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TROY MARTIN MURDER CASE: Brother testifies against brother

BEMIDJI -- Troy Martin’s murder trial has centered around his brother, Todd Martin, since it began Wednesday in Beltrami County Court.

On Friday, the Martin brothers came face-to-face as Todd took the witness stand.

Troy Martin is facing a second-degree murder charge in the death of older sister Leisa Martin, 31, at their family home south of Bagley in October 1998.


After Leisa’s body was discovered a few days later, the case remained cold until Todd Martin, 38, confessed to his part in the crime following a DWI arrest in 2010. He plead guilty to aiding an offender in January 2012 and faces just more than four years in prison.

Troy Martin, 41, denies being involved in Leisa’s murder.

The prosecution has been presenting evidence and witness testimony to a 14-person jury alleging Troy Martin was the brother who applied the pressure to Leisa Martin’s body that led to her death of asphyxiation. They also contend Troy Martin orchestrated the moving of her body, and the staging of a sexual assault, to a wooded area 20 feet from Strawberry Mountain Road just over the Mahnomen County line.

Troy Martin’s defense attorney, John Undem, is stipulating Troy was at the home, but he was asleep while Todd Martin killed and hid their sister’s body.

On the stand Assistant Attorney General Eric Schieferdecker, lead prosecutor on the case, began his questioning of Todd Martin on Friday with a simple question; he asked his age. Todd had trouble answering. He testified that two to three years ago, he was diagnosed with Lyme Disease from which he has developed fibromyalgia, which he said has caused problems with his memory.

On Oct. 28, 1998, Todd and Leisa returned home from the bar after celebrating with friends. Todd and Leisa stayed up drinking beer and talking on the deck, according to court documents and Todd’s testimony Friday.

The events that transpired next are where the controversy lies.

In court Friday, Todd’s account was that Leisa started talking about her ex-husband and Todd told her he didn’t want to hear it. She became angry and threw a beer can at him. Neighbor, and Leisa’s best friend, Kris Lee’s testimony indicated there were beer bottles on the property but no mention was made of beer cans.

Schieferdecker asked Todd if his brother was present when the argument occurred. Todd said Troy came out of the house to try to calm things down.

That’s contrary to the defense’s position that Troy went inside the house at about 11 p.m. to go to sleep because he had to work the next day. Todd testified Friday that Troy came home while he and Leisa were on the deck.

“I don’t know where he was before he showed back up at the house,” Todd testified.

Todd said Friday that Leisa and Troy were in the Martin’s yard while he was standing on the deck. Todd testified he saw Leisa swing at Troy and that Troy “ended up holding her down.”

“We thought she just passed out,” Troy said. About 20 minutes later, he said Troy checked on Leisa, shaking her to wake her up. “That’s when we started realizing she ain’t going to wake up,” Todd testified.

Schieferdecker asked whose idea it was to move the body. “That’d be his,” Todd said referring to Troy. “He’s the one that took charge.”

Next, Todd said the two put Leisa’s body in his green 1989 Camaro and Troy drove to an undetermined destination. “She was wearing an old shirt of mine,” Todd said. “I don’t remember her having shoes on.”

Troy then took Leisa’s body out of the car, Todd said, while he stayed behind.

Todd recalled telling his older brother he was scared at one point during the next few days as Leisa was reported missing and before her body was found. He said in court Friday that Troy told him to, “Stick with the simple story and leave it at that.” Todd said he did because people knew he was out at the bar with Leisa and her friend the night she disappeared.

After she was reported missing, the brothers initially told law enforcement Leisa got mad that night and walked down the family’s driveway toward town.

In the years between Leisa’s murder and Todd Martin’s confession, the brothers grew more distant. The two fought, Todd said.

“He distanced himself away from me,” Todd said Friday.

It was brought up in court Friday that at one point, Troy’s wife, Jennifer, had a restraining order on Todd following an incident in which Todd took a hatchet after Troy’s car. In the same event, Troy pulled a gun on Todd. Schieferdecker asked Todd if he remembers trying to strangle Jennifer at one time; Todd said he did not recall that incident.


Undem’s cross-examination of Todd Martin included a battery of questions involving specific dates and conversations, the majority of which Todd could not respond to with certainty.

One inquiry involved an alleged confession Todd made to a female at Troy and Jennifer Martin’s wedding reception in 1999. Todd denied any such conversation. He recalls buying the girl a drink, she was underage at the time of the reception, but said he didn’t talk to her otherwise.

Todd also denied an alleged incident he had with his ex-girlfriend, Alicia Abraham, in which Undem said Todd followed Abraham outside a bar and yelled “it was supposed to be you...Don’t walk away from me you [expletive]. The last person who walked away from me is dead.”

Undem asked if Todd dug a grave in the backyard after killing his sister and did he chase people, including Abraham, out of the back shop when Abraham attempted to sit on a roll of carpet.

“I don’t know where any of that is coming from,” Todd responded.

