love you, goodbye!”
Then she heard her husband say to the boys, “I didn’t hear anyone say goodbye to the greatest mom in the world!”
Those were some of the last words Riegel heard Pickert say before he was shot minutes later on their sidewalk after driving home from dropping the kids off at school.
Riegel was one of the first witnesses for the prosecution in the first-degree murder trial of David Jungerman, who is accused of killing Pickert, a 39-year-old lawyer, in retaliation for Pickert winning a 5-star judgment, $75 million against him in a case in which Pickert represented a homeless man.
Jungerman, visibly frail after spending nearly five years in Jackson County Jail, sat impassive as Riegel testified. The 84-year-old Raytown businessman, thought to be worth millions, wore a starched white shirt, black trousers and a special hearing aid so he could listen to court proceedings.
Riegel told the jury she heard two popping sounds seconds from her bathroom window, which faces the street. Riegel, a doctor, quickly descended the stairs and the porch, finding her husband lying on his side.
“There was so much blood pouring down the sidewalk,” she said between sobs, “that I knew he was dead.” She called 911.
“I was screaming for help,” she testified. “I was screaming to stop the van.”
Prosecutors said the white van parked in front of their home was driven by Jungerman, who wore a black plastic mask and used a gun to shoot Pickert.
During cross-examination, Jungerman’s attorney, Dan Ross, attempted to suggest that Riegel had never seen the van driver’s face and was in fact worried that someone else would harm her husband. .
But Riegel told police when they arrived that they suspected Jungerman because of the contentious case Pickert had won. He had sued Jungerman for beating up a homeless man who tried to break into Jungerman’s baby furniture warehouse. The man had to have his leg amputated.
Riegel said even before the October 2017 attack, she was worried about her husband’s safety.
“I was worried and asked him if he could be in danger if someone showed up and shot him in our yard,” she testified.
Earlier in the day, the jury heard Riegel’s 911 call on which she is heard screaming and crying, telling the dispatcher that her husband had been shot.
“I think he died on my sidewalk!” she says on the tape. Several family members in the courtroom audience nodded and shivered as the tape played.
Tim Dollar, a private attorney working for the Crown, said in his opening statement that Jungerman had a vendetta against Pickert for the long legal battle that began in September 2012, when Jungerman caught homeless man Jeffrey Harris by break-in to his warehouse.
In August 2017, a jury awarded Harris $5.75 million. But Jungerman refused to pay, and on October 15, 2017, Pickert filed notices of lien against Jungerman’s Raytown home and his business. Pickert was killed 10 days later. A .17 caliber bullet was discovered during his autopsy.
Police questioned Jungerman shortly after the shooting, after witnesses reported seeing a white van driven by an older man with white hair. They later collected surveillance tapes showing Jungerman driving from Raytown to Pickert’s home around 7 a.m. on the day Pickert was killed. Police later found the van hidden in a wooded area of Jungerman’s property on a dirt road.
A search of Jungerman’s business and home found other evidence, including Jackson County property records showing Pickert’s address, a Manila file titled “Pickert Murder”, a black plastic mask in Jungerman’s closet, a .17 caliber bullet found in Jungerman’s other vehicle, and an Olympus digital audio recorder found in his bathroom.
On the tape recorder, police found a conversation Jungerman had had with his employee, a man named Leo Wynne, which Jungerman was unaware was being recorded.
“People know I murdered that son of a bitch,” Jungerman told Wynne on the tape. “The police know that too, Leo.”
Jungerman told Wynne they had to stop talking about the Pickert murder, but when he thought about the shooting, “I smile. This mother———-caused me a lot of trouble, Leo.
After laying out the background and evidence and playing the tape, Dollar told the jury he would find Jungerman guilty.
“His motive. His van. His voice,” Dollar said. “Stay focused on his motive, his van, his voice.”
Ross, Jungerman’s attorney, pointed to several issues with the prosecution’s case, saying there was “sloppy police work” including violations of police procedures and manipulation of the Olympus audio tape. The tape is missing 28 minutes, Ross said, which is 25% of the full recording.
Ross said the prosecution had fake evidence, but he admitted one thing.
“What they have – and that’s the only thing they have – is motive,” Ross said. “The rest is made up, folks,” Ross said.