The last moments of Tommy Dean Welch’s life were spent sitting on a couch just before Amber Nicole Burch grabbed a .22-caliber rifle and shot him twice in the back of the head in October 2009, a Forsyth County sheriff’s detective said in court Thursday.
Moments before, Burch, 27, had announced that she would kill Welch, and her boyfriend, avowed Satanist Pazuzu Algarad, told her she knew where the gun was and that it was loaded.
Three months before, Algarad had used that same rifle to fatally shoot Joshua Fredrick Wetzler. Both men were shot while Algarad’s mother, Cynthia James, was in the house. In Wetzler’s case, she saw her son in July 2009 standing over Wetzler with a rifle in his hand and went back to her bedroom to finish getting ready for work.
When she went to leave, Algarad was still standing over Wetzler, and made the statement that he needed to make sure Wetzler was dead, and shot Wetzler again, Detective C.E. Meadows said. Wetzler’s body stayed in the house for several weeks before Algarad called Burch, who was in South Carolina, to ask her to come back and help bury Wetzler.
Both men were buried in the backyard of the house at 2749 Knob Hill Drive in Clemmons. It would be five years before deputies from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office found their remains. According to autopsies, Welch was shot in the back of the head, and Wetzler was shot three times in the head and at least four times around the torso.
On Thursday, Burch pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, armed robbery and accessory after the fact to murder. Forsyth County prosecutors allege not only that she killed Welch but that she helped Algarad bury Wetzler.
Per a plea arrangement, Judge Beecher R. Gray of Forsyth Superior Court gave her three consecutive sentences that totaled 30 years and eight months to 39 years and two months in prison.
Burch’s guilty pleas Thursday marked part of an ending to one of the most bizarre murder cases in Forsyth County’s history. But it left many questions still unanswered, chief among them being why were Welch and Wetzler killed.
Prosecutors said there was no clear motive, and Algarad, who was charged with first-degree murder in Wetzler’s death and accessory after the fact to murder for helping Burch bury Welch, killed himself while inside Central Prison in October 2015.
Court documents show that Algarad regularly performed “Satanistic rituals” and animal sacrifices at the house. Algarad was born in San Francisco in 1978 and his birth name was John Alexander Lawson.
He changed his name to Pazuzu Illah Algarad in 2002, saying in an affidavit that the name change was for religious reasons.
According to a psychiatric report connected to an unrelated criminal case, Algarad told psychiatrists at the now-closed Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh that he had practiced a Sumerian religion that involved the monthly sacrifice of a small animal.
After Burch, the only remaining co-defendant is Krystal Nicole Matlock, 30, who is charged with accessory after the fact to murder. Prosecutors say she helped Burch and Algarad bury Wetzler’s body. She is scheduled to appear in Forsyth Superior Court the week of April 3.
No clear answers
One of the biggest questions in the case is how did Wetzler and Welch end up at 2749 Knob Hill Drive. That wasn’t really answered in Thursday’s hearing.
Meadows said the investigation indicated that Wetzler had lived at the house for at least two to three weeks before he was shot to death in July 2009. Stacey Carter, Wetzler’s former girlfriend and the mother of his now-12-year-old son, said she last saw Wetzler in July 2009. She didn’t report him missing until six months later after he failed to make contact with his family during the Christmas holidays. His car was found behind his apartment complex four months after he disappeared.
Carter said Wetzler often hit the road for a few months and that he liked going to music festivals and listening to jam bands such as Widespread Panic and the Grateful Dead.
Welch, who loved cars and was the oldest of three boys, had been planning to meet up with family members at his brother’s apartment in Clemmons. Meadows said that the last time anyone saw Welch alive was around 7:30 p.m. one day in early October at a gas station.
Algarad and Burch picked up Welch from a different gas station later that night and took him to their house, where they hung out and drank alcohol.
Forsyth County prosecutors Jonathan Friel and Brian Taylor said there was no clear reason why Burch and Algarad killed Welch and Wetzler.
It’s not clear why James, who attended Thursday’s hearing, was not criminally charged for not reporting the killings and subsequent burials to law-enforcement when they happened in 2009. Meadows said James saw Burch and another woman carry Welch’s body to the backyard and saw Burch with a rifle in her hand shortly after Burch shot Welch.
Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill declined to comment because the case against Matlock is still pending.
Burch and Algarad were both convicted of assaulting James in separate incidents in 2010 and 2011, according to court documents.
Forsyth County prosecutors also didn’t mention during the hearing that Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputies executed a search warrant at 2749 Knob Hill Drive in February 2010. O’Neill declined to comment on that search, and that search warrant and the search warrants executed in October 2014 are sealed by court order.
On the first two rows of Courtroom 5A sat members of Welch’s family, many wiping tears from their eyes as they heard the excruciating details of how Welch died.
“This is obviously an emotional moment for Tommy’s family,” Taylor said in court. “They have a lot of questions, chief (among them) is why.”
Friends say that Burch, who graduated in 2008 from Rock Hill High School in Rock Hill, S.C., changed when she started dating Algarad.
Julie Boyer, Burch’s attorney, said Algarad physically and psychologically abused her repeatedly throughout the relationship. Boyer said law enforcement was called to the house for domestic violence reasons.
A friend of Burch’s told the Winston-Salem Journal in 2014 that she and Burch went to Bible study together when they lived in Rock Hill. That changed after she met Algarad.
“She fell into his lifestyle and fell into his identity,” she said.
Boyer said Algarad had significant mental health issues. When he was convicted of accessory after the fact to involuntary manslaughter in connection to the shooting death of Joseph Emmrick Chandler.
Part of his sentence required him to get mental-health treatment. Burch provided transportation, and during one session, the mental health professional pulled Burch to the side and suggested she should get mental health treatment as well, Boyer said.
Burch didn’t say anything in court, but Boyer said Burch is remorseful for what she did.
Friel said the case was difficult and complex. Prosecutors had considered pursuing the death penalty against Burch, but after consulting with the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, they determined there were not statutory aggravating factors that would qualify the case for the death penalty, he said.
Stacey Carter, Wetzler’s former girlfriend and the mother of his son, said Thursday was the first time she had seen Burch. She still has a lot of questions.
“I was hoping to hear in her words why she did it and what happened,” she said. “I feel like I’m not any closer to knowing any details.”