The evening of Feb. 16, 2020, 5-year-old Will Beyer and 3-year-old Dani Beyer each picked out a toy and a movie at Walmart and ate dinner at the Subway inside the store with their mother and stepfather.
On the drive home, Dani fell asleep in the car. Her stepfather, Tyler Schuth, carried her up the stairs of their Kaukauna upper-level duplex apartment, and tucked her into bed with a kiss on her forehead. She was so tired, he just took her coat off and let her sleep in her clothes.
Will stayed up a bit later to watch the movie he had picked out from the store. Around 9:30 p.m., his mother, Melissa Schuth, told him it was bedtime, but he could finish his movie in the morning. Both Melissa and Tyler gave him a hug and kiss goodnight.
The next morning, Melissa Schuth woke up and walked into her children's shared bedroom to a horrific nightmare. Both children were dead. They had suffered multiple wounds to their necks.
Melissa Schuth testified in court Friday during the first day of the trial of Matthew Beyer, who is charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the murders of William and Danielle Beyer. Attorneys began with opening statements before the state brought forward their first witnesses: two Kaukauna police officers who responded to the scene Feb. 17, 2020, and Melissa Schuth.
Beyer, 38, is the children's father. He was arrested in June 2020 and has remained in jail since.
In her opening statements for the state, Outagamie County District Attorney Melinda Tempelis gave the 13-person jury a preview of the state's arguments and evidence that will be presented at the trial, which is scheduled to last for about two weeks. During the remainder of the trial, Tempelis said, the state aims to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Beyer, after making multiple middle-of-the-night drives from his home in Manitowoc to the Schuths' apartment in Kaukauna in the days leading to their murders, broke in to the apartment in the early morning hours of Feb. 17, 2020, and brutally killed the two children in their beds.
Beyer's defense team, led by attorneys Amanda Skorr and Amber Gratz, told the jury during opening statements that they aim to present evidence that shows enough reasonable doubt that someone else may be guilty of committing the murders. Specifically, they will point the possibility of guilt to a family friend of Melissa Schuth who had recently professed his love for her, which was not reciprocated.
Presiding over the trial is Outagamie County Judge Mark McGinnis. The 13-person jury was selected at an all-day voir dire procedure Thursday, for which 100 people were called.
When McGinnis and the attorneys introduced the case to the roomful of potential jurors Thursday, they warned that emotions will likely be high and that some of the evidence presented would be graphic in nature. During the jury selection process, jurors were asked rounds of questions about whether any of the content presented at the trial would impair their ability to make fair and impartial decisions.
As evidence was presented in the courtroom Friday, tearful sniffs could be heard and tissues were passed among jurors and some members of the public. Evidence presented included a recording of the 911 call Melissa and Tyler Schuth made after finding the kids and photos of the crime scene. While images of the exterior and parts of the interior of the house were shared with the entire courtroom on television screens, more graphic images of the children's bedroom were only showed to the jurors, as they passed around photos.
Kaukauna Police Officers Charlie Vosters and Brian Schaefer testified about their experiences responding to the scene Feb. 17, 2020. Vosters said he initially was dispatched to the the apartment for a "medical assist call" and with the few details he first heard, assumed it was probably a bloody nose - until he received an update that more officers were being dispatched.
Vosters said he and Schaefer were the first on scene and arrived at approximately the same time. Vosters met Melissa Schuth at the stairs to the apartment. He said she was "beside herself ... in a hysterical, hyperventilative state."
Vosters said both children had been dead for some time, and "absolutely zero" chance existed of being able to do lifesaving measures.
Schaefer testified he brought Melissa and Tyler Schuth to the apartment's living room once it became clear that the police were dealing with a possible homicide investigation and officers needed to secure the scene to collect evidence. Melissa and Tyler were brought to the Kaukauna Police Station, where a victim crisis response team attended to their needs, Schaefer said.
Melissa Schuth was the final witness of the day to take the stand. During her testimony, she smiled while answering questions about her children's personalities, and became emotional at other times when addressing their deaths.
Melissa Schuth told the jury Will and Dani were almost exactly two years apart, and very close. Dani liked to wait outside for her brother to get off the bus on his way home from school. Her favorite colors were purple and blue. She was adventurous and loved to explore - so much so that she often had to be closely watched at the playground.
"I always called her our little daredevil," Melissa Schuth said.
Will was quieter and less adventurous than his younger sister, but he loved to read, sing and play with Legos. His favorite time of year was Christmas. He liked to watch the "Jurassic Park" movies, and he loved superheroes.
Melissa Schuth and Beyer had a strained relationship, Melissa Schuth testified. The pair were never married, but were together for seven years before splitting up.
In 2017, when Will and Dani were about 3 and 1, respectively, Melissa began dating Tyler Schuth. They married in April 2018.
For about three months in 2017, Beyer lived with Melissa, Tyler, Will and Dani, because he was facing the possibility of homelessness, Melissa Schuth said. Shortly after moving out, he started dating another woman whom he later had a child with.
In 2018, Beyer waived his right to a paternity DNA test in family court, Melissa Schuth said. But later, Beyer began questioning the paternity of Will and Dani, and whether he should be paying child support.
Melissa Schuth's and Beyer's relationship became increasingly tumultuous to the point that they only communicated by email. Melissa Schuth had primary placement of Will and Dani, and Beyer would visit them on weekends. They met halfway between their homes to exchange the kids. Each week, Beyer paid around $132 in child support.
During 2019, Beyer only saw Will or Dani "maybe once or twice," Melissa Schuth testified. On Dec. 9, 2019, Melissa Schuth and Beyer had a family court hearing for their visitation schedule. At the hearing, a judge ordered Beyer would get the kids two Saturdays a month from noon to 6 p.m. To drop off and pick up Will and Dani, Schuth and Beyer met at the Brillion Kwik Trip, which was halfway between their homes.
But Beyer would often fail to show up to the Kwik Trip when it was his time to take the kids, Melissa Schuth said. She said she drove there multiple times with Will and Dani, only to turn around and bring them back home when Beyer didn't show. The last time this happened was Feb. 15, 2020, two days before the kids were killed.
Beyer and Schuth had a follow-up family court hearing scheduled for Feb. 17, the day Will and Dani were killed. Melissa Schuth said she would have learned if she was granted sole placement of Will and Dani at that hearing. But it never happened.
Melissa Schuth said finding Will and Dani that morning was "the worst imaginable thing possible."
"I was on my hands and knees and I looked at the officer and said, 'This is a nightmare right? I'm going to wake up,'" Melissa Schuth testified.
Beyer was arrested in June 2020 after he admitted to police he had broken into the Schuths' apartment and been inside Will and Dani's bedroom the night they were killed, despite previously claiming he had only driven through Kaukauna a few times in recent years but never stopped, according to court documents. He told investigators he was feeling anxious that something bad was going to happen to his family members and wanted to check on his children. Beyer told officers he used a library card to open the door.
During her testimony, Melissa Schuth said when she lived with Beyer, she previously had watched him get into their door using a card when they accidentally locked themselves out.
She also answered questions about the family friend the defense is pointed toward as the possible killer, including that he was "like an uncle" to Will and Dani, and kept track of their heights with markings on a wall in his house.
Beyer appeared to show no visible emotion during the first day of the trial.
The state will continue to present witnesses next week.
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This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: Mother, police testify in Beyer trial for Kaukauna kids' deaths