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Prosecutors say man charged in Brookside lawyer's killing left ‘his motive, his van, his voice’

Photos Jungerman trial day 1
Rich Sugg/rsugg@kcstar.com
Emily Riegel, the widow of Tom Pickert, testified Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court that she found her mortally wounded husband, Tom Pickert, in front of the couple's Brookside house on Oct. 25, 2017. Riegel's testimony came during the first day of the long-delayed criminal trial of 84-year-old David G. Jungerman, seated at right.

Lawyers for David Jungerman, 84, argue that Kansas City police were biased against him and used false evidence.

Dr. Emily Riegel was in her bathroom getting ready for work in her family’s Brookside home about 8 a.m. on Oct. 25, 2017, as her husband, Tom Pickert was finishing breakfast with their two sons and rounding them up for school.

Her grade-school age sons “were running around, being goofy,” Riegel recalled Tuesday, and she told them, “Love you, bye!”

Then she heard her husband say to the boys: “I didn’t hear anybody tell the world’s greatest mommy goodbye!”

Those were some of the last words Riegel heard Pickert utter before he was gunned down just minutes later on their front sidewalk after returning home from dropping the kids off at school.

Riegel was one of the first prosecution witnesses in the first-degree murder trial of David Jungerman, who is accused of killing Pickert, a 39-year-old attorney, as retaliation for Pickert’s winning a $5.75 million judgment against him in a case in which Pickert represented a homeless man.

Jungerman, noticeably frail after spending nearly five years in the Jackson County jail, sat impassively as Riegel testified. The 84-year-old Raytown businessman, who is thought to be worth millions, was wearing a starched white shirt, black slacks and a special hearing aid so he could listen to the court proceedings.

Riegel told the jury that she heard two loud pops seconds apart from her bathroom window, which faces the street. Riegel, a medical doctor, quickly ran down the stairs and the front porch, finding her husband lying on his side.

“There was so much blood coming out of the sidewalk,” she said between sobs, “that I knew he was dead.” She called 911.

“I was screaming for help," she testified. "I was screaming to stop the van.”

Prosecutors say the white van parked across the street from their home was driven by Jungerman, who was wearing a black plastic mask and used a rifle to shoot Pickert.

On cross examination, Jungerman’s attorney, Dan Ross, tried to suggest Riegel never saw the van driver’s face and actually feared someone else harming her husband.

But Riegel told police when they first arrived that she suspected Jungerman because of the contentious case Pickert had won. He had sued Jungerman for beating a homeless man trying to break into Jungerman’s baby-furniture warehouse. The man had to have his leg amputated as a result.

Riegel said that even before the October 2017 attack, she had concerns about her husband’s safety.

“I was concerned and I asked him if he could be in danger if someone was going to show up and shoot him in our yard,” she testified.

Earlier in the day, the jury heard Riegel's 911 call on which she is heard screaming and crying, telling the dispatcher that her husband had been shot .

“I think he’s dead on my sidewalk!” she said on the tape. Several family members in the courtroom audience bowed their heads and shuddered as the tape was played.

Photos Jungerman trial day 1
Rich Sugg/rsugg@kcstar.com
The long delayed criminal trial of 84-year-old David G. Jungerman, left, got underway Tuesday morning at the Jackson County Courthouse, downtown. Jungerman, of Raytown, is accused in the 2017 shooting death of personal injury attorney Tom Pickert, in front of his Brookside home on Oct. 25, 2017. Jungerman faces charges of first-degree murder and armed criminal action.

Tim Dollar, a private attorney working for the prosecution, said in his opening statement that Jungerman had a vendetta against Pickert for the lengthy legal battle that began in September 2012, when Jungerman caught the homeless man, Jeffrey Harris, breaking into his warehouse.

In August 2017, a jury awarded Harris $5.75 million. But Jungerman refused to pay and on Oct. 15, 2017, Pickert filed lien notices against Jungerman’s Raytown home and against his business. Pickert was killed 10 days later. A .17-caliber round was discovered during his autopsy.

Police questioned Jungerman shortly after the shooting, after witnesses reported seeing a white van driven by an older man with white hair. They later put together surveillance tapes showing Jungerman driving from Raytown to Pickert’s home about 7 a.m. the day Pickert was killed. Police later found the van hidden in a wooded area of Jungerman’s property, off a dirt road.

A search of Jungerman’s business and home found other evidence, including Jackson County property records showing Pickert’s address, a manila file folder labeled “Pickert Murder,” a black plastic mask in Jungerman's closet, a .17-caliber round found in Jungerman’s other vehicle and an Olympus digital audio recorder found in his bathroom.

On the recorder, police found a conversation Jungerman had with his hired hand, a man named Leo Wynne, that Jungerman was unaware was being taped.

“People know that I murdered that son of a bitch,” Jungerman said to Wynne on the tape. “The police know, too, Leo.”

Jungerman told Wynne that they needed to stop talking about Pickert’s killing but that when he thought about the shooting, “I grin. That motherf———-has caused me a lot of problems, Leo.”

After laying out the background and evidence and playing the tape, Dollar told the jury they would conclude Jungerman is guilty.

“His motive. His van. His voice,” Dollar said. “Stay focused on his motive, his van, his voice.”

Ross, Jungerman’s attorney, pointed to several problems with the prosecution’s case, saying there was “sloppy police work,” including violations of police procedures and a manipulation of the Olympus audio tape. Twenty-eight minutes are missing from the tape, Ross said, which amounts to 25 percent of the entire recording.

Ross said the prosecution had some false evidence, but he acknowledged one thing.

“What they do have — and it’s the only thing they have — is motive,” Ross said. “The rest of it is made up, folks."

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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