BENTON — In the first day of testimony, jurors got to hear Brian Pheasant’s side of the story when it comes to the 2016 shooting death of his wife, Beth Pheasant.
The Christopher man did yet not take the stand, but his attorney, Paula Newcomb, said in her opening statements that Beth’s death was the result of a botched suicide attempt. Evidence presented Wednesday showed Beth had two bullet wounds, one in the shoulder and one in the head.
Brian Pheasant is charged with two counts of first degree murder for the death of his wife.
Newcomb said the two had been experiencing marital difficulties and were on their way to a divorce, and because of this, Brian planned to commit suicide. This would have been his third divorce and his second suicide attempt because of a breakup, Newcomb said Wednesday morning. He had attempted to hang himself after his second marriage ended.
This narrative played out as State’s Attorney Evan Owens began presenting his case-in-chief.
During his questioning of witness Jason Colp, a trooper with the Illinois State Police, Owens played an interview Colp had conducted with Pheasant just hours after his arrest at the Christopher Police Station.
Through sniffles and possibly tears, Brian said, “She’s dead and I’m not” when answering Colp’s question of what was going on that night. He said he wanted to kill himself because this divorce was the third “for the same reason.”
In the interview, Pheasant explained that the week before the Oct. 31, 2016 killing, he had caught his wive cheating on him with their son’s martial arts instructor, and that the two were working their way through a fast divorce — he said he wanted to get the equity from their house so that he could leave it for his children after he killed himself.
He said he had recently purchased a gun so that, when he thought it was the right time, he could kill himself in front of Beth — he even said he had letters in his truck, though these have not yet been presented as evidence.
“I wanted her to see it,” he said in the recorded interview.
Talking with Colp, Brian Pheasant said he didn’t mean to attempt suicide that night, but when he came home and started arguing with his wife, the desire overtook him. When the two were in their garage, Pheasant said he pulled out the gun he had purchased that day at a local gun dealer and put the barrel to his head and pulled the trigger.
Nothing happened. Pheasant explained that he had never shot a gun in his life and had not primed the chamber with a round. When he tried to rack the slide of the pistol is when things went wrong, he said.
“I was messing with it and it went off,” he told the investigator. “I just heard her say, ‘Shelby, he shot me.’” Shelby Eickelman was Beth’s daughter, and was there that night with her brother, Riley.
As she retreated from the garage to their kitchen, Pheasant said he followed, still trying to get the gun ready to shoot himself — he said he had seen a round jammed half in and half out of the chamber. He said as he went down the hall, rounds were hitting the floor and he was picking them back up and trying to put them back in the factory-fresh .9mm Springfield Armory pistol.
Then it happened again. He said when they got to the kitchen the gun again accidentally went off and he saw his wife drop to the floor.
“(It was) the most horrific thing I ever seen,” he said of the blood covering the kitchen floor.
Still talking with Colp, Pheasant said he then went to the bathroom and got the gun fixed and ready to fire. He went back out to see Beth and to kill himself, and found himself unable to go through with it.
That’s when police found him.
Beth’s death as an accident is not what Owens laid out to the jury during opening statements, though. He played to the fact that the gun was purchased the same day as the killing — Pheasant had put half down on Oct 27, 2016 and waited for his background check to clear before picking up the weapon.
Owens spent the majority of the morning establishing the case from the moment 9-1-1 was called. A frantic Shelby Eickelman was heard in a dispatch recording explaining that she was in the backyard after her stepfather had shot her mom.
Owens also interviewed Roni Fasig, another dispatcher, who took another call about the incident from a family friend of Beth and Brian’s.
That caller was present when the shooting took place — he had dropped Brian at the house and was told to “stay in the car,” as Brian went inside. After the gunshots, the caller went in to scoop up Riley and took him across the street to safety to wait for authorities.
Fasig was in a unique spot — she was the Pheasants’ neighbor. She offered her house as a safe place for any of the Pheasant kids who needed it. Her husband even brought some clothes to Riley across the street as he had left the house in nothing but his undergarments in the commotion.
Owens also questioned several officers who arrived at the scene and presented bodycam footage from one who was in the party that arrested Pheasant, who presented no resistance from police.
Owens will continue presenting his case Thursday beginning at 9 a.m.