Stephen Heimberg

The Saguache County trial of Stephen Heimberg began Thursday with opening statements by both sides.

A seven-woman, six-man jury, including an alternate, was seated Wednesday.

Heimberg faces charges of first-degree murder and first-degree assault in the Sept. 7, 2018, shooting death of Richard Wharton at Heimberg’s place of business, Lumber Mart, and residence, 550 Denver Ave., Saguache.

Opening statements for the prosecution were made by 12th Judicial District Deputy District Attorney Mérida Zerbi.

She outlined the timeline of events in the days just before and in the early morning hours of Sept. 7, 2018.

She said the prosecution’s evidence would include statements made by Heimberg to witnesses about protecting his property days prior to the incident and by neighbors who heard someone yelling for help and banging on the roof of a building on the Heimberg property, as well as gun shots.

Zerbi said the jury would have a chance to review video and audio evidence in the case.

She told jurors that, at the end of testimony, they would be asked to use common sense and return a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree assault against Heimberg.

Attorney James Castle of Denver made the opening statement for the defense.

Castle told jurors the case was about Heimberg and Wharton and the choices they made and didn’t make that morning.

He said Heimberg, a businessman, had taken steps to protect his business with fencing around his property and posted no trespassing signs.

Castle said Heimberg called the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office twice that morning, once to report an intruder and later to report the shooting and to get an ambulance.

He said Heimberg had known Wharton since he was 12 years old and had helped him upon occasion.

Castle said at the end of testimony jurors would be asked to return a verdict of not guilty.

Following opening statements the prosecution began its case.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Robert Willett’s first witness was Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Julie Petterson, who was called in by Saguache County Sheriff Dan Warwick to investigate the incident.

Petterson walked the jury through a series of photos taken at the scene the morning of the incident, which included photos of the grounds of the Heimberg property and the placement of a two-by-four allegedly used by the victim to bang on the roof of the building and the placement of Wharton’s body and bloodstains found on the roof.

After the jury examined the photo and written evidence, court recessed for lunch.

The afternoon’s testimony was expected to include continuation of the prosecution’s questioning of Petterson, followed by cross-examination by the defense.

The trial continues today in Saguache County District Court.

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