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TROY MARTIN MURDER TRIAL: Verdict could come this week

BEMIDJI -- Troy Martin’s future may be decided by the end of the week. The prosecution rested its case in Martin’s murder trial Wednesday morning, and a few hours later, the defense rested as well.

The court has heard from 23 witnesses during the weeklong trial thus far.

Troy Martin, 41, of Bagley, is accused of killing his sister Leisa Martin at their family’s rural Bagley home in 1998. Leisa was asphyxiated sometime in the early-morning hours of Oct. 28. Her body was found on Halloween, half-dressed and half-covered in autumn leaves 20 feet from Strawberry Mountain Road near Roy Lake on the Mahnomen side of the Clearwater County line.

Troy Martin

The case went cold for 12 years until Todd Martin, the brother of Troy and Leisa Martin, confessed in 2010 to helping move his sister’s body after he was arrested for DWI and assaulting a peace officer. Todd Martin has pleaded guilty to aiding an offender and faces more than four years in prison.

Both brothers were arrested following Todd’s admission, but neither has yet done any time for the alleged crime.

Troy Martin is charged with second-degree felony murder/false imprisonment. If convicted, he could serve up to 40 years in prison. 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 trial was anticipated to possibly stretch into next week. However, the defense amended its earlier decision to call nine witnesses and instead settled on five, four of whom took the stand Wednesday; one witness testified Tuesday.

The prosecution rested its case Wednesday morning and then the defense, after calling its four new witnesses, rested its case. Troy Martin waived his right to testify before the jury. Beltrami County Judge Paul Benshoof will advise the jury that Martin’s silence is not to be used against him.

Court was adjourned Wednesday before noon.

“We were kind of ambushed by Mr. Undem,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Schieferdecker, the prosecuting attorney for the state, speaking to expectations that the defense would extend its case into next week.

John Undem, defense attorney, countered he had been ambushed all week with new discoveries.

Undem told Benshoof that based on evidence presented, the jury could not convict Martin on a second-degree murder charge. Lack of evidence could result in an acquittal.

Schieferdecker said he believes there is sufficient evidence.

Benshoof said talks of an acquittal would not be granted.

“It’s a ‘he said, he said’ case that we have here isn’t it?” Benshoof said.

Thursday is expected to open with closing arguments and jurors are expected to receive instruction afterward. A verdict may be returned as early as Thursday evening.

2014 trial overview

The prosecution trusts it has shown Troy Martin’s actions led directly to his sister’s death. The defense argued Troy was sleeping during the altercation with Leisa.

On Oct. 27, 1998, Leisa Martin was out celebrating her friend Stephanie Morey’s birthday. Todd Martin was with them at the Clearbrook Liquor Store, according to testimony from Morey and Todd Martin.

Morey testified previously she dropped Todd and Leisa Martin off at their mother’s house south of Bagley about the time the bar closed. Todd Martin has testified he and Leisa got into an argument while sitting on the deck drinking beer and that Troy tried to “calm things down.” Todd said Troy ended up holding Leisa down.

“We thought she just passed out,” Todd said during testimony given last Friday.

Testimony during Troy Martin’s murder trial has fluctuated regarding his activities that night, from being at home sleeping at the time Leisa was murdered, to him being at the bar, and to him not being at the bar earlier in the night. Shawn Vasend was bartending at the Clearbrook Liquor Store that night, and he testified Wednesday he did not see Troy Martin on Oct. 27.

Todd Martin 

Wednesday’s testimony

Steve Davis was a Bagley police officer from 1977 to 2006. Davis testified Wednesday he was on duty at the Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office in Bagley when Todd Martin, Kris Lee and Morey filed a missing person’s report for Leisa Martin on Oct. 28.

Undem, the defense attorney, asked Davis what Todd Martin’s demeanor was when he filed the report.

“Probably intoxicated,” Davis said, adding Todd said he wished he had “done as I did before and sit on her.” Davis said Martin volunteered the information while Davis was taking the report.

“It appeared to me (Todd Martin) had been drinking all night before he came in and reported his sister missing,” Davis said.

Previous testimony from Lee included that she saw Todd Martin vomit after filing the report.

During Clearwater County Attorney Richard Mollin’s cross-examination of Davis, Mollin inquired if Davis had ever written a report noting Martin’s mention of holding Leisa down. Davis said he had not, but had mentioned it to another deputy.

Kara (Danielson) Perry, testified Wednesday she heard a fight between Todd Martin and Leisa Martin at a friend’s house earlier in 1998, before Leisa’s death.

“I heard shouting and I heard Todd punching the house,” Perry said.

“Did you have an opportunity to observe the relationship between Todd and Leisa?” Undem asked.

“They got along for the most part,” Perry said.

Undem asked Perry about Troy and Todd’s reputations for violence.

“(Troy) is not a violent person,” Perry said. “Todd was more violent.”

Perry was dating Anthony Tronerud, another witness in the trial, at the time of Leisa’s murder. Perry is also the best friend of Troy Martin’s wife, Jennifer (Eckert) Martin, who was then dating Troy.

Kyle Nordlund has known the Martin family for 25 years and had dated Leisa at one time.

Nordlund testified Leimona Martin, Leisa’s mother, called him in Coon Rapids on Oct. 28, when it was discovered Leisa was missing. Leimona called him again the next day, Oct. 29. At about midnight Oct. 30, Nordlund drove up to Bagley, arriving in the early-morning hours Oct. 31, according to his testimony.

Nordlund said he found a hole, presumed to be an empty grave, dug behind the shed on the Martin’s property. Court documents and previous witness testimony state the grave was discovered on Oct. 30 during a search for Leisa.

Nordlund was at the family’s house when Todd and Troy Martin heard Leisa’s body had been found on Oct. 31.

“Troy was very shaken, confused,” Nordlund said. “Todd was more calm, didn’t say or do much.”

Undem asked if Nordlund had an opportunity to witness the relationships between Leisa and her brothers.

“Todd and Leisa had more of a violent relationship … They would actually physically fight,” Nordlund said. “Troy and Leisa were more, they wanted to take care of each other.”

Todd Martin’s ex-girlfriend, Alicia (Abraham) Schummer was the final witness called in the trial. Schummer and Martin dated for seven years until the two broke up on Oct. 2, 1998, according to Schummer’s testimony.

“It was a high school relationship,” Schummer said.

“How would you describe Todd’s relationship with Leisa?” Undem asked. “They didn’t get along,” Schummer said.

Like Perry, Schummer recalled the incident when Todd punched a house while fighting with Leisa.

Although Schummer testified she and Leisa did not get along, she appeared disturbed when Undem asked if she remembered Todd telling her about fantasies he’d had about killing Leisa.

“He had told me that he wanted to do away with her. That he would think of ways he could get away with it,” Schummer testified.

Schummer first learned of Leisa’s disappearance from Anthony Tronerud on Oct. 28. Tronerud also informed her of Leisa’s death on Oct. 31.

In the days between Leisa’s disappearance and her body being found, Schummer recalled a time when she, Perry and Tronerud were searching for evidence that Leisa may have walked to the Martin shed, she said. Schummer testified she saw a rolled-up piece of carpet on an old couch she and Todd had in their apartment. When Schummer attempted to sit on