DUBUQUE — A man who pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his testimony said Thursday that Isaiah Sweet initiated a text conversation with him May 11, 2012, about different ways to kill people.
Brandon Ahlers, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison last month for his role in the deaths of Richard and Janet Sweet on Mother’s Day 2012 in Manchester, said he and Isaiah Sweet discussed several methods — including poisoning and shooting people — whether people in town would be able to hear a gunshot go off and how to load a gun. Though he said he found the conversation odd, Ahlers did not contact police until two days later after he saw the Sweets dead on the couch in their home.
Isaiah Sweet, 18, of Manchester is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Richard and Janet Sweet, his grandparents. During opening statements Thursday, Denise Timmins, Iowa assistant attorney general, said Sweet confessed to committing the murders during an interview with police.
Defense Attorney Jill Eimermann told the jury the case was not a question of “who done it,” but why it happened. Eimermann said jury members should expect to hear more background information that will help put the incident into context.
State Trooper Jon Stickney testified he first saw Richard and Janet Sweet’s bodies shortly after 2 p.m. May 13, 2012, at 109 Deann Drive in Manchester after another family member contacted police.
Ahlers, however, testified he had seen the bodies before that. He said Isaiah Sweet came to his his home with a TV, shotgun and AR-15 between midnight and 1 a.m. May 12 and wanted to exchange them for marijuana, eventually giving them to Ahlers for free. Ahlers said he kept the TV and sold the semi-automatic shotgun to a friend.
Ahlers testified Sweet later told him to go to his house and to take anything he wanted. When he did, Ahlers said he saw Sweet’s grandparents dead on the couch and left immediately. After realizing the gun he had sold likely was used in the murder, Ahlers testified he tracked the gun down and helped to turn it into police after talking to a family member, his uncle, about what he should do.
“I didn’t believe that Isaiah had actually done that,” Ahlers said. “I knew they (the Sweets) were there, but I was refusing to believe it.”
Ahlers entered Alford pleas for unauthorized possession of an offensive weapon and third-degree burglary, both felonies, two counts of accessory after the fact, both aggravated misdemeanors, and two counts of attempted third-degree burglary, both serious misdemeanors. Under such a plea, a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but agrees that enough evidence likely exists for a conviction. Ahlers originally was charged with aiding and abetting and two counts of first-degree murder.
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today at the Dubuque County Courthouse. The trial was moved from Delaware County on account of pre-trial publicity.