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LIVE | Day 3 in trial of former Jackson County deputy Zach Wester

Posted at 11:35 AM, May 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-12 16:50:17-04

JACKSON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — Zach Wester, the former Jackson County Deputy fired for planting evidence during traffic stops, faces his third day on trial with witness testimony from those charged and backup officers.

The 23rd witness is Jennifer Roeder.She's a crime lab analyst for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

After a brief delay, WITNESS 23: Jennifer Roeder is testifying. She's a crime lab analyst for Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

There are 121 photos are entered into evidence. All relate to body camera footage from Teresa Odom's arrest.

Derrick Benefield, the 24th witness, says Wester pulled him over but didn’t say why at first. Then said he smelt marijuana. Then Wester searched their car and said he found a pin top and a baggie. Benefield denied it was his and didn’t know where it came from.

Benefield says Wester never told him why he was pulled over, no other deputies were on the scene. He said Wester pulled him and his two passengers out of the car because they "smelled like marijuana."

WITNESS 24 Derrick Benefield

He says they didn't and it had never been smoked in the car.

Benefield has four previous felony convictions. He entered a plea related to charges filed from Wester's evidence. Benefield was taken to jail and was there for seven months.

Benefield also confirms he is suing JCSO over this.

James Fears the 25th witness, says he was with his wife, Jade. He says they were headed to Walmart when Wester pulled them over for a tag issue.

James Fears

As Wester searches their car he can be heard questioning why Fears’ wife was moving around the car. The backup deputy says “she could’ve just been messing with her purse.”

Jade Fears denies moving anything around the car and says she had never seen the meth recovered from her car.

“It didn’t look like it had been sitting there. It looks like it was just put there," the backup deputy says of the container Wester found. “There’s no way she could’ve throwed it under there.”

Wester can be heard singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas” as he searches Fears car and says “I like singing for the jury so they’re not just sitting there.” Then he cuffs them without saying why.

When Wester finds something Fears says, “check it for fingerprints," and asks for a drug test. Wester asked Fears if it belongs to a friend and says he doesn’t have field tests.

“Man that’s not mine," said Fears in the bodycam footage. "That’s not hers. I’m going to jail, I’m gonna lose my job. This is mad wrong.”

“If you give me a drug test," Fears said in the footage, "me and her both was arrested in 2004. I stopped. I have not touched it since.”

Wester asks Jade Fears is she is color blind when she has trouble understanding the field drug test.

Charges were dropped against Fears about a month later. Fears confirmed he too has a civil suit against Wester and JCSO because“I sold everything I had to keep a roof over my head.”

The 26th witness is Kimberly Hazelwood. She, her husband, and her two sons were pulled over by Wester in 2018.

The 26th witness is Kimberly Hazelwood

The bodycam footage shows Wester searching the vehicle. He locates an Excedrin pill bottle with a baggie inside. He then detains Kimberly Hazelwood.

Kimberly Hazelwood's husband looks shocked when Wester says she’s being arrested. “

She’s never done drugs a day in her life,” Kimberly Hazelwood's husband, Jeremy said to Wester in the video.

“I don’t mess with that stuff. I don’t need to.” Kimberly Hazelwood said in the footage. “I swear I don’t do these things.”

In the bodycam footage of Hazelwood’s arrest, Wester says “I’m not here to ruin people’s lives.”

“She’s never been to jail a day in her life, she’s gonna be scared to death," Jeremy Hazelwood's says.

Wester says Kimberly Hazelwood showed signs of meth use, referencing her cheeks being sunken in and her teeth.

Kimberly Hazelwood is also pursuing a civil suit against Wester and JCSO.

Jeremy Hazelwood is the 27th witness.

WITNESS 27 Jeremy Hazelwood

The 28th witness is Dylan Jackson, a narcotics investigator with JCSO.

Dylan Jackson, 28th witness and narcotics investigator with JCSO

Jackson served as a backup k-9 unit in Kimberly Hazelwood's arrest.

His k-9 detected drugs during Hazelwood’s traffic stop. Jackson confirms his dog can detect if odor was present prior to, doesn’t have to be there at that moment.

The next witness is Jeremiah Bortle, the 29th witness. He works at FDLE as a Supervisor of Evidence.

Jeremiah Bortle, the 29th witness. He works at FDLE as a Supervisor of Evidence.

Bortle tested the drugs seized in Hazelwood's case.

Melissa Seiffert, the 30th witness, supervises biology at the FDLE.

WITNESS 30, Melissa Seiffert, supervises biology at FDLE

Seiffert explains how DNA works and how they extract DNA from surfaces.

Dr. Barbara McGlammery-Evans,  a latent prints examiner is the 31st witness.

Scott Edwards, formerly with JCSO, is the 32nd witness. He was the Captain of the Narcotics Division.

Edwards said if an officer is promoted to narcotics division they get paid more and do more compared to regular patrol.

According to Edwards, the narcotics division looks for proactive officers. He considered Wester proactive when it came to drug arrests.

The 33rd witness is Billy Benton, formerly a Sgt. Investigator with JCSO in the narcotics division.

WITNESS 33 Billy Benton, formerly with narcotis division of JCSO

Benton says Wester never provided him with informants he encountered.

He also said if he had witnessed Wester planting evidence he would have called the sheriff and arrested Wester.

from 2016 to 2018, with Wester.

BACKGROUND

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began its investigation into Wester in August 2018 and believes his actions resulted in more than 100 people being wrongly charged. Wester entered a not guilty plea in July.

According to court records, Wester is looking at 76 charges that include official misconduct, perjury, fabrication of evidence, possession of drugs, and false imprisonment

In most of the incidents reported in the affidavit, Wester's body-cam was either not recording, or only recorded part of the stop, whether that was the initial connection with the driver, or after a search of the car had already started.

Investigators believe that Wester placed drugs and other paraphernalia inside at least 16 victims' cars when his camera was off.

"The investigation revealed 42 items of drug paraphernalia, 10 separately packaged quantities of methamphetamine, and five separate items of marijuana. All of those items were recovered in deputy Wester's patrol vehicle," said Chris Williams, Assistant Special Agent in charge of FDLE Pensacola region.

Details from day one of Wester's trial can be found by clicking here.

Details from day two of Wester's trial can be found by clicking here.

If Wester is found guilty of all charges, he could face about 13 and a half years in state prison.

The jury consists of two female jurors and seven male jurors. The trial is anticipated to last roughly three weeks.