Suspect in Etowah teen's slaying released on reduced bond, transferred to adult court

Joseph Wielzen
Joseph Wielzen
photo Joseph Wielzen

The man charged with killing an Etowah, Tennessee, teenager in 2017 is out on bond after his case was transferred from juvenile to adult court in McMinn County.

Joseph Wielzen, 18, of Athens Pike in Etowah, was released Monday on a $30,000 bond, which was reduced from the $200,000 bond set when he was arrested on June 21, 10th Judicial District Deputy District Attorney Shari Tayloe said Thursday. He's charged with felony murder and aggravated rape in the death of 18-year-old Kelsey N. Burnette.

The case was transferred to adult court and the bond was reduced in hearings held on Aug. 31 and Sept. 7, Tayloe said. Wielzen must wear a GPS ankle monitor while out, she added.

photo Kelsey N. Burnette

Burnette's mother is fuming over Wielzen's release.

"I am furious over the whole situation," Sissy Burnette told the Times Free Press on Thursday. "I don't understand how he could even be out on house arrest or [how they] lowered his bond that much."

Kelsey Burnette, who graduated from McMinn Central High School in 2017 and worked at the local McDonald's, had been reported missing by her family on July 1, 2017. She was last seen around 5 a.m. that day, walking through Etowah. Her body was found by a passerby three days later in a yard off Charles Street, investigators said.

Sissy Burnette told the Times Free Press last September that she knew her daughter "didn't just walk off."

She said her daughter's car was still at home with all her belongings in it, including her wallet and clothes. She said Kelsey would not ordinarily have gone out in the dark alone, referring to her last being seen walking through town before dawn three days before she was found dead.

The SIM card from Kelsey's cellphone - containing service subscriber information that usually allows the phone to make calls - was found in the toilet at her home, Burnette's mother said last year.

The next step in the case is a presentation to a McMinn County grand jury, but a decision has not been made on when the case will be presented, Tayloe said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at

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