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Retrial Begins for 2019 Robbery and Murder Near Flagstaff after Hung Jury

Nearly two months after a hung jury led to a mistrial, Michael Wyffels returned to a Coconino County Superior Courtroom once again face charges of first-degree murder, armed robbery and kidnapping.

October’s mistrial extended an already lengthy legal process as the Coconino County Attorney’s Office looks to prove Wyffels was responsible for the death of 87-year-old Alan Avery in August 2019. Wyffels, 59, has remained in custody since his arrest in Oregon nearly two weeks after Avery’s body was discovered along the switchbacks of Highway 89A in Oak Creek Canyon.

Wednesday’s opening statements laid out the evidence the prosecution will present in the case over the next two weeks, beginning with the release of Wyffels from an Arizona prison on Aug. 16, 2019, just one day before Avery disappeared. Though Deputy County Attorney Sasha Charls’ opening statement generically explained Wyffels was discharged from a Phoenix area location that he was not allowed to leave, Wyffels had been incarcerated due to an aggravated assault charge. Released without money or a vehicle, the prosecution claimed Wyffels headed to his mother’s home in Sun City, Arizona, which was located right next door to Avery’s residence.

Avery lived alone in Sun City, and the prosecution explained that the 87-year-old mostly kept to himself and rarely traveled further than a few miles from his home. Explaining Avery was a very frugal man who withdrew $100 each week to eat at a few fast food restaurants near his home, the prosecution laid out the basis for why it would be not only uncommon, but almost impossible he would willingly leave the area.

When Avery’s stepson called to check in on him on Aug. 18 — as he typically did on Sundays — the victim did not answer. Concerned he hadn’t heard from Avery after a day, the stepson requested a welfare check from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.

Failing to get an answer while observing lights on at the residence and with Avery’s vehicle also missing from the garage, the Maricopa Sheriff’s Office checked again a day later before the stepson traveled from his home in Colorado to Sun City to advance the search.

Meanwhile, surveillance footage from an ATM and a gas station in Prescott showed Wyffels with Avery at 12:36 a.m. on Aug. 17, just 12 hours before the victim’s body was located. Bank statements confirmed $300 was withdrawn in Prescott before card charges were later made in Utah, Idaho and eventually Oregon, where Wyffels was later apprehended. The charges were made over the course of a few days while Wyffels allegedly traveled north, doing so after the body, which was later confirmed to be Avery, was found in Oak Creek Canyon

Charls’ opening statement also focused on the suspect’s goal of reaching Oregon, where he would eventually arrive on the doorstep of a family friend looking for a place to stay. This was where Wyffels allegedly made incriminating statements, explaining he had received the car in return from landscaping work, which had been his source of income in the past. The witness told authorities Wyffels made statements including that a man down a cliff had been calling out his name saying “don’t leave me like this,” with the defendant responding that he finished him off.

While Charls included these comments in her opening statement, the witness from Oregon was scheduled to take the stand later in the trial to offer more context.

An autopsy of Avery confirmed he had died due to blunt force trauma to his head, with defensive wounds on his hands indicating he had tried to shield himself from an assault. After Avery’s then unidentified body was discovered in Oak Creek Canyon on Aug. 17, the Maricopa and Coconino County sheriff’s departments eventually made the connection to the missing person’s case in the Valley. No murder weapon was discovered in connection to the case, with Charls telling the jury they would not hear an answer to what the murder weapon was, but describing it as a tire iron or crowbar-type of instrument.

Another key piece of evidence mentioned during the prosecution’s opening statements was a note recovered from the home in Oregon, signed by Avery, that explained he had given his car and $300 in return for $500 worth of landscaping work. Photos of Avery’s Sun City residence showed just one large bush in the property’s front yard, with no other plant life existing to need landscaping work. Just as she explained in relation to the whereabouts of the murder weapon, Charls’ opening statement disclosed the prosecution would not have an answer for why the note was written or in what circumstance Avery had written and signed it.

During her own opening statement, defense attorney Jennifer Stock briefly explained to the jury what to expect from the trial.

Noting how many exhibits the jury would see during the trial, including photos, surveillance video, drone footage, maps and even a 3D map, Stock asked the jury to focus on which screen captures the prosecution elected to show in opening statements and whether they would later represent the complete video.

Additionally, Stock focused on the jury needing to pay attention to the manner in which witnesses testify and whether they do so with confidence, promising to revisit the topic at the end of the trial.

Wyffels’ past history and his family’s proximity to Avery led law enforcement to the defendant back in 2019 after the surveillance footage in Prescott showed him alongside Avery at the ATM. Another video from a gas station in Prescott showed Wyffels alone and slowly moving away from Avery’s vehicle as sirens and lights drove past, but returned to the car once he realized it was an ambulance.

Wyffels had previously been found guilty in two assault cases between 2014 and 2016, both in Yavapai County. Additionally, a trio of assault charges in 2002 led to a finding of “guilty except for insanity” and a psychiatric review in 2003. Coincidentally, an Associated Press story from 2008 cited a 44-year-old Mike Wyffels as a patient of five years at the Oregon State Hospital, a public psychiatric hospital.

The trial is set to take place over eight total days, with a schedule of four days each week, culminating in the anticipated conclusion on Dec. 15.

Source: Arizona Daily Sun