MIDLAND – Murder is dividing a family, a crime that – some say – has Tuscola County roots.
Convicted killer Joel B. Wallace of Reese on Thursday spoke out against his aunt – and the judge – after saying he had no comment before being sentenced to mandatory life in prison for the June 2018 killing of his great-aunt, Victoria Kilbourne, 74, of Midland.
Wallace, 34, sentenced for the first-degree murder of Kilbourne, a native of Tuscola County’s Tuscola Township, interrupted Midland County Circuit Judge Stephen P. Carras as the judge described Wallace’s prior crimes.
“Your criminal history shows that, frankly, you have no regard for anybody but yourself,” Carras told Wallace, who stood next to his lawyer, Midland attorney Daniel Duke, in front of the judge’s bench in a courtroom packed with about 60 onlookers.
In 2004, Wallace, then 18 and known as Joel Trump, was convicted in Tuscola County of assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct involving penetration against a teenage girl.
Wallace’s aunt, Michelle Schmitzer of Gilford Township, told the court on Thursday that Wallace also molested her 5-year-old daughter in 2001 in Tuscola County.
“You began your criminal career by molesting a 5-year-old, and then you attempted to rape a drunk 15-year-old,” Carras told Wallace while sentencing him. “Then, you attempted to rape your brother’s wife.”
“Your Honor, I have to object to that,” Wallace said, interrupting the judge only minutes after Wallace said he had no comment at his sentencing.
“We cannot bring up things that are not in the report,” Wallace told the judge.
“It is in the presentence report,” Carras responded. “It is part of your history.”
“Then I object,” Wallace said. “I object to this sentencing under federal rule 32.”
Wallace, in orange jail garments with his wrists and ankles in steel cuffs connected by chains, had stood facing Carras, but then turned sideways toward a courtroom window instead of the judge.
A Midland County Sheriff’s Department officer – one of three standing near Wallace – ordered him to face the judge again. The judge gave Wallace the option of sitting in a chair in the nearby jury box for the rest of the sentencing, but Wallace continued to face sideways, looking away from Carras.
“I’m being forced into a sentence,” Wallace said.
“Yeah,” said Carras, continuing with the sentence and telling Wallace he was “convicted by overwhelming evidence” at his March trial.
“I will appeal, under the evidence, of the DNA found in my (great) aunt’s mouth – the unknown male evidence – DNA,” Wallace announced.
The remains of Kilbourne, a Midland beautician and a 1962 Vassar High School graduate, were found June 30, 2018, in a shallow grave on Wallace’s hunting property near Onaway in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula.
Midland County Prosecutor J. Dee Brooks has said Kilbourne had been giving and loaning money to Wallace and his family members, but she became concerned when money wasn’t being repaid and had told multiple witnesses she planned to stop providing money to Wallace.
“Aunt Vicky gave and gave, and because she decided to stop giving, she lost her life,” said Schmitzer, addressing the judge before Carras imposed the sentence.
“She had told her friends that she was going to leave everything to the animal shelter, which is exactly what her brothers had planned to do with her estate, after taking care of her cremation, burial and headstone.
“The Wallaces made sure that she did not have time to make any legal changes to designate where the money would go. They made sure it went right where they wanted – their pockets.”
Carol (DePottey) Balley, 77, of Saginaw County’s Frankenmuth Township, said her friend, Victoria Kilbourne, “felt needed” when Joel Wallace and his family members involved Kilbourne in their lives.
As Schmitzer – the sister to Wallace’s mother – addressed the court, Victoria Kilbourne’s brother, Jack Kilbourne of Tuscola Township, occasionally wiped away tears while seated in the front row of the courtroom gallery.
Jerry Kilbourne – who is Schmitzer’s father and Jack Kilbourne’s brother and Joel Wallace’s grandfather – also lives in Tuscola Township.
“Dad and Uncle Jack have both been devastated at losing their only sister, but what is making it more difficult for them to move forward is the fact that the Wallace family is still only concerned about Aunt Vicky’s money,” Schmitzer told the court.
“Despite the fact that they’re set to inherit upwards of $300,000, they’re suing my dad and uncle to make them pay for their lawyer fees – which they accumulated trying to ensure that they would get her entire estate.”
Minutes later, while debating Judge Carras, Joel Wallace took issue with Schmitzer’s statement, saying, “For the record, my parents did not sue my grandparents or my great-uncle.”
Duke said on Thursday he expected Joel Wallace would file an appeal that day protesting his convictions in the Midland County trial, and that “the (state) Court of Appeals would have every opportunity to look at the case and decide for themselves whether or not they think there was any kind of an error committed, and deal with it appropriately.”
Wendy Bollman of Tuscola Township – Victoria Kilbourne’s niece and Schmitzer’s cousin – fought back tears seated in court during the sentencing.
“It’s sad – this is a whole family divided,” said Bollman – who is Joel Wallace’s aunt and sister to Wallace’s mother – while addressing a reporter following the sentencing.
“We became divided a long time ago, since the molesting,” said Schmitzer, who told the judge that Victoria Kilbourne began to distance herself from most family members after the sex crime against Schmitzer’s daughter in 2001.
“I was asked to be the one to speak today because Joel actually took Aunt Vicky out of my life years ago when he molested my daughter in 2001,” Schmitzer told the court. “Following his sentencing for that crime, he and his parents turned Aunt Vicky against me by saying that I had lied and made the entire (sex-crime allegation) up.
“Now, by murdering Aunt Vicky, he has assured that my relationship with her will never be mended. Joel Wallace began destroying our family in 2001 way before he murdered Aunt Vicky. Aunt Vicky was convinced by the Wallaces that Joel was the victim, and from that point forward, if anyone said anything negative or tried to warn her about Joel, she would get upset with them.
“Many of her friends have said that it had gotten to the point that they would just listen to her when she complained about Joel, but they stopped trying to warn her or give her advice, because they didn’t want to upset her. As her family, we owe Aunt Vicky an apology for not making her listen.”
As Schmitzer spoke from a podium in court, Joel Wallace – standing several yards away – turned his back away from her and looked toward the judge.
Brooks noted Joel Wallace has been in prison in the past, but hasn’t taken advantage of opportunities to change for the better.
“Instead,” Brooks said, “he continued to take advantage of people, and in this case ultimately costing Victoria her life.”
Balley said she, Victoria Kilbourne, Bob Bortner and others were members of the “Monday Lunch Bunch,” a group of “old Tuscolians” who grew up in or near the town of Tuscola in southwest Tuscola County, dining together monthly at a different eatery.
“Aunt Vickie was a fun-loving, independent, strong-willed woman,” Schmitzer said.
In addition to being convicted of murder, Wallace was convicted of forging a $2,000 check in Kilbourne’s name, made out to his wife. He also was convicted of unlawful imprisonment.
According to media reports, fingerprints found on the tape used to bind Kilbourne’s hands, feet and mouth were determined to be a match for Wallace by a Michigan State Police forensic examiner.
Kilbourne died “of blunt force trauma to the head, neck and chest,” according to an autopsy report. Balley said she occasionally encounters residents around Frankenmuth or Vassar who don’t realize Tuscola Township native Victoria Kilbourne was the victim of the Midland County homicide.
“I still can’t believe it myself, to tell you the truth,” Balley said. “It’s so stupid. You just wonder ‘What the hell was he thinkin’?’”
Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at [email protected]