TROY MARTIN MURDER TRIAL: Inconsistencies and alleged confessions brought up in trial
BEMIDJI -- A missing report has reappeared in the Troy Martin murder trial.
Troy Martin, 41, of Bagley is facing second-degree murder charges for the death of his sister Leisa Martin in October 1998. Leisa died of asphyxiation, presumably on her family’s property south of Bagley, Minn. Troy Martin was accused of killing his sister by his brother, Todd Martin, 38, after Todd was arrested for DWI and assaulting a peace officer in 2010.
Troy Martin’s trial started last week in the Beltrami County Courthouse.
On Thursday, Troy Martin’s defense attorney, John Undem, asked Brad Athman to respond to Todd Martin’s reluctance to provide a hair sample during the investigation into Leisa’s death. Athman was an investigator with the Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office in October 1998. Athman said he could not do so with certainty without referring to his report, which was missing.
When Athman requested his report before the trial started, a secretary told him a copy couldn’t be produced because of a computer system error at the sheriff’s office and the hard copy couldn’t be located. But since Thursday, Chad Museus, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension senior special agent, procured a copy of the original report from the Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office. Museus said in court Tuesday that he believes the report was from the physical file.
It was not clear Tuesday on just how the now-found report will impact the case, as the day also featured wrangling by attorneys about how the trial is proceeding as well possible conflicting testimony on Troy Martin’s whereabouts the night Leisa Martin was killed.
Museus testified Tuesday that he was assigned Leisa Martin’s cold case file on the 10-year anniversary of her murder in 2008. When the investigation reopened in 2010 with Todd Martin’s confession, Museus interviewed both brothers.
Over the weekend break, Museus said he listened to Troy Martin’s recorded statements from 2010 and made corrections to transcripts. Undem questioned him Tuesday if corrections were also made to Todd Martin’s statements. Museus said there were no changes necessary after listening to Todd’s recordings. Museus said there were about a dozen changes needed in each of Troy’s statements. Museus noted that there were two different transcriptionists.
During Museus’ questioning of Troy Martin in 2010, he said he was, in fact, out drinking with his brother and sister on Oct. 27.
“I was still dating my wife at the time,” Museus said he recalled Martin saying in his statement. “I was the first to be home.”
Museus asked during the 2010 interview at what time did Troy Martin arrive home. According to the report, Martin said he got home around 1 or 2 a.m. The defense has argued that Martin was home sleeping at 11 p.m., which is more consistent with his grand jury testimony.
In the 2010 interview, Museus asked “How do you explain your hair on Leisa’s body?”
“You can explain that by me being up at the Clearbrook Liquor Store,” Troy responded.
Undem said during Tuesday’s trial that Museus had told Todd in an interview that Troy said he killed Leisa before Museus had even talked to Troy.
“Isn’t that right, you were lying to him?” Undem asked Museus.
Museus said that is a tactic to get people to tell the truth and that Undem was taking it out of context.
“I believe that my testimony was that he, Troy, believed Todd was responsible,” Museus said.
However, in another twist in the complicated case, a statement a witness gave to the BCA is missing, it was disclosed in court Tuesday. Patricia Troseth was dating Fred Martin, Troy and Todd’s father, at the time of Leisa’s disappearance.
And further complicating proceedings, Undem expressed concern to Judge Paul Benshoof on Tuesday regarding some of the state’s actions since Troy Martin’s trial began. Undem said the prosecution, represented by Assistant Attorney General Eric Schieferdecker and Clearwater County Attorney Richard Mollin, has failed to disclose evidence in a timely manner, such as the Athman report, which was found four days into trial and just recently introduced.
“I think you both should start looking at that as to what remedies the court can fashion other than a mistrial,” Benshoof cautioned all attorneys Tuesday.
Undem asserted that the defense will not ask for a mistrial.
Patricia Troseth testified Tuesday that she arrived home on Oct. 28, 1998 to find Todd Martin in his car in her driveway. Fred Martin and Patricia Troseth shared a residence in Bagley from 1991 to 2010. Troseth said Todd returned later with Leisa’s best friend Kris Lee and the two left to file a missing persons report.
The next day, Troseth testified that Troy Martin picked up Fred to go get some car parts in Clearbrook but the two returned within 15 minutes. Troseth’s home is approximately a 15 minute drive from Clearbrook.
“[Fred] looked very ill, he was ashen. He was pacing,” Troseth testified.
On Friday, Oct. 30, 1998, Troseth said she offered to assist with the search party for Leisa, but she recalled Fred telling her, “Absolutely not. You go to work.”
Troseth said on that Saturday, Oct. 31, that Lee showed her a grave behind the shed that had been discovered during a search for Leisa on Friday. Testimony by Lee and Martin’s ex-wife, Leimona Martin, would place Fred Martin at the shed with his truck during the time Leisa was missing.
Schieferdecker asked Troseth if she had talked to Troy about his whereabouts during the time Leisa was killed.
“He had told me he was at home sleeping,” Troseth said.
Undem asked if Troseth would agree that Fred Martin was a volatile personality. “Usually [Fred] rants, but he wasn’t saying anything,” Troseth said in regard to his return from Clearbrook. When Undem asked Troseth to clarify a comment she made regarding the family’s “nonchalant” attitude toward Leisa being missing, which she made in a statement to the BCA. Troseth testified that she hasn’t seen the statement.
“Neither has the defense,” Undem said.
Two people who allege they heard confessions from Todd Martin testified Tuesday.
