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Not guilty verdict in Troy Martin case

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BEMIDJI -- Troy Martin’s family exhaled sighs of relief from the back row of the south courtroom in the Beltrami County Courthouse after a not guilty verdict was delivered by the jury on Thursday. His wife, Jennifer, cried.

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“It’s been four years of just terrible,” Martin told the Pioneer after the verdict was read. He added it is going to be a while before the family is ready to comment openly, but there are a lot of things that need to be said.

“We think it was absolutely the right verdict,” said John Undem, Martin’s defense attorney. “It was the verdict the evidence supported.”

Martin, 41, of Bagley, was on trial for second-degree felony murder/false imprisonment. He was implicated in the October 1998 killing of his sister, Leisa Martin, by his brother Todd Martin.

Undem said the prosecution cannot appeal the jury’s not guilty verdict.

“This is done. It’s over,” Undem said. “Troy is a good and decent man.”

This is not the first time Troy Martin has gone through court proceedings in relation to his sister’s death. Todd Martin, 38, of Fosston, who was not in court Thursday, confessed in 2010 to being involved in the moving of Leisa’s body. While in the Clearwater County Jail awaiting court on charges for DWI and assaulting a peace officer, Todd Martin on Jan. 24, 2010, told law enforcement it was Troy who caused Leisa’s death by asphyxiation on Oct. 28, 1998, and that he helped move her body.

Troy Martin was subsequently arrested and both brothers were charged with second-degree aiding and abetting manslaughter, aiding an offender, interference with a dead body and second-degree unintentional murder.

A grand jury indictment against Troy Martin was thrown out of appeals court in 2013 due to the manner in which the Clearwater County Attorney’s Office and the State of Minnesota prosecuted the case. Charges against Troy Martin were dismissed on Jan. 30, 2013.

Clearwater County Attorney Richard Mollin approved a complaint charging Troy Martin with second-degree murder/false imprisonment on Feb. 1, 2013. A second-degree murder charge carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison.

Todd Martin spent 180 days in jail for his DWI and fourth-degree assault on a peace officer. He pleaded guilty to aiding an offender on Jan. 5, 2012, and faces 54 months in prison. The charge of interfering with a dead body was dismissed. The aiding and abetting and murder charges still are pending.

Undem said the opportunity to convict Todd Martin of Leisa Martin’s murder was missed.

A weeklong trial During prosecution’s opening statements on Jan. 15, 2014, Assistant Attorney General Eric Schieferdecker said he and Mollin intended on proving Troy Martin intentionally restrained Leisa Martin by way of false imprisonment.

Defense attorney Michael Undem said he and John Undem would prove evidence is going to show Todd Martin was the last person to see Leisa Martin alive.

“We’re going to show you that Todd Martin is 100 percent responsible for the death of his sister Leisa Martin,” Michael said.

Judge Paul T. Benshoof presided over the seven-day trial in Beltrami County. More than 100 exhibits were received by the court and 23 witnesses testified, including Todd Martin. Troy Martin waived his right to testify.

Missing evidence, conflicting testimonies, reappearing reports and aging recollections surfaced throughout the trial. The jury heard closing arguments Thursday morning and deliberated for approximately five hours.

“The defendant is not entitled to any closure until you reach a verdict,” Schieferdecker told jurors during closing statements.

“The only question before you is if Troy Murdered Leisa,” John Undem said. “The state has not produced a shred of evidence that links Troy to Leisa’s death.”

Jurors re-entered the Beltrami County courtroom at 4:10 p.m. Thursday and court was adjourned by 4:15 p.m.

After the not guilty verdict was reached, Undem said it is important for the public to know Troy Martin agreed to and passed a polygraph test executed by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Polygraph tests are not admissible in court. Undem said the test showed Martin was not involved in Leisa’s death or the moving of her body.

“We think that’s critical, strong evidence,” Undem said. “Since 1998 Todd Martin has refused to take a polygraph test.”

Troy Martin’s trial was originally going to be held in Clearwater County, but after jury questionnaire results were returned, it was moved to Beltrami County.

What happened to Leisa? Leisa Martin was 31 years old when she died of asphyxiation, presumably at her mother’s house south of Bagley, in the early-morning hours of Oct. 28, 1998.

Court documents, testimony and law enforcement investigation support the following:

Leisa was out drinking with Stephanie Morey and her brother Todd Martin in Clearbrook on Oct. 27. On Oct. 28 Leisa was supposed to meet Kris Lee around noon. Lee, Morey and Todd Martin reported Leisa missing later that evening.

The Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office searched the area around the Martin home 1.5 miles south of Bagley on Oct. 30. An empty hole -- measuring 6 feet long, 1 foot wide and 2 feet deep -- was discovered behind the shop on the Martin property.

On Oct. 31, 1998, Leisa Martin’s body was found by a man looking for firewood in the Roy Lake area. Clearwater County Undersheriff Lyle Colligan identified Leisa Martin’s body found 20 feet off Strawberry Mountain Road. The site where her body was found is 300 feet into Mahnomen County on the White Earth Indian Reservation.

Leisa was found topless and shoeless beneath a layer of autumn leaves. It appeared to law enforcement to be a peaceful placement, but staged as a sexual assault.

On Nov. 2, 1998, Dr. Susan Roe performed an autopsy on Leisa’s body, declaring the manner in which she died as homicide and the cause of death as asphyxia due to assault.

The murder of Leisa Martin went cold for 12 years before the investigation was reopened following Todd Martin’s admission in 2010.

Now, after 15 years, Leisa’s murder remains unsolved.

Review the Pioneer's coverage of Troy Martin's trial: Jan. 15 Martin murder trial moved to Beltrami County Jan. 16 Troy Martin faces murder charges in 1998 death of sister near Bagley Jan. 17 TROY MARTIN MURDER CASE: Initial investigation questioned in second day of trial Jan. 18 TROY MARTIN MURDER CASE: Brother testifies against brother Jan. 22 TROY MARTIN MURDER TRIAL: Inconsistencies and alleged confessions brought up in trial Jan. 23 TROY MARTIN MURDER TRIAL: Verdict could come this week

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Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts and Beltrami county government for The Bemidji Pioneer. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
(218) 333-9200 x343
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