The friends and family of a slain 20-year-old are being called the "heroes" of an investigation into an alleged serial killer, thanks to a savvy social media sting.
Sarah Butler, a college student who went missing while she was home for Thanksgiving in Montclair, NJ., was found dead a week after she disappeared.
In an attempt to find who she might have been talking to before her death, Butler's friends and family began digging through her social media profiles. That decision spawned a sting operation that led to the arrest of an accused multiple-murderer, NorthJersey.com reported.
Khalil Wheeler-Weaver, 23, is now being tried for three separate homicides, including Butler's. In his trial, which started on Wednesday, prosecutors have utilized evidence collected by a fake online profile, which Butler's family and friends created in an attempt to attract her killer.
Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Adam Wells told jurors this week that the people behind the fake profile had managed to arrange a meet-up with Wheeler-Weaver, implying that sex would be involved. When the alleged murderer showed up, police arrested him.
"Sarah's friends and family are the heroes of this case," Wells said.
NorthJersey.com reported that Wheeler-Weaver admitted to being with all three victims before they disappeared, but claimed he left them in safe conditions before their deaths. His public defender, Deidre McMahon, noted that he also cooperated with "numerous" police departments that had tagged him as a person of interest.
"That is not the conduct of a guilty individual," McMahon said in court.
All three of Wheeler-Weaver's alleged victims — Butler, Joanne Browne, 33, and Robin West, 19 — died under similar circumstances. The woman had each been drugged before they were strangled with an item of clothing, and all were found with tape over their noses and mouths.
Jurors will also hear from another woman, who claims she managed to escape from Wheeler-Weaver after waking up from a drug-induced sleep and running to identify her captor to the police.
Wheeler-Weaver has also been charged in the attempted murder of that woman, who was identified in court only as "T.T." He has pled not guilty to all 11 charges in his case.