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Author: Subject: KMOX: Nan Wyatt's husband pleads guilty
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[*] posted on 4-4-2004 at 11:35 PM
KMOX: Nan Wyatt's husband pleads guilty


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In guilty plea, husband describes shooting Nan Wyatt
By WILLIAM C. LHOTKA
Of the Post-Dispatch

The only sounds in a Clayton courtroom Friday afternoon were the strokes of a television station's sketch artist.

Thomas J. Erbland Jr. had just pleaded guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of his wife, KMOX radio personality Nan Wyatt, in a domestic disagreement last year. And since there would be no trial, Erbland said, he wanted to describe the scene that night in their bedroom.

The spectators hushed, to be sure of hearing each of his words.

"I shot her," Erbland said. "She stopped and gasped and I shot her three more times. At that point, she fell down on her hands and knees.

"I didn't want her to suffer - if that makes any sense to you at all - I shot her in the back.

"She got up and fell backward, and her spirit left her body."

Erbland, who turns 45 next week, will probably spend most if not all the rest of his life behind bars. As part of a plea agreement, Judge James R. Hartenbach sentenced Erbland to two consecutive terms of life in prison. He could be eligible for parole after 26 years.

Erbland also apologized.

"I'm truly sorry for the crime I committed," he said.

There had never been any doubt of who was responsible. Erbland called 911 from a cell phone in his car after the shooting, about 6 p.m. on Feb. 18 last year, and directed officers to his home on Woodland Oaks Drive in Twin Oaks, where they found Wyatt, 44, dead.

He soon surrendered without resistance and confessed over the next few days to a variety of police officials and even to Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan, who had appeared with Wyatt on the "Donnybrook" television talk program on KETC (Channel 9).

Erbland's guilty plea on Friday came as sort of a surprise, since he had rejected an identical agreement just the day before. The St. Louis County prosecutor's officer had offered earlier to reduce the first-degree murder charge against Erbland to second-degree murder if he would plead guilty.

The case was in court Friday to hear a motion by Donald Wolff, a lawyer representing Wyatt's family and the couple's son, Drake, 8, seeking to spare the boy from testifying in the trial, which had been set for late this month.

Drake had been elsewhere in the house during the shooting and was immediately thereafter dropped off at Wyatt's mother's home by his father.

Before that hearing began, Erbland had several discussions with his attorney, Shawn Goulet, about the plea negotiations. Erbland had wanted the life sentences to run together; the prosecutor wanted them to be consecutive.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch met with Wolff in a courtroom adjacent to Hartenbach's, while Erbland and Goulet conferred in a vacant jury room down the hall.

Erbland then arranged to speak to Wolff, who described their meeting later. Wolff said he told Erbland that Wyatt's family wanted the case over, and that the consecutive sentences were the state's "last final offer, that it was coming off the table."

Wolff said he also warned Erbland that the facts of the case were likely to result in a first-degree murder conviction at trial. Since prosecutors chose not to seek a death penalty, that would have meant life in prison without parole.

Erbland eventually decided to take the deal.

McCulloch admitted later that the difference may not mean much. The law about it, he and other lawyers said, is unclear. A basic life sentence in Missouri means eligibility for parole in 26 years. Erbland may have to wait until then to see how the state Board of Probation and Parole handles the second consecutive life sentence. In the best scenario for him, he might be paroled at age 70.

In court Friday, Erbland said he and his wife were having personal difficulties and that he had felt he was trying harder than she was to keep their marriage afloat.

Under questioning by Judge Hartenbach, Erbland took responsibility for the murder and gave a rambling monologue that alluded to his depression.

He said he never felt so hopeless about life as he did in the days leading up to the shooting. That depression has lifted, he said, since he has been in jail and under medication. He urged anyone suffering from depression to get help.

Before accepting the guilty pleas to second-degree murder and armed criminal action, Hartenbach wanted to know if Erbland was on any medications. The defendant described prescriptions for depression and anxiety.

"Do they affect your thinking?" the judge asked.

"Improved it," Erbland replied.

In court, Erbland appeared to be seeking closure with others. He singled out Kevin Killeen, a colleague of Wyatt's at KMOX. He apologized to Rob Livergood, the assistant county prosecutor handling the case, and Goulet, his lawyer, because they had to watch the videotape of the crime scene. Erbland even apologized to Joe Nickerson, the St. Louis County police detective who took his confession.

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