A police community support officer was chased and bludgeoned to death while walking her dog through the Kent countryside, in a terrifying attack which was captured on her Apple Fitbit, a court heard.
Julia James, 53, took her regular route through Ackholt Wood with her pet Jack Russell Toby when she was ambushed by 22-year-old Callum Wheeler on April 27 last year.
Canterbury crown court heard Wheeler had been “roaming” the area armed with a metal railway jack 24 hours before the attack on Mrs James, and had previously been seen lurking at the murder site by the Kent PCSO and her husband Paul.
Prosecutor Alison Morgan QC told jurors Wheeler now admits killing Ms James, but continues to deny the murder charge.
She said data from Mrs James’ Fitbit helped police to piece together her final movements, as she took her regular route through the countryside before her heartrate suddenly spiked at 145 beats per minute and she ran off the woodland path.
“The defendant was in the same place that Paul James and Julia James had seen him before”, she said. “At that point, Julia James’ heartrate surged.
“She took a sudden detour off the path that goes through the wooded area.
“She had run out of the wood, doubtless to try and escape her attacker. She had got as far as she could along the path, she was chased by her attacker, and it’s likely that as she ran she fell - either from the first blow from her attacker or by tripping.”
Ms Morgan said Mrs James suffered a fractured wrist as she fell over, and her body was found face down on the ground. The court heard expert evidence suggests Mrs James’ hood was up as Wheeler struck her repeatedly in the head.
“It’s clear she had been struck to the head repeatedly by the weapon,” said Ms Morgan.
Wheeler is believed to have torn up grass to cover up Mrs James’ blood and left her body behind.
She was eventually found when a family came across the PCSO’s dog, who was still wandering the area when the attack happened.
The court was told the murder weapon was later found in the defendant’s home.
Ms Morgan said it is the prosecution’s case “that there is a large body of evidence from a variety of sources that demonstrate that the attacker was this defendant Callum Wheeler”.
She told the court: “Although he denied responsibility for the killing for some time, he does now accept that he was the person that killed Julia James, however he does not accept that he is guilty of the offence of murder.”
The jury was told that Wheeler frequently visited the woodland where Mrs James would walk her dog.
Ms James was said to have seen her killer in the months prior to the incident and had described the suspect to her husband as a “really weird dude”.
Jurors were then played footage from police body-worn video of an encounter between officers and Wheeler when he dialled 999 on April 17, 10 days before Mrs James died.
The footage showed Wheeler telling the officers “get lost mate” and “I’m not talking to you”, before his father reassured them he was OK.
Ms Morgan said: “You may think that the footage of this visit shows the defendant to be behaving oddly” and told the court that he had been reluctant to have “any meaningful conversation with the police”.
Jurors have heard Wheeler spent time after the killing walking around the same area, sometimes carrying the weapon in his bag, and was seen jumping through hedgerows and allegedly trying to evade police.
“For days afterwards, the defendant continued to tour around the local area, sometimes carrying his bag, sometimes carrying the murder weapon,” said Ms Morgan.
“He kept a check on the police cordon - why was he behaving in that manner?”
Wheeler had barricaded himself in his bedroom when he was arrested, and made a comment to police that he sometimes would “do things I cannot control”, the court heard.
Concluding her opening statement, Ms Morgan said no medical or psychiatric evidence is going to be called to suggest Wheeler was mentally unwell when he attacked Mrs James.
“When he hit Julia James repeatedly over the head with that large metal pole and says he didn’t intend to cause her at least really serious harm, that is a matter for him,” she said.
“The evidence shows beyond any doubt that he obviously had that intention. He waited for Julia James or another vulnerable female to be in that wood.
“He waited to ambush her, he chased her down, she ran, desparate to get away from her attacker but unable to outrun him and caught by surprise, wearing wellington boots.
“He struck her, she fell to the ground, she broke her wrist, and when face down on the ground he struck her again and again and again. She had no chance of survival.
“As he hit her in that way repeatedly, using that weapon, he knew that and he intended it.
“The key question for the offence of murder is whether of not when he attacked Julia James the defendant intended to kill her or cause her at least really serious harm. The prosecution will invite you to conclude it’s clear and obvious that he did.”
The trial continues.