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Jury finds John Bayerl guilty in 40-year-old murder of his wife

Posted at 4:24 PM, Jun 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 19:59:02-04

The jury has found John Bareyl guilty in a Muskego murder trial that was 40 years in the making. Bayerl was accused of killing his wife Dona Mae in 1979, but her body was never found.

Stephen Westphal, Muskego's lead detective on the case, fought back tears as he shared how the outcome will hopefully bring Bayerl’s daughters closure in this horrific crime.

"This isn’t a day of winning and losing. We’re looking for closure," Westphal said. "We’re still looking for closure. This just proves to you that the women and men of the Waukesha County District Attorney’s office, the Muskego Police Department both past and present, we don’t quit."

The jury started deliberating late Wednesday morning on whether the circumstantial evidence was enough to convict Bayerl.

In the state’s last opportunity to speak to the jury, District Attorney Susan Opper got fired up explaining why she believed the 79-year-old man is guilty.

“This is an intentional act, ringing the neck with both hands, that's not an accident, folks,” Opper said. “That’s intent.”

Prosecutors based their case on Dona Mae’s blood that was found in the garage of their Muskego home. The state also called on two of Bayerl’s ex-wives to testify about his history of domestic violence. Bayerl’s attorney Peter Wolff doesn’t believe that’s enough to convict.

“This is a criminal trial,” Wolff said. “There is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that John Bayerl intentionally murdered Dona Mae on May 6, 1979.”

On that night, Bayerl told authorities that he and Dona Mae got into an argument. He claims she took off and was never seen again.

“Just because he’s good at concealing the body doesn’t mean he gets to get away with murder,” Opper told the jury.

Without Dona Mae’s body or any other witnesses, the state asked the jury to use common sense in deciding Bayerl’s fate.

“Circumstantial evidence is not garbage, folks,” Opper said.

“Circumstantial evidence is not necessarily better or worse than direct evidence,” added Waukesha County Judge Brad Schimel.

Bayerl will spend the rest of his life in prison.