Esch explains his “plan of attack”

Trenton Esch on witness stand in Custer County District Court
Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 12:38 AM CDT
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NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) - Words in his own defense were that his “plan of attack [was] to take over the homeplace.” Trenton Esch insists his plan was not to kill Crystal Esch on July 11, 2020. It was, according to the Broken Bow man being held now with no bond for almost one year after killing his stepmom, to talk to her about moving “home.”

That is certainly no longer an option.

Crystal Esch's home near Broken Bow.
Crystal Esch's home near Broken Bow.(Melanie Standiford)

In a Custer County District courtroom, jurors heard testimony from 9 am until nearly 6 pm Thursday, with a break for lunch and only stopping briefly for a couple of short recesses. Testimony from Trenton Esch’s brother-in-law and his half-sister (daughter of the victim) took all morning and extended into questioning after lunch, both persons painting a picture of a broken family and a long history of trouble with Trenton Esch.

It was the brother-in-law who sat on the stand while the state revealed video captured by security cameras installed by him years earlier. The security video setting the stage for the murder, showing a red pickup arriving at Crystal Esch’s home, Trenton Esch exiting the vehicle and crossing a deck to the house, entering the home, and then leaving again after just over 30 seconds. After Trenton Esch drives away, two young children are shown running out of the home. Their father (the brother-in-law) explains that his children ran to him after he headed to the house after hearing three gunshots. They were, he says, “hysterical.” He testified that the children said, “Trent shot grandma.”

And Trenton Esch does not deny doing it.

Trenton Esch on trial
Trenton Esch on trial(Melanie Standiford)

The story told through witnesses, drawn by both prosecution and defense, tells jurors the story of a man who believes he was wronged, but Trenton Esch said he had no plans to kill Crystal Esch when he woke up in the morning on July 11 last year. Testimony from Trenton and family members told jurors and the mostly full courtroom that Trenton’s dad and mom divorced when he was one, and he grew up in Cozad, but visited his dad on weekends and during summers until moving in with his dad and Crystal (to whom his dad was married and had three daughters) after he graduated high school in 1994.

The state asks forensic scientist about the weapon that killed Crystal Esch.
The state asks forensic scientist about the weapon that killed Crystal Esch.(Melanie Standiford)

It is agreed that Trenton was close to his father and grandparents, Pete and Charlotte. The elder Esch’s owned the “homeplace,” also known as “Charlotte’s Place.” And when both died, the property was left to Trenton’s dad and stepmom. Trent lived in the house on Charlotte’s Place for quite some time, working the land and caring for things. After a felony charge and a short trip to the Omaha Correctional Facility, Trenton Esch learned that his dad completed suicide after a yearly springtime bout with depression. Unfortunately for Trenton, he learned that his father’s will had removed him from inheriting “Charlotte’s Place.”

Trenton Esch swearing in for Custer County District Court Thursday.
Trenton Esch swearing in for Custer County District Court Thursday.(Melanie Standiford)

Trenton spoke to Crystal on the phone from prison, and that phone call was played for jurors. A conversation between the two, revealing that Crystal told Trenton the will had been changed only to protect the land from being caught up in Trenton’s legal troubles, but Crystal assuring Trenton if he was a “good boy,” with conditions, he could continue living in the home on Charlotte’s Place (where he had been living since his grandparents had passed away).

But all that changed.

Trenton Esch sent two letters to his father’s therapist, asking for clarity as to why his father completed suicide. He indicated and wanted her “take” on whether or not Crystal and his two stepsisters had “bullied” his father into killing himself. It was due to these letters, according to testimony, that Trenton’s belongings were put into storage and no trespassing signs were put up to keep Trenton off the farm once he was released from the Omaha Correctional Facility.

A lawsuit to get a share in Charlotte’s Place ensued, initiated by Trenton Esch, but he lost. When Trenton began calling his family and texting repeatedly after the civil case, court-ordered harassment protection orders were used to keep Trenton from contacting this part of his family or stepping foot on the property encompassing Charlotte’s Place, Crystal’s homeplace, or his half-sister and brother-in-law’s residence.

Trenton Esch told the jury that on the morning of July 11, 2020, he woke up, had coffee, and cleaned up some branches at his home, left from a storm from the night before. He came in and (per routine, and a self-admitted addiction to alcohol) made himself a 10 am mixture of vodka and Gatorade. And he drank non-stop for a couple of hours and then took a nap. Then he woke up and started drinking again.

In the late afternoon of July 11, 2020 Trenton Esch made his way to the gas station, and then to Crystal Esch’s driveway. Trenton talked to an acquaintance at the gas station who testified that Esch made a concerning comment, and appeared drunk; and, on his way to Crystal’s home unknowingly met the his half-sister and her husband on the way. His half-sister testified that she and her husband turned around and followed Trenton Esch back to Crystal’s property. They followed him and waited in the driveway of Charlotte’s Place (now owned by them) to see what Trenton would do, but her testimony did not indicate that they contacted Crystal Esch or law enforcement. When Trenton Esch left the property only a few short minutes later, it was not until Trenton Esch’s other brother-in-law called Trenton’s half-sister from Crystal’s phone that they learned it was that during that time Crystal was shot by Trenton just a short distance away from where they were parked.

Surveillance video of Trent Esch on July 11, 2020
Surveillance video of Trent Esch on July 11, 2020(Melanie Standiford)

As the final witness of the day, Trenton Esch took the stand in his own defense. He said he shot Crystal, but he did not plan to. He said he took a gun with him because there was a harassment protection order against him and he was afraid his brother-in-law might shoot him. He admitted he had “liquid courage” to ignore the harassment protection order. He told the jury he was very sorry and would pay for his mistakes for the rest of his life.

Trenton Esch said to the jury he snapped and used his gun on Crystal when she said, “You’re as crazy as your dad.” He said he did not realize he shot her ten times in the eye, head, neck, and torso.

Closing statements begin at 9 am Friday. The prosecution hopes for a charge of murder in the first degree. The defense is hoping for a lesser felony murder charge.

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