FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –The night Kiera Zepke got shot and killed, she was moving out of 1304 Lillie St. and away from the threats and danger there.
That was what her boyfriend, Michael Rau, Jr., 23, said in court testimony Wednesday, the second day of Steven Atkins’ murder trial. Atkins is charged with murder and criminal recklessness in the shooting death of Zepke, killed on May 9 around 11:30 p.m.
Rau was sitting in the passenger seat of Zepke’s black Chevy Malibu behind the Lillie Street home when he and Zepke saw a red beam over their left shoulder.
“Oh my god, you scared me,” Rau heard Zepke say as she opened the driver’s side door to get out and saw Atkins outside her vehicle. Atkins lowered the gaiter he was wearing, told them he was going to kill them, raised his 9mm handgun and fired at least nine shots, before fleeing north in the alley behind the home, Rau testified.
Dr. Scott Wagner, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy, testified that 20-year-old Zepke died from one bullet that entered her left side just under her shoulder, went through her heart and lung, exited through the sternum and lastly, into her right arm. In a matter of minutes, she was dead.
Their date night turned into a nightmare as Rau carried her into the back of the house, “screaming to God,” he said.
“She was like the love of my life,” said Rau, who’d been dating Zepke for about a year, picking up the relationship in January when he was no longer “locked up.” He was fighting a 2-year addiction, spent a month at Park Center and was in Drug Court, he testified.
No one has yet said what occupied the time of 38-year-old Atkins, who had designs on Zepke that included more than friendship, but he sent plenty of texts and short videos threatening both Zepke and Hagler-Ellis, supposedly over a failed business deal.
Zepke called Atkins “crazy” in a May 3 interview with a detective from Fort Wayne Police Department’s vice & narcotics and told the detective Atkins shot up the Lillie Street home. The interview was unrelated to the March 30 incident where Hagler-Ellis’s home was shot up. Hagler-Ellis said it was Atkins and described a jacket he was wearing.
The prosecution, led by Chief Deputy Tom Chaille and deputy prosecutor Tasha Lee, brought Hagler-Ellis back on the stand Wednesday and she revisited the night six bullets were shot into the back of her 2-story home where her bedroom is located, barely missing her head.
WANE 15 visited the crime scene Wednesday where Hagler-Ellis read out loud a couple of the texts she received after the home was shot up around 4 a.m.
“I think I’ll take care of both of you when the one who talks too much gets back. Two orphans are better than one,” Atkins told her in a text. He was referring to Zepke’s young son and the son of Hagler-Ellis. Zepke was apparently the one who talked too much.
Just after he allegedly shot up her home, he texted Hagler Ellis: “Know you roll the dice so be about that (expletive) u talkin’” and “(expletive) ain’t fun now. Hope you all stay safe out there in them streets.”
Zepke didn’t take Atkins seriously, Rau testified, but she was moving her clothes out of there into a storage unit and her mother and father were arranging for her to find a new home.
Another witness to take the stand was inmate Daniel Logan who appeared in his Allen County Jail orange jumpsuit. He apparently was used to giving Atkins rides here and there and just after the shooting at 11:30 p.m., Atkins texted him and asked Logan to pick him up ASAP. Atkins also wanted Logan to pick up a bag, but Logan was suspicious and found out later that it was probably a stolen gun.
The defense, led by Jerad Bryant Marks and David Felts, tried to chip away at the poor lighting in the alley behind Hagler-Ellis’s home, but a street light was but 20 feet away and was on that night.
The light in Zepke’s Chevy also came on when she opened the car door. Hagle-Ellis said she was able to identify Atkins from her upstairs bedroom after she heard shots and looked out through her binoculars.
Marks wanted to know if she used binoculars on March 30 when her house was shot up, but the reporting officer, David Bush, said he didn’t believe so or binoculars weren’t part of the report.
After the shooting, Rau said Atkins fled north in the alley. The next day he was picked up at a home in the 3500 block of Reed Street after he was tracked by the FWPD using high-tech digital cell phone technology. On the afternoon of May 10, officers surrounded the home as Atkins smoked his last cigarette and didn’t fight the arrest
So far the prosecution is relying on eyewitness testimony and incriminating texts to build their case. Some of the testimony is recorded phone calls and a video Atkins sent to Zepke, but the courtroom sound makes it nearly impossible to understand what’s being said. Folks in the gallery don’t have the benefit of printed texts to accompany the audio.
Every time a recording is played, Atkins looks as though he’s thoroughly enjoying hearing his voice. Tomorrow there should be a video clip of a short interaction between Atkins and Rau when they were both in lock-up at the Allen County Jail. Rau says Atkins was trying to intimidate him into “changing his story.”
Thursday should be the last day of testimony before the attorneys present their closing arguments and leave the jury to deliberate.