June 22, 2024

EVANSVILLE — The teenager accused of shooting two brothers, one of them fatally, inside a Vanderburgh County farmhouse will go to trial in January, according to court records.

Assuming the trial moves forward, jurors will have to decide whether Austin D. Ousley, 18, is guilty of having committed felony murder, attempted murder – and other charges – for his alleged role in the shooting death of Shawn Wildt and the wounding of Shawn’s brother, Chad Wildt.

Though investigators maintain that Ousley effectively confessed to the crime in social media messages sent after the shooting, Ousley has pleaded not guilty and, so far, has mounted an active defense.

Whether Ousley would stand trial remained an open question in the initial weeks after the fatal incident, which occurred on Feb. 27 inside a white farmhouse owned by the Wildt family in the Ohio River bottoms south of Downtown Evansville.

Detectives with the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office determined that Ousley shot and killed Shawn, 36, and wounded Chad, 42, during an altercation after he and a 17-year-old friend illegally entered the Wildt’s farmhouse.

Shawn was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy revealed he had suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the chest. Chad was transported to Deaconess Hospital with life-threatening injuries and underwent multiple surgeries over an 11-day period.

Chad’s wife, Holly, told the Courier & Press it took 16 units of donated blood to keep Chad alive.

“We mourn the loss (of Shawn), and this is the hardest thing our family has ever been through in our entire life,” Holly said in March. “We can’t match this to anything we’ve ever been through — and him and his brother, they were almost twins.”

Following the shooting, Ousley attempted to take his own life, police records state, and he suffered a severe head injury that required intensive treatment at an Indianapolis hospital. In early March, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Diana Moers said she was unsure when, or if, Ousley could be charged in connection with the shooting.

But on March 15, Moers’ office filed formal charges and a judge found probable cause to issue a warrant for Ousley’s arrest. On March 23, Ousley was arraigned from his hospital bed in Indianapolis and was later transported to the Vanderburgh County jail to await trial.

Since then, Ousley’s defense has sparred with prosecutors over whether he should be offered bail and allowed to have his smartphone returned to his family.

As of Thursday, jury selection in Ousley’s case is scheduled to begin the morning of January 8, court records state. In addition to murder and attempted murder charges, prosecutors will ask jurors to convict Ousley of breaking and entering and using a firearm in the commission of a felony resulting in death.

Ousley’s own admissions could prove crucial at trial

Prior to the shooting, the Wildt brothers installed two remote trail cameras at the farmhouse, which typically stood unoccupied in the 5100 block of Cypress Dale Road, after they suspected a spate of trespassing incidents, according to a sworn affidavit.

On Feb. 27, the cameras allegedly captured Ousley and his friend – who officials have not publicly identified – entering the property. Ousley’s arrest affidavit states that the footage shows Ousley wearing a handgun holster as he approached the home.

The Wildts had been monitoring the remote cameras and, according to investigators, confronted the teens. Ousley is alleged to have shot the brothers during an ensuing altercation.

About 10 minutes after the incident, Ousley’s 17-year-old friend dialed 911 and told dispatchers he saw Ousley shoot two men and claimed Ousley had confessed, according to audio of the call reviewed by the Courier & Press.

During the call, the juvenile said Ousley sent him a video taking responsibility for “everything.” While investigators have not publicly commented on the existence of such a video, detectives have said Ousley confessed to the shooting on social media.

“I just f*****g killed 2 guys,” one Snapchat message Ousley is alleged to have sent states, according to his arrest affidavit. “I was trespassing.”

The affidavit goes on to claim Ousley sent another Snapchat message with a photograph of what appeared to be a handgun resting on his blood-stained jeans.

The 17-year-old who was allegedly with Ousley inside the farmhouse pleaded guilty to trespassing charges in juvenile court, according to Vanderburgh County prosecutors.

Decrypting Ousley’s smartphone has proven difficult for investigators, court records show

While detectives have publicly cited social media content as evidence against Ousley, it remains unclear if prosecutors have had full access to files and data stored on Ousley’s smartphone.

Weeks after Ousley’s arrest, his defense attorney, Christian Lenn, requested that Ousley’s phone be retrieved from police evidence and turned over to a family member. Deputy Prosecutor John M. Bober objected, and in a June filing wrote that investigators had been unable to decrypt the phone’s hard drive to retrieve critical evidence, such as GPS location history.

“The [Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office] current phone data retrieval/extraction software is state-of-the-art,” Bober wrote. “However, to date [a detective] had not been successful in breaking into the first stage of encryption on the iPhone 13 Pro Max cellular phone.”

Bober went on to state the phone was being stored in a “data safe mode” which protects files from being altered or deleted. He argued that because Ousley’s arrest affidavit cites specific instances of Ousley communicating via his phone, the device should be held until investigators could decrypt the contents of its hard drive.

“The state also wants the GPS/Google location data from the phone to map [Ousley’s] phone location during and immediately prior/after the course of incident events,” Bober wrote.

In September, Vanderburgh County Circuit Court Judge Robert Pigman ordered the sheriff’s office to retrieve a smartphone from storage and return it to Ousley’s family, though Pigman’s order describes the phone in question as an “iPhone 11 space gray in color,” which differs from prosecutors’ description of Ousley’s phone.

The Courier & Press submitted questions to prosecutors and Ousley’s defense attorney seeking clarification on which cellphone was returned and whether the iPhone 11 belonged to Ousley or someone else.

Defense allowed to visit and document the crime scene; Ousley denied bail

Ousley and Lenn, along with one designated assistant and a sheriff’s office employee, were permitted to visit and document evidence at the farmhouse on June 2, according to an order drafted by Pigman.

“Any video or images taken of the property will not be copied and/or disseminated with a non-party without the court’s prior approval,” Pigman wrote. “Nothing shall be dismantled, moved or removed.”

According to court records, Ousley unsuccessfully petitioned the court to offer him bail ahead of his trial. In an order, Pigman wrote that Ousley’s arrest affidavit provided a preponderance of evidence that he committed the crime of murder, and therefore could be denied bail under Indiana law — which allows judges to deny bail only in cases of homicide or treason.

The case has garnered significant media attention, and in the weeks and months after Ousley’s arrest multiple local news outlets petitioned Pigman to allow video and audio recording during Ousley’s court appearances. To date, Pigman has denied such requests, though a meeting is scheduled to be held to discuss whether cameras will be allowed in the courtroom during Ousley’s trial.

Houston can be contacted at houston.harwood@courierpress.com

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Trial date set for Evansville teen accused of double shooting

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