Anthony Tronerud, 39, has been a friend of the family since high school. He was best man at Troy’s wedding. Tronerud acknowledged during testimony that he had a key to the Martin’s shop.
On the day Leisa was killed, Tronerud recalled Troy Martin picking him up and the two looking for Leisa near the Roy Lake and Strawberry Mountain Road area. The next day, Tronerud said he saw Fred and Troy Martin at Dave and Sara Gordon’s house, which is in the area of Strawberry Mountain Road. Sara Gordon has previously testified that Tronerud was not there. During Undem’s cross-examination, Tronerud said he couldn’t say with 100 percent certainty that he was visiting the Gordon’s around the time Leisa was missing.
Tronerud said on Oct. 30 he was helping Todd Martin’s ex-girlfriend, Alicia Abraham, move a dresser. The next day, Halloween, he learned of Leisa’s death.
“Basically I wanted her to be avenged,” Tronerud testified. “Wanted justice for her.”
Tronerud went so far as to purchase a recorder to catch Todd Martin confessing to killing Leisa, he said.
“I never really used it with Troy,” Tronerud testified. “I didn’t probably feel I needed to.”
Court documents and Tronerud’s testimony state that he told law enforcement in 2008 or 2009 that he had been drinking with Troy Martin and explained a theory to him about Leisa’s death. The theory was that Todd Martin sat on Leisa Martin, panicked after digging a hole and woke up Troy Martin. In Tronerud’s theory, the two proceeded to bring Leisa’s body out to Strawberry Mountain Road.
“Tone, you’re not that dumb of a guy,” was Troy Martin’s response, according to court documents.
Schieferdecker asked Tronerud about a fight in which Todd Martin put his knee in Tronerud’s chest and tried choking him. During the incident Tronerud said, “Go ahead try and get away with it twice.” The fight began after Tronerud asked about Todd’s involvement in Leisa’s death. “I had thought Todd had done it, the killing of Leisa, and that Troy helped with moving the body,” Tronerud said during testimony.
It was at Tronerud’s residence where Todd Martin received his 2010 DWI that led to his confession in helping move Leisa’s body.
Todd Martin plead guilty to aiding an offender in January 2012. Tronerud remembers Todd Martin visiting and having a few beers that spring. Todd Martin testified on Friday that he has not drank alcohol since his DWI arrest. It was during this visit that Tronerud heard a confession.
“That it was Troy that killed her and that (Todd) helped...with his car,” Tronerud said.
Tronerud testified to hearing Todd Martin say that, “It probably wasn’t meant for Leisa, it was meant for Alicia” once when the two were in a car leaving the shed where a shallow hole had been dug.
The defense stated that it was only after Tronerud was named as a person of interest that he mentioned Fred and Troy being at the Gordon’s place and that he told a BCA agent that Todd was becoming “increasingly unstable.”
Undem’s request to introduce a note that Tronerud left on Leisa’s grave was denied. Undem argued that the note would show the depth of Tronerud’s obsession with Leisa’s death and the absurdity of why he would wait until 12 years later to divulge information.
“We don’t have the note of course, because the BCA lost it,” Undem said. “But we still have the report.”
Schieferdecker countered that activities at a person’s gravesite are irrelevant. Benshoof allowed questioning Tronerud’s affections of Leisa but not of the note.
“You told Mr. Schieferdecker that you were in love with Leisa isn’t that true?” Undem asked.
“In love with her?” Tronerud responded. He then denied the allegation.
A second alleged admission of guilt by Todd Martin was heard by Sara (Lundeen) Blackthorne, who is a defense witness, called during the prosecution’s witness testimonies. Blackthorne, 29, attended Troy Martin and Jennifer Eckert’s wedding reception as a teenager in 1999. She recalled Todd Martin buying her a drink, which she testified she did not ask for, and admitting he killed his sister.
“I didn’t mean to hurt her...I never meant to kill her, it was an accident,” is what Blackthorne said Todd Martin told her.
Blackthorne’s previous statements said that Todd told her he, Troy and Leisa were brought home from the Clearbrook Legion by a friend the night Leisa died. This differs from most testimonies in that Troy is not with the other two siblings when they return home. Blackthorne’s testimony said that Todd told her that Todd and Leisa were fighting over money, that he ran up and tackled her, went inside to get a flashlight, which he hit Leisa with and choked her with his hands until he rolled her over and her eyes were open. Blackthorne said that Todd told her that when he realized she was dead, he put her by the shed.
Schieferdecker pointed out that it wasn’t until 2005 that she came forward with information on Leisa’s murder. According to statements discussed in court, Blackthorne also told investigators that Leisa was held by her purse strap around her neck, which is inconsistent with Dr. Susan Roe’s autopsy report.
Blackthorne was reluctant to state anything without having her previous statements in front of her during testimony Tuesday. She said that transcripts of previously recorded statements had many errors in them and that her grand jury testimony had typographical errors.
“I’ve briefly reviewed my grand jury testimony,” Blackthorne said.
During cross-examination of Blackthorne, Schieferdecker asked if she has referred to herself as a storyteller.
“I have worked in the storytelling field, yes,” Blackthorn testified.
Blackthorne is a creative writer with a background in domestic and sexual violence.
Follow the Bemidji Pioneer's coverage of the trial:
Tuesday, Jan. 14 Martin murder trial moved to Beltrami County
Wednesday, Jan. 15 Troy Martin faces murder charges in 1998 death of sister near Bagley
Friday, Jan. 17 TROY MARTIN MURDER CASE: Brother testifies against brother