TAYLOR COUNTY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The trial in the murder of a well-known Abilene realtor began in Taylor County with opening statements Tuesday morning, where prosecutors described what happened the morning he was killed, as well as how a teenager found the murder weapon years after the crime.
Latest from Niblo Murder case:
Assistant District Attorney Erin Stamey addressed the jury first, taking them on a journey that detailed the morning Tom Niblo was shot and killed in bed at his home in the 3700 block of Woodridge Drive on December 12, 2016.
Stamey said Tom’s Wife, Cheryl Niblo, was a teacher and had planned to get to school early that day, however she woke up running late and rushed into the bathroom to take her thyroid medication, which was her daily routine.
From there, Stamey told the jury that Cheryl heard her bedroom door creak open, followed by 10 loud bangs and flashes. She then closed and locked the bathroom door, running outside through an exterior door in the bathroom when she heard someone banging on the door she had just locked.
Cheryl then, according to Stamey, ran, hopping over a fence and to a next door neighbor’s house. However, that neighbor was not home, so Cheryl ran across South 14th Street onto River Oaks Boulevard, where she saw a pedestrian who she instructed to call 9-1-1.
Also in opening statements, Stamey revealed that the murder weapon wasn’t discovered until two years later, in 2018.
Stamey said a 14-year-old was playing in the creek behind his grandfather’s house on Leggett Drive when he saw something he thought was a toy gun. He picked it up and took it to his grandfather, who thought it could be the murder weapon and called police.
The creek where the gun was found was fewer than 900 feet from the Niblo home.
Police booked the firearm into evidence, and though initially too rusty to fire, Stamey said once it was cleaned and working, ballistics did show it to be a match to the murder weapon. This gun was purchased by murder suspect, Luke Sweetser in 2008 and was never reported stolen.
Stamey continued, telling the jury that murder suspect, Luke Sweetser, who is Niblo’s brother-in-law, had his phone turned off from 2:30 on the afternoon before the crime until 9:06 a.m. the day after, had no alibi for the time of the murder, and that he initially refused to answer questions by police.
Sweetser, according to Stamey, also had motive for the murder. She told the jury that he and his wife, Ellousie were hurting for money and had been left out of a lot of business decisions with the Niblo family that did include Tom.
During defense opening statements, lead attorney Lynn Ingalsbe pleaded with the jury to keep an open mind and to not let the testimony of the State’s witnesses be too incriminating.
Instead, Ingalsbe asked that they review the evidence as offered and use their logic to make a decision.
Testimony Begins: Officers describe finding Niblo dead in bloody scene, initial questioning of Cheryl
Following opening statements, testimony began with the State calling some of the responding Abilene Police Officers to the stand.
Officer Brent Payne, who was one of the first two on scene, described securing the house, noting that he and his sergeant had to make entry through a door off the driveway because the front door was locked.
Once inside, Officer Payne and his sergeant were joined by a third Officer, Chris Lazirko, before they found any evidence of a crime.
Officer Payne testified that he smelled burned gun powder as soon as he entered the hallway by the front door.
After clearing a suite of bedrooms on the left side of this hallway, the officers entered the master bedroom, which was on the right, and found Niblo lying in bed deceased with a dog who also appeared to be injured lying next to him.
The officers then went to a door which separated the master bedroom and bathroom, and found that to be locked as well. One of the officers then kicked the door open by the lock.
Officer Payne said there was what appeared to be a shoeprint in the middle of the door, in a different area from where the officers kicked.
The rest of his testimony revealed that three exterior doors to the Niblo home were unlocked – the driveway door the officers used to enter the home, a door to the east of the bedroom where recreation items were stored, and the door to the master bathroom.
Ingalsbe got Officer Payne to admit that this is possibly an “inside job” from someone who had thorough knowledge of the home.
He also noted that none of the responding officers observed mud leading up to the bathroom door, which had the apparently muddy footprint.
Next, Officer Lazirko gave his testimony, describing the same bloody scene, where he saw Niblo in bed with the dog and could even hear him gurgling.
He also noticed there were shell casings in the hallway and by the entry of the door, as well as a shell casing and bullet slug by the bed.
Officer Lazirko was given the task of photographing the scene. He said he took photographs of Niblo and the casings before medical personnel arrived and disturbed evidence. He also moved some of the casings that were in danger of being lost.
Then, he took pictures of the rest of the crime scene, including the exterior of the home, which is where he noticed a pill bottle with a prescription for Cheryl Niblo sitting on a next door neighbor’s fence with the lid missing. The lid was later found in the yard.
Overall, 33 pictures were submitted as evidence for the jury, showing the master bedroom, shell casings, Niblo lying in bed, the exterior of the home, and the pill bottle at the neighbor’s house.
Ingalsbe also got Officer Laizro to say this was likely an inside job and asked why he described two muddy prints on the door.
Officer Lazirko responded, saying he did notice two muddy marks on the door and that he could not say for sure if they were made by a shoe.
During the cross-examination of Lazirko, Insgalsbe also mentioned blood in the bathtub.
Officer Lazirko said the blood was from the dog, who was placed in there by firefighters along with the comforter from the bed.
The dog was found to be uninjured and covered in Niblo’s blood during a later examination.
Responding officer describes questioning of Cheryl Niblo, who was calm and not crying
Last to take the stand for Tuesday’s lunch break was Abilene Police Officer Mary Guitar, who was the first officer who talked to Cheryl Niblo.
Officer Guitar described arriving at a home on River Oaks Blvd, where Cheryl answered the door wearing a bathrobe and pajamas.
Cheryl then described what happened to Officer Guitar, but that interview was not recorded because APD did not have body cams in 2016, and her audio recorder was not fully charged. Officer Guitar did note Cheryl’s demeanor, saying she was calm and not hysterical or crying.
Officer Guitar then took Cheryl back by the crime scene on Woodridge to get a change of clothes. Officer Guitar went inside while Cheryl stayed in the car.
They later went to the law enforcement center, where Officer Guitar watched Cheryl change, then booked the bath robe and pajamas into evidence.
Ingalsbe asked Officer Guitar if there was anything unusual about the clothing, and she said there were black marks on the cuffs of the robe, as well as splotching.
She also revealed that detectives later learned the robe belonged to the resident at the home on River Oaks Boulevard and not Cheryl Niblo.
Ingalsbe then asked Officer Guitar about her questioning of Cheryl, including if she asked about a phone call Niblo received the day before the murder. However, the nature of that phone call has not been revealed in court.
Sweester is facing a Murder charge and a Theft of a Firearm charge, that was issued during the investigation as well.
BigCountryHomepage.com will continue to provide thorough updates as testimony continues. Check back for any updates.