What to Know
- Tyler Tessier was found dead of an apparent suicide hours before he faced trial in the killing of Laura Wallen, his pregnant girlfriend.
- Wallen's family expressed anger and disappointment. "We were robbed of the trial," the 31-year-old teacher's father said.
- Tessier told investigators Wallen ran away because she had a relationship with a student. Then, he said black men killed her.
A man accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend in Maryland last year was found dead in his jail cell early Thursday, hours before his murder trial was set to begin.
Tyler Tessier was found dead of an apparent suicide about 5:10 a.m. Thursday, Montgomery County police said. He was found at a jail facility in Clarksburg, Maryland.
Tessier was charged in the death of 31-year-old Laura Wallen, a Howard County teacher who was 13 weeks pregnant when she was killed. Wallen was found dead Sept. 13, 2017, after being missing for nine days. Her body was discovered in a shallow grave on a farm in Damascus.
Days before a search crew found Wallen's body and Tessier was charged, Tessier spoke at a news conference with Wallen's family, holding his girlfriend's mother's hand.
At a news conference Thursday afternoon, Wallen's family and prosecutors expressed mixed emotions about the shocking news of Tessier's death.
"We were robbed of the trial," Wallen's father, Mark Wallen, said.
"He stood our family up for the last time today," Wallen's brother-in-law said, describing all the holidays and birthdays Tessier missed.
Montgomery County prosecutor John McCarthy called Tessier a coward and psychopath, and said he stole from Wallen's family the opportunity to hear the truth about Tessier revealed to the world.
"Today would have been a reckoning for Mr. Tessier," he said.
Wallen's mother and sister wept as they spoke about her.
Tessier had pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Allen Wolf, previously said his client had "made mistakes in his personal life" but "cared deeply" about Wallen and never would have harmed her.
On Thursday, Tessier was woken up at 4 a.m. to prepare for court, the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation said in a statement. He was discovered hanging in his cell at 4:55 a.m. He could not be revived. EMS crews ended resuscitation efforts shortly after 5:30 a.m.
Investigators found that Tessier left in his jail cell multiple notes suggesting he had been contemplating suicide, McCarthy said. Eventually, those notes will be released, he said. A death investigation is ongoing. There is no indication of foul play.
There was no indication that Tessier was at risk of committing suicide or needed to be placed on suicide watch, McCarthy said. On Wednesday night, he talked on a jailhouse phone call with his mother about what he would wear in court.
In an unusual move, prosecutors presented at their news conference on Thursday much of the evidence against Tessier that they would have presented at trial that same day. They showed texts he sent to the woman he was engaged to, including one sent six days before Wallen was killed saying, "I could literally kill her for what she's done." Wallen contacted Tessier's fiancee after suspecting he was having a secret relationship with another woman. Prosecutors say Tessier told the second woman that Wallen was merely stalking him.
On Sept. 2, 2017, Wallen, of Olney, texted her sister and said Tessier had taken her on an "adventure" to a farm.
"Tyler has me on an adventure in the country ... don't know why I'm here but it's for something," she wrote, court records say. Wallen sent her sister a photo of a field.
After nine days missing, Wallen's body was found in a shallow grave on a large farm in Damascus. Authorities said she had been shot in the back of the head.
While Wallen was missing, Tessier pleaded for her safe return.
"If somebody has her, please understand that you've taken away a huge person in so many people's life," he said. "I don't know where she is. I don't know. I pray that she's safe and that she comes back. That's all I care about."
Police had suspected Tessier's involvement since the investigation began, and allowed him to speak at the family's news conference as an investigation strategy, Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger previously said.
"The decision to allow him to participate in that news conference was a calculated decision made by the detectives in this case for the express purpose of hearing what he had to say. It was done with the approval and knowledge of the victim's family," Manger said.
Wallen's father exploded at Tessier after he was charged.
"He is a monster and he is a liar," Mark Wallen said. "And it was absolutely the hardest thing my wife could do would be to sit next to him and hold his hand."
Tessier later gave investigators a string of elaborate explanations for her death, court documents said. First, he said she asked him to help her disappear because she had had a relationship with a former student. Then, he said African-American men kidnapped them and killed her. Then, he said she hit her head and he then shot her.
Wallen's family said she was ready to be a mom and had posted her sonogram on her refrigerator. Police said Tessier was the father of Wallen's baby and had asked her father for permission to marry her, despite being engaged to another woman.
Police said both women knew about their past relationships with Tessier, but both believed he was dating them exclusively. According to charging documents, Wallen sent Tessier's fiancee a text message on Aug. 28, 2017, asking if the two could meet.
She was reported missing a week later. Tessier told police he last saw Wallen alive Sept. 4, 2017, but her family said they hadn't seen her since three days before that.
Wallen's father said she was expecting a baby boy who she planned to name Reid.
Wallen was a beloved social studies teacher at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Maryland. Her students and coworkers worried when she failed to show up for the first day of school on Sept. 5.
"She was exemplary," district superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano said. "She led with her heart, care and compassion."
Tessier was not charged for the death of the fetus Wallen was carrying. Based on the age of the fetus, 13 weeks, Tessier was not chargeable under Maryland law, as the fetus was not viable independent of Wallen, prosecutors previously said.
Wallen's family pushed for a change to the law, called Laura and Reid’s Law. It would allow prosecutors to charge suspects with murder, regardless of an unborn child’s age.
Sources had previously told News4 Tessier died at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Rockville.
CORRECTION (Sept. 6, 9:20 a.m.): An earlier version of this story said jury selection for Tessier's trial was scheduled to begin Thursday. However, jury selection took place Tuesday and Wednesday, and opening arguments were scheduled to begin Thursday.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HELP: Anyone affected by domestic violence, including friends and family members concerned about a loved one, can receive confidential help, advice, information or crisis intervention by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visiting the website thehotline.org, which offers a live chat service.
SUICIDE PREVENTION HELP: Here is information on suicide prevention from the National Institute of Mental Health. If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘Home’ to 741741.