Prosecutors in the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office are determining whether a 33-year-old Damascus man charged with killing his girlfriend Labor Day weekend can also be charged with killing the woman’s unborn child.
Olney resident Laura Elizabeth Wallen, 31, was four months pregnant when she was killed, family members said. The Damascus man accused of her murder, Tyler Tessier, 33, is believed to be the father.
Montgomery County Police charged Tessier Sept. 13 with the first-degree murder of Wallen. If Tessier is found guilty, he could be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, the Montgomery County state prosecutor's office has not ruled out requesting a sentence that would allow for consideration of parole.
"We have not made that decision yet," Korionoff said.
Montgomery County Police spokesperson Sgt. Rebecca Innocenti confirmed on Tuesday that, according to autopsy results from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, Wallen suffered a gunshot wound to the back of the head. However, final autopsy results are pending and police have not released a cause of death for Wallen.
According to Maryland law, an unborn child has to be considered medically viable once outside the womb before a murder charge can be brought.
"Generally speaking the viability of a fetus in Maryland has been considered somewhere between 24 and 26 weeks," said Ramon Korionoff, spokesman for the Montgomery County State's Attorney office. "We await further information before making our final decision on additional charges."
In Maryland, a sentence of life requires the defendant to serve at least 15 years before parole can be considered, Rockville defense attorney David Martella said.
"If you get a sentence of life, there is a provision that says you must serve at least 15 years of the sentence before being considered for parole," said Martella. "For murder cases, the governor must approve the parole. It is very difficult to get the governor's approval."
Maryland abolished the death penalty in 2013.
Wallen’s sister Jennifer Kadi reported Wallen missing on Monday, Sept. 4.
Police found her body nine days later on Sept. 13 in a shallow grave on a plot of land on Prices Distillery Road in Damascus.
Tessier lured Wallen to a property surrounded by farms, open fields and dense woods over Labor Day weekend, according to police reports. He told Wallen he hoped to buy the land and build a home for the couple's new family.
“Tyler has me on an adventure in the country,” Wallen said in a text to her sister the evening of Saturday, Sept. 2. “Don’t know why I’m here but it’s for something.”
Wallen's sister, Jennifer Kadi, asked where she was. “I’m waiting in a field,” Wallen responded.
“Take a picture,” Kadi wrote back.
Wallen sent her a photograph of a large field with a tree line, police said.
Tessier had been to the area before. Police said Tessier frequented a home of a "close friend," a house adjacent to the property where police found Wallen's body. The friend was out of town Labor Day weekend.
Wallen lived with her dog in a condominium complex on Rolling Meadow Way in Olney. She was a social studies teacher at Wilde Lake High School in Howard County.
The last official sighting of Wallen was on Saturday, Sept. 2 between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., police said. Security cameras captured Wallen and Tessier grocery shopping at the local Safeway located at 3333 Spartan Road in Olney.
Between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., a neighbor in Wallen's condominium complex said he saw the couple carrying groceries into Wallen's home and then walking Wallen's dog, Parker, outside in the parking lot.
A few minutes later, Tessier left. Wallen followed five minutes later in her car, a black 2011 Ford Escape SUV, leaving the lights on and the dog behind, the neighbor said.
Around 9 a.m. on Monday Sept. 4, Kadi received several texts from Wallen's cell phone. The texts didn't sound like something Wallen would write, she told police.
“I am like 95 percent sure Tyler is not the father,” one text read.
“I’m probably going to lose my job over this,” another text read. This text was supposed to refer to Wallen’s job as a high school teacher in Howard County, police said.
“I am going to try and get a hold of Antwan,” referring to Wallen's ex-boyfriend Antoine.
“Tyler is never going to forgive me.”
Concerned about the unusual texts, Kadi called police.
Tessier told police he was last with Wallen at her condo on Monday Sept. 4 at 8:30 a.m., according to police reports. He said the couple argued, but agreed to meet at a Starbucks shop in Columbia Mall to talk. Tessier said he waited two hours, but Wallen never showed.
Three days later, Thursday, Sept. 7, police located Wallen's SUV at Gramercy Place apartments, located across the street from Columbia Mall. A manager of the apartment complex called police to say an employee turned in a driver's license belonging to Laura Wallen. A maintenance worker found the license on Monday Sept. 4 in front of a trash dumpster, but it wasn't until Thursday, Sept. 7, when the manager searched Facebook and realized it was Wallen.
On Monday, Sept. 11, Montgomery County Police and Wallen's family held a press conference with Tessier pleading for Wallen's safe return.
"Laura, if you're listening, it doesn't matter what's happened, it doesn't matter what type of trouble," Tessier said. "There's nothing we can't fix together – myself and your family. There's so many people that miss you. We haven't slept. We haven't eaten. We're just looking and praying that you're safe."
Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger acknowledged on Wednesday, Sept. 13, that the press conference was a ruse.
"The decision to allow [Tessier] to participate in that news conference was a calculated decision made by the detectives in this case for the express purpose of hearing what he had to say," Manger said. "It was done with the approval and knowledge of the victim's family."
Manger said the big break came in the case when "alert residents" revealed that Tessier had been spending a great amount of time at the property on Prices Distillery Road after Wallen’s disappearance.
Manger said during the search of the property where Tessier's friend lived, the search-and-rescue team observed tire tracks on a nearby property. The tire tracks, along with cadaver dogs, led the team to an area of freshly dug ground on an adjacent property, which was "some distance from the property they were originally searching."
In the dirt, on the perimeter of a dense tree line, police discovered a 10' x 10' grave with a piece of purple fabric protruding from the ground. The area appeared to match the backdrop of a photo sent by Wallen's sister. Tessier told police Wallen was wearing a purple shawl or vest the last time he saw her.
During Tessier's last police interview, he admitted taking Wallen's car to an apartment complex across the street from Columbia Mall. He said he left Wallen's SUV in the parking lot, removed the front license plate and dumped her driver's license and cellphone near a dumpster. He said he did so because Wallen told him "Antwan" was the baby's father and she said she needed to tell him the truth about the baby.
Tessier told police he was trying to buy Wallen time to figure out what to do, after she asked him for a day to think about things.
Investigators also learned during the interview Tessier called a friend for a ride. He asked the friend to pick him up from the Columbia apartment complex and take him back to Wallen's home. Police identified the friend as a woman. Tessier asked the friend to lie if the police ever asked her about picking him up in Columbia, police said.
Police said Tessier also called a friend on Sunday, Sept. 3 and asked the friend to give him a ride "late night" to Baltimore because he had to "clean up a mess." The friend declined.
Tessier also admitted sending texts on Sept. 4 to Wallen's sister Monday morning, impersonating Wallen, which is what police had suspected.
Police also located the license plate from Wallen's car at the Prices Distillery Road address. The tag was found in a plastic bag of trash, police reported.
Finally, Tessier admitted he was engaged to another woman, Christina Wagoner.
Wallen and Wagoner communicated on text one week before her disappearance, according to police records.
"It's important that some things are cleared up and I would imagine that if you were in my position, you'd want some answers as well," Wallen wrote. "By no means is this an attempt at confrontation, just looking for an explanation...woman to woman."
A preliminary court hearing is scheduled for Tessier Oct. 13.
Montgomery County Police say the investigation is still open.
“As with any case, the arrest doesn’t end the investigation,” Manger said.