By Denise Lana,
(Editors note: As of press time Wednesday morning, no verdict had been delivered.)
What started as a missing persons case March 19, 2022, has almost come to an end, as the trial of Aaron Gary Whittle has wrapped and his fate rests in the hands of 12 jurors as they deliberate inside the Winneshiek County Courtroom Jury room. Aaron Whittle, 44, was charged with first degree murder in the death of his stepfather, Lawrence “Larry” Whittle, both of Decorah. Aaron later admitted to killing Larry, stating it was an accidental shooting.
Larry Whittle initially reported missing
Larry Whittle, 74, was reported missing from his Decorah cattle farm March 19, 2022, by Aaron, after a friend and hired hand of Whittle family’s farm, Wyatt Beebe, discovered Larry’s truck missing from the driveway at the farm. According to testimony given by Aaron during the trial, Beebe suggested tracking the GPS on Larry’s truck to see if it could be located. Before doing that, Aaron testified he decided to call the Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office and report his stepdad missing, along with his stepdad’s truck.
Aaron did suggest to the Sheriff’s Office operator that there was a GPS on the truck that Aaron could track, and the Sheriff’s Office dispatch instructed Aaron to investigate the GPS and call back if he still needed their assistance. At that time, Aaron tracked the GPS signal while Beebe drove, and soon located Larry’s truck parked and empty at Merlin Moe Park between Decorah and Waukon. After calling the Sheriff’s Office back to report the abandoned truck, Aaron called family members to tell them Larry was missing.
Family and deputies arrived on scene at the park to search for Larry. According to Aaron, he and Beebe left the park a little while later and went back to the Whittle residence located on the cattle farm. Aaron said he hung out at the house Saturday, and Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office Lead Detective, Deputy Chris Wuebker, arrived at the farm that afternoon to question Aaron more in-depth. Saturday night, family members dropped by to voice concern and show support as they worried about Larry being missing.
Sunday morning, Aaron said he became scared and contacted Iowa Division of Criminal
Investigation Major Crimes Unit Special Agent Jon Turbett, to talk with him. It was to Turbett that Aaron broke down and admitted to lying about his stepfather being missing. According to his testimony, Aaron said he was “worried that the story wasn’t going to hold up.”
The “story” Aaron referred to began three days prior, on Thursday, March 17.
The fateful day in question
Thursday, March 17, started as any other on the farm, with Larry, Aaron and Beebe starting farm chores between 4-5 a.m. Around 3:30 p.m. or so, Aaron testified that Beebe left and Aaron had supper with Larry before heading downstairs to his personal area while Larry relaxed in his reclining chair upstairs in the living room. At some point, Aaron fell asleep and was startled awake by severe coughing coming from Larry. Aaron went upstairs to check on Larry, but as his testimony explained, Larry became upset with Aaron for checking on him.
See the Decorah Public Opinion newspaper for the entire story including details from theMarch 17, 2022, the next few days, the story versus evidence and more.
The prosecution, with Winneshiek County Attorney Andy Van Der Maaten and special counsel Iowa Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown, submitted 80 exhibits to be used at trial to make their case for Aaron’s first-degree murder charge. Exhibits presented included photographs of the Whittle residence, Larry Whittle, his truck, the truck at Merlin Moe Park, the shotgun, the trough including dentures, glasses, bone fragments and damage to trough, and photographic evidence of key pieces of evidence. Video surveillance from Old Stage Road of a pickup and later a person walking, was also offered, as was the 911 call Aaron made, and the interview of Aaron Whittle with the Special Agent when Aaron called the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
Once the prosecution presented their evidence over the first few days of the trial, which began Monday, Feb. 20, with jury selection, the defense presented their case. Defense attorney Les Blair moved for dismissal of all charges, which was rebuffed by Judge Laura Parrish, who concluded there was sufficient cause to continue the trial. The defense presented evidence to include the photo of the Stevens 5100 side by side shotgun, and expert testimony from Charles Stephenson, former Special Agent with the FBI, on the firearm. The defense holds that the shotgun went off accidentally, and there was no malice or forethought by Aaron.
The jury received instruction and entered deliberations Tuesday, Feb. 28, once the prosecution and defense each rested their case.
See the Decorah Public Opinion newspaper for the entire story.