1. Archive

Fight for car recounted in murder trial

Published Aug. 27, 2005

Deborah Fleischner saw the gun. She heard the threats. But she didn't want to give up her 2000 Hyundai Accent, fighting a carjacker who wanted it.

"I'll kill you!" a carjacker told her outside a Gulfport McDonald's in 2001.

Still, she fought to prevent the man from taking her car. He fired one shot into the back seat as a warning. Then he fired a second warning shot.

Then the man leveled the gun at point-blank range at the middle of her chest and fired a single, lethal shot, killing Fleischner, 50.

The first-degree murder trial of Christopher Lee Wehland, 24, opened Monday with prosecutors recounting for jurors Fleischner's desperate struggle to keep her car.

Wehland, who lived near where Fleischner's car was recovered in Clearwater, faces life in prison without parole if he is convicted at a trial expected to last through most of the week.

"Deborah Fleischner kept fighting," prosecutor Bob Lewis told jurors during opening statements. "I don't know why. . . . She didn't give up."

Lewis and prosecutor Bruce Bartlett say that Wehland wanted the car to commit a robbery. Lewis told jurors that Wehland later admitted the killing to a jailhouse snitch.

"Everybody's got that date," Wehland told a cellmate, according to Lewis. "Hers just came early."

Defense attorney Terry Brocklehurst said witnesses misidentified Wehland and said his client has an alibi witness.

"The conviction of Christopher Wehland would be a doubling of a tragedy here," Brocklehurst said.

On May 10, 2001, Fleischner ate dinner at the McDonald's at 5111 Gulfport Blvd. Just before 6 p.m., she walked out of the restaurant.

Lewis said Wehland tried to snatch her keys and steal her car. Wehland apparently didn't expect a fight.

As Fleischner screamed, people in the parking lot looked on, not immediately understanding what was happening. Some thought it was a domestic problem.

Fred Birchenough, not seeing the gun, testified that he approached to help. Wehland raised the gun, and Birchenough backed off.

"Give it up, lady. He has a gun!" Birchenough told Fleischner. Still, she fought, repeatedly getting knocked to the ground.

Wehland, Lewis said, "was just about to prove to her and everybody else that he wasn't afraid to use" his gun. That's when the warning shots were fired.

And then, the fatal shot through the chest.

Police later linked Wehland to the killing from a partial print of his left index finger taken from the car. Brocklehurst said the print doesn't provide a positive ID.

Prosecutors also can place Wehland at or near vehicles abandoned in Clearwater and St. Petersburg after two carjackings. And they said they have eyewitnesses who can identify him.

Lewis told jurors they also have Wehland's own words from rap lyrics he wrote while awaiting trial, provided to prosecutors by a cellmate.

In a song, Wehland writes, "The b---- fought back. How dumb is that? Now the lady lays flat."

Brocklehurst said, "It was just a song. It was gallows humor. Remember dead baby jokes? Nobody wanted babies dead. Do you mean it? No."