Undem pressed Todd on his cooperativeness during the search and investigation into Leisa’s death. Todd said he remembers being cooperative when asked for a hair sample, an incident that needs a missing Mahnomen County Sheriff’s Office report to be confirmed.

Upon further questioning, when Todd couldn’t provide solid yes or no answers, Undem countered with “I understand you have a better memory for the state than for me.” Judge Paul Benshoof instructed the jury to disregard the remark.

Undem asked Todd about his DWI arrest and alleged assault on the arresting officer in 2010. He asked wasn’t it true Todd never brought up Troy Martin’s name in the confession until after Clearwater County Sheriff’s Officers and a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent advised him he would “get in more trouble for putting his hands around a deputy’s neck than for moving a body.”

“I just don’t remember, it’s all foggy to me,” Todd said.

The confession

On Jan. 24, 2010, Todd Martin was arrested for DWI in Clearwater County. During transport to the jail, he allegedly pinned Clearwater County Sheriff Deputy Mike Frees against the driver’s side window of Frees’ vehicle, which added a fourth-degree assault charge to his arrest.

Frees’ radioed for help. Deputy Larry Olson responded to the scene. When he arrived, Todd was handcuffed and on his knees, Olson testified Friday. Olson said while he was transporting Todd to the Clearwater County Jail, he heard him mention his sister’s name several times.

Todd’s recollection during testimony Friday was he put his handcuffs around Frees’ head and “yanked” him in the back seat. He said it took three or four officers to get him down in the ditch and “tie” him up.

“I was just out of my head,” he said. “I was really depressed and borderline suicidal.”

Todd’s transport to the jail was recorded on a squad car camera, and the video was played for jurors Friday during Olson’s testimony. The visual portion of the recording shows the front of Olson’s Crown Victoria, a snowy road and dark sky. The audio portion of the recording was affected by the rough winter roads, Olson said.

Todd Martin’s blood alcohol level was 0.17 when he was arrested. He was intoxicated and his words were slurred but somewhat audible on the recording. Martin could be heard saying, “It doesn’t matter any more...I was trying to kill my goddamn self...It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing to live for anymore. Sober, drunk, it doesn’t matter...I know what everybody looks at me as.”

A booking video of Todd was also introduced in court Friday. Similar to the squad car video, the audio is not clear. A buzz could be heard throughout the 50 minutes of footage.

In the video, Martin says he is sorry for everything he ever did and that he can’t take it back. He told deputies that he had a wife and a 6-year-old child at the time.

“I just want to die now,” Martin said in the video. “At least he (the child) won’t grow up with me around. He has to live that down, too. I just try to be normal...Been dealing with this a long time.”

In the video, Martin is quiet at times, more alert and talking with hand gestures at others. He agreed to take an intoxilyzer test and then asked a question Olson testified he’s never been asked before.

“Can I ask a stupid question?” Martin can be heard asking in the video. “Can someone put some cuffs on me? My mind’s not right...I don’t want to act out again.”

When Olson told Todd Martin he would be released when he was sober, Martin can be heard on the video asking “Do I have to be?”

Her body was moved

Dr. Susan Roe performed Leisa Martin’s autopsy on Nov. 2, 1998. Photos from the autopsy were displayed for the jury Friday during prosecuting attorney Schieferdecker’s questioning of Roe. While 23 images of Troy Martin’s sister’s dead, naked body were shown on the monitor directly in front of him and on larger screens in the courtroom, he held his head down and pushed his chair back from the screen.

Roe classified the manner of Leisa’s death as a homicide and the cause as asphyxia due to assault. She testified the cause of death was specifically mechanical asphyxia rather than manual strangulation because there was “no significant injury” to Leisa’s neck.

“There is a bruise that’s present on her chest,” Roe said. “Pressure was applied below the face.”

During testimony, Roe said that asphyxia can be quick, but Leisa’s death was not.

“It wasn’t rapid,” Roe said. “More in the minutes range than the seconds range.”

Due to lividity, blood pooling, and pressure blanching on Leisa’s body, Roe was able to determine that her body had been moved post-mortem.

Schieferdecker asked if lividity present in Leisa’s body is consistent with the way her body was found. Roe said it was. Additionally, Roe testified that she could not be absolutely sure if Leisa died face up or face down. Roe said sitting on a person and applying pressure with a forearm is one way that could result in markings such as those found on Leisa’s body.

Undem’s cross examination queried if a person could develop petechiae by becoming extremely upset and crying. Roe said that would not cause the reddish hemorrhage spots on Leisa’s face indicating lack of oxygen.

Both Troy and Todd Martin were arrested for Leisa’s death 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. Todd Martin will not be sentenced for his part in Leisa’s death until after Troy’s trial.

Troy Martin’s trial resumes Tuesday.

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

Thursday, Jan. 16 TROY MARTIN MURDER CASE: Initial investigation questioned in second day of trial

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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