TAYLOR COUNTY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) ― Day three of testimony in the trial for the murder of Abilene realtor, Tom Niblo was still largely centered around the family business and estate, with the victim’s sister taking the stand and revealing her attempts to get more power. Abilene police detectives also went over some of their evidence, including a cart full of electronic devices seized from the suspect’s home.
Follow the trial:
Testimony began with attorney Thomas Choate, who was the representation for Niblo patriarch, Syd, as well as the Niblo Management LLC and the Niblo Family Partnership.
Choate said Syd formed both the LLC and partnership in July 2006. The LLC was comprised of Syd, his wife Evelyn, and his children, Tom and Ellouise – all with a 25% interest. Syd and Evelyn had control of the vast majority of the partnership, but did give their children each a small but equal share, later giving more shares to their grandchildren as well.
Originally, Syd was the sole manager of the LLC when it was formed in 2006, but Tom was named as a co-manager of the LLC in 2009 by a unanimous vote from all members of the LLC, including Ellouise.
Syd Niblo died in June 2016, leaving Tom as the executor of his will and estate, but not Evelyn or Ellouise. He also took over as sole manager of the family LLC by default.
Tom was shot and killed inside his home on Woodridge Drive the morning of December 12, 2016, rendering him unable to fulfill either of those duties. Syd’s will named First Financial Bank as the successor if anything were to happen to Tom, but no successor for the management of the LLC was named.
A meeting was held in February 2017 to decide how to move forward. Evelyn and Ellouise were there, as well as Cheryl Niblo, who was representing the estate of her late husband, Tom. A member of First Financial Bank, who was representing the estate of Syd Niblo, and attorneys – including Choate – were also present.
During the meeting, all members of the LLC voted to make First Financial Bank in charge of Niblo Family Management, in Tom’s place.
Choate also testified that no one knew who the manager would be until this meeting, so that knowledge was not known at the time of the murder, meaning Ellouise could have been named the new manager.
Wrapping up his testimony, Choate mentioned that Syd would allow his children to have large amounts of money from the LLC, but that slowed down when Tom was named manager and stopped completely after Syd’s death. He also said Ellouise was not very involved or interested in the LLC when it was formed in 2006, but started asking a lot of questions in 2016.
Where was husband the night of the crime? Victim’s sister/ suspect’s wife takes the stand, details struggle to get power in family business & money
An Abilene police detective was called to the stand next, but before those highlights are detailed, let’s jump ahead to the testimony of Anne “Ellouise” Campbell (née Niblo, and previously Sweetser) – the sister of victim Tom Niblo, and also wife of suspect Luke Sweetser.
Campbell testified that her father, Syd was always impartial to she and Tom, and she had a good relationship with him.
She did mention that she and her husband-at-the-time, Luke Sweetser, were sort of estranged from Tom and Cheryl Niblo, never really interacting with each other.
After introductory questions, prosecutors asked Campbell where Luke was the early morning hours of the murder, and she said she didn’t know. Campbell said she left a message on his cell phone around 3:45 a.m., asking him where he was. She didn’t make contact with him until 9:18 a.m., which was hours after Tom was shot and killed around 6:00 that morning.
Campbell told the jury she broke the news of Tom’s death to Luke and he was “stunned.” She then instructed him to get the children from school.
Next, Campbell began to testify about her struggles with the family LLC. She said she was trying to get she and her mother, Evelyn, named as signers on the family’s checking account. But even though Evelyn was on board, Tom was not receptive to the idea.
Ellouise Campbell even said she began consulting with attorneys in other parts of Texas about the family interests, which she learned were set in stone, including Tom’s capacity as manager.
When asked if she was trying to dissolve the family partnership in order to sell one of the biggest assets, a 14,000 acre ranch in King Country, Campbell replied that it would have been nice for that to happen, but the attorneys told her the only hope she had was to become a co-signer.
She and Luke discussed the family business extensively and even drafted documents together in their attempt to get Ellouise more control.
During a meeting around Thanksgiving with Tom, Ellouise, and Evelyn, things became heated regarding the LLC. Campbell said Tom called her names like ugly and stupid, and said Syd would never want her to have more control.
Three days before the murder, which would have been December 9, Tom allegedly emailed his sister to apologize for the things he said.
Campbell also gave information that went against some previous testimony, saying there was no way Luke had a key to Tom and Cheryl’s home, and that the Sweetser family never, ever entered the Niblo home while they were away.
Cart full of seized electronics wheeled into court, firearms and accessories pile up in evidence: Two Abilene police detectives testify
Ending the wrap up of Day three in court, was testimony from two Abilene police detectives who talked about the extensive amount of potential evidence and investigating connected to this crime.
First to testify was Detective Tim Pipes, who seized all electronics at the Sweetser home on Sylvan Drive during a second search warrant execution.
Those items included three laptops, a desktop computer, two computer towers, hard drives, flash drives, SD cards and more. The larger items were wheeled into court in a cart to be admitted into evidence.
Det. Pipes said more electronic items were seized from offices Sweetser had access to in the Alexander Building, owned by the Niblo family downtown, and he took even more from the Sweetser house when a third search warrant was executed for some journals and any additional electronics.
Sweetser got more phones, according to Det. Pipes, so those were also seized.
The electronic evidence was so voluminous, it took months to investigate and Det. Pipes said APD had to enlist the help of the FBI. He was not aware of the results from that FBI investigation.
Finally, Detective Jeff Cowan testified, saying his first task the day of the homicide was to interview Cheryl Niblo. He said he interviewed her twice and her story remained consistent.
Det. Cowan said he performed a gunshot residue swab of her hands but was unaware of the results from that testing.
Also assisting in a search of the Niblo Family warehouse on Mesquite Street, Det. Cowan said around 10 people had access to the facility – including the Niblos and Sweetsers.
In a box containing identifying information for Luke Sweetser, Det. Cowan testified to finding a handgun.
Additional discoveries from the warehouse yielded another hand gun, knives, machetes and axes – all in a box full of camping gear. A gun safe was also produced, which Det. Cowan said he learned contained documents belonging to Sweetser. The detective said he had to execute a separate search warrant to review its contents.
Dozens of rounds of ammunition, magazines, and more firearm accessories were seized from the warehouse as well.
Testimony resumes for Day four, Friday morning. Check back with BigCountryHomepage.com for any additional details.