TAYLOR COUNTY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) ― Testimony continued Thursday in the trial for the murder of Abilene realtor Tom Niblo, as jurors heard from several witnesses, including a former co-worker who presented a new dispute between Niblo and the suspect, an APD detective, and Niblo’s mother and daughter, who painted a picture of financial and power struggles that could be central to the case.
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First to testify was Chris Tucker, who was in training with suspect Luke Sweetser at Blue Cross Blue Shield for several weeks before the murder.
Tucker told the jury that Sweetser showed up for work on time, or even early, every day for training – which began at 8:00 in the morning. But on December 12, 2016, the day Niblo was shot and killed in his bed on Woodridge Drive, Sweetser was missing all morning, then showed up around lunch time, spoke with a supervisor and left.
Sweetser did show up for work the next day. Tucker says that he expressed frustration that police had been searching his home and seizing his property, but did not seem otherwise concerned about Niblo’s death.
During his testimony, Tucker also revealed another ongoing dispute between Sweetser and Niblo. He says Sweetser told him he didn’t like Niblo because Niblo called his son, who has a disability, the R-slur.
Following Tucker, on stand was Abilene Police Detective Frank Shoemaker.
After visiting the scene of the murder briefly the morning of December 16, Det. Shoemaker said he was tasked with speaking to Tom’s sister, Ellouise Sweester. Ellouise is also Luke Sweetser’s wife.
Det. Shoemaker said he went to Ellouise’s house and waited for her to show up, which was at around 10:00 that morning. He then asked her to come down to the police station for questioning, noting it was standard to talk with family members during a homicide investigation, however she refused this time and also during a later request.
Also assisting in numerous search warrant executions, Det. Shoemaker said one stuck out. At the Niblo Family warehouse on Mesquite Street, he said he found machetes, knives, and a handgun inside a duffel bag that was in a crate of camping gear.
It’s unknown to whom this crate belonged. Previous testimony revealed around 10 people had access to this warehouse, including the Niblos and Sweetsers.
Devastating debt and a Lack of Power: Niblo family gives insight into Sweetser struggles in the month’s prior to Tom’s death
Evelyn Niblo, who is the mother of Tom and Ellouise, was the first member of the Niblo family to testify Thursday.
She revealed that after her husband, Syd died that June. Tom was named as executor of Syd’s will and estate, and also became sole manager of the family LLC, leaving Ellouise out.
After Syd’s death, Evelyn said Ellouise came to her, saying she had $50,000 in credit card debt and wanted $250,000. However, Evelyn testified to giving her daughter $100,000.
Evelyn said she had a spare key at the time Tom Niblo was killed, and that opened her house, as well as Tom’s, because they were keyed the same.
That key went missing around the time of the murder and has not been found since. Evelyn said Sweetser is the only person who knew where she kept the key because one time, he had his son go through an overgrown greenhouse and stick his hand through a pet door to unlock the back door and get inside.
She didn’t want Luke to keep putting the child in danger, so she told him about the spare key. All of her help had keys of their own.
The last witness to testify before Thursday’s lunch break was Tom Niblo’s daugther, Elizabeth Wallace. Wallace is also the attorney who was handling the probation of Syd Niblo’s will and the transfer of his estate.
Wallace said she had prepared routine paperwork for members of the family LLC to sign that would legally recognize Tom as the sole manager. But during a meeting with Tom, Ellouise, and Evelyn in October 2016, Ellouise allegedly argued with every document and refused to sign.
Technically, Wallace said they actually didn’t need Ellouise to sign the documents, just a majority vote from the LLC – whose members were Tom, Ellouise, and Evelyn after Syd died. However, Tom got two votes on LLC matters because he was representing both himself and Syd’s estate.
Despite being able to act without Ellouise, Wallace said the family decided to have a “cooling off period” before having another meeting.
That meeting never took place before Tom’s death, but Wallace did say Ellouise called a separate meeting with only her, Tom, and Evelyn present around Thanksgiving, where she tried to become co-manager of the LLC.
Wallace testified that Tom was very upset after that meeting and said he may even have to make her a co-manager because Evelyn wasn’t choosing a side.
During cross examination of both Evelyn and Elizabeth, Ingalsbe got them to testify that Ellouise would not have gained any power on paper due to Tom’s death. A bank was named as the alternate executor of Syd’s will, so she was not going to get anything from that. Since no alternate manager of the LLC was named, the bank has taken on that responsibility as well.
However, Wallace argued that Ellouise did gain something from Tom no longer being in power. He no longer had two votes in the family LLC, and Evelyn would be more likely to listen to her when it came to decision making if she were an only child.
Tom was also in charge of Evelyn’s trust set up in Syd’s estate and could have kept her from giving Ellouise money.
Testimony will continue Thursday afternoon. Stick with BigCountryHomepage.com for updates from court.