Attorney: Weiland was ‘trying to commit suicide’ in police shootout

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After four days of jury selection, the defense and prosecution have presented opening statements in a high-profile Albert Lea trial. Devin Weiland, 22, faces three counts of first-degree attempted murder and three counts of second-degree assault after being accused of luring police to his apartment and shooting three people including an Albert Lea police officer.

Attorney Daniel Vlieger is helping the Freeborn County Attorney’s Office prosecute this case. In opening statements Vlieger laid out the events of the early morning of Nov. 29, outside Shady Oaks Apartments.

A call came in to dispatch around 2:17 a.m. for potential shots fired or fireworks in the area of Shady Oaks Apartments that morning, according to Vlieger. Multiple responding officers testified Monday that the call was immediately suspicious, causing more officers than usual to respond to the call.

“It didn’t sit right. And everybody just went,” said Sargent Tim Harves with the Albert Lea Police Department during his testimony.

The first responding officer on-scene was former ALPD Officer Kody Needham. As he approached the apartment complex, he was shot in his bulletproof vest in the upper-right chest through his open squad car window, according to Needham’s testimony.

Body camera footage showed multiple other officers on their way to the scene, when they heard Needham come over the radio.

“Shots fired. I’ve been shot,” the jury could hear Needham say.

ALPD Officer Christopher Diesen began crying during his testimony, as he described those moments looking for Needham after he was shot.

“I was looking for Kody,” Diesen said. “He’s my friend.”

Needham drove himself to the hospital while various body camera footage shows the other on-duty ALPD officers rushing to Shady Oaks Apartments. As shots rang out, officers testified that they heard Weiland shooting multiple different guns, at least two rifles and a shotgun.

Vlieger said in his opening statements that two other bystanders were shot that night. One was shot in the arm as he went to smoke a cigarette, and one in the leg as he drove by the scene in his car. Body camera footage shown in court showed officers taking the victims to the hospital. Officer Diesen ran back in to the “kill zone” to drag one victim from his car to safety, applying a tourniquet in the dark to stop the bleeding.

Vlieger explained that around 10:45 a.m. on Nov. 29 Weiland surrendered after having tear gas launched into his apartment and being hit in the face with bullet fragments.

In Defense Attorney Graham Henry’s opening statements, he admitted that Weiland has a mountain of evidence stacked against him from the state.

“Mr. Weiland did a terrible thing and we’re not here to pretend otherwise,” Henry said. “Almost everything that Mr. Vlieger just said is true.”

Henry told the jury that he expects them to convict Weiland of the second-degree assault charges. However, he also argued that the state will not be able to prove the first-degree attempted murder charges.

“Mr. Weiland didn’t fire his gun because he wanted to kill anyone,” Henry said.

In order to prove attempted first-degree murder, the state has to show the jury that Weiland had a premeditated plan to kill people that day, and that killing was Weiland’s intent from the start. The defense pointed out that in order to do that, the state will have to “get into Devin Weiland’s head,” which they said will prove to be a challenge.

Henry said in his opening statements that Weiland’s only intent that day was to commit “suicide by cop.” According to Henry, the jury will see evidence that Weiland was in distress, mentioning photos showing trash on the floor and moldy food.

“Intent to kill. I don’t expect the state to show it, and I don’t expect you to find it,” he said.