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TROY MARTIN MURDER CASE: Initial investigation questioned in second day of trial

BEMIDJI -- A missing investigator’s report and inaccuracies in a criminal complaint were highlighted Thursday in the second day of Troy Martin’s second-degree murder trial.

Troy Martin, 41, is on trial for the 1998 death of his then-older sister, Leisa Martin, at the Martin family home in rural Bagley.

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. The officer who arrested Todd Martin took the stand Thursday.

Beltrami County Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Frees previously worked for the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office. Frees arrested Todd Martin on Jan. 24, 2010 at about 2:20 a.m., according to testimony in court.

Initially after the arrest, Todd Martin was facing multiple charges including use of deadly force, terroristic threats, fourth-degree assault of a peace officer, DWI and fifth-degree assault with intent to cause fear of bodily harm or death.

Frees testified Todd Martin was compliant at first, so Frees handcuffed him and put him in his vehicle. Martin had his cell phone and asked if he could make a phone call. Frees allowed the call, presumably to Martin’s wife. Shortly after Martin hung up, Frees said, Martin said an expletive and “I want to die.” Martin then tried to jump out of the locked vehicle and when that didn’t work, he lunged at Frees through the center console and pinned him against the driver’s side window by his neck. This occurred while Frees was driving 55 mph transporting Martin to the sheriff’s office.

“I think he wanted me to shoot him,” Frees said.

Troy Martin’s attorney, John Undem, questioned Frees if he believed his life was in danger and if the deadly force charge was applicable because Frees paged a 10-88, which is an officer’s call that he needs help.

Frees said he didn’t think a deadly force charge was adequate. He said the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office complaint, which he reviewed just a few days ago, was inaccurate.

“The complaint said he was trying to kill me, which isn’t accurate,” Frees said.

The prosecution is alleging Troy Martin’s actions led directly to his sister’s death, while the defense is countering Troy Martin was sleeping when Leisa and Todd Martin argued after a night of drinking on Oct. 27, 1998.

Leisa Martin was reported missing on Oct. 28 after her brother Todd reported last seeing her walk down the family’s driveway south of Bagley after the two got into an argument while drinking on the deck outside.

Lyle Colligan was Clearwater County Undersheriff at the time of Leisa’s death. He identified her body on Halloween in 1998 after it was discovered near the Mahnomen County line.

“I was able to identify Leisa,” Colligan said during his testimony Thursday. “I knew the family well.”

The Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office treated Leisa’s disappearance as they would any adult missing person’s case, and it’s not a crime for an adult to go missing, he said.

Colligan said during Todd Martin’s 1998 statement of what happened the night Leisa disappeared, the night she was killed, Todd never mentioned Troy being involved.

Brad Athman also testified Thursday. Athman was an investigator with the Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office in October 1998. Like Colligan, he was off duty when the call came in that a body had been found and responded to the scene.

Athman questioned Troy Martin as part of the routine investigation. Troy Martin told Athman he was with his girlfriend, Jennifer Eckert, and a friend, Anthony Tronerud, at the family’s shop, also called the shed, until about 11 p.m. that night when he then went into the house to sleep. Eckert and Troy Martin were later married in 1999.

During Undem’s cross-examination of Athman on Thursday, the competency of the Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office came into play. Undem asked Athman about whether or not Todd Martin was reluctant to provide a hair sample. Athman responded he couldn’t say for sure and would need to check his report, which is not possible.

“My report is missing,” Athman said.

Undem asked where his report of the incident was, to which Athman said, “That’s a good question for the Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office.”

Sometime after 2007, when Athman retired from the sheriff’s office, the office computer system was switched over, he said. When Athman learned he’d be testifying in Troy Martin’s trial, he requested his report from the sheriff’s office. The physical file is missing and Athman said a secretary told him a lot of things didn’t transfer to the new computer system so a copy couldn’t be printed.

“There’s a number of reports that are missing,” Athman said.

Approximately 30 witnesses are expected to testify in Troy Martin’s trial in the Beltrami County Courthouse; 11 have taken the stand so far. The trial is expected to extend into next week and resumes at 8:30 a.m. today.

Leisa Martin was 31 when she died of asphyxiation, according to court documents. After she was reported missing, the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office conducted a search and what is presumed to be an empty grave was found behind a shed on the family’s property on Oct. 30, 1998. A day later, her half-dressed body was found beneath a thin layer of leaves 20 feet from Strawberry Mountain Road in Mahnomen County.

After confessing in 2010 to his role in her death, Todd Martin plead guilty to aiding an offender in January 2012 and faces just more than four years in prison. Both brothers were arrested for Leisa’s death in 2010 after Todd’s confession, but neither is currently incarcerated. If Troy is convicted of second-degree murder, he faces a maximum penalty of 40 years imprisonment.

An indictment against Troy Martin was thrown out in 2012 by an appeals court due to the manner in which Clearwater County handled his case, according to previous reports. Troy Martin’s testimony during grand jury proceedings in the summer of 2010 is expected to be discussed today. A 50-minute booking video of Todd Martin’s DWI and assault arrest is also planned to be shown to jurors.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. 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 Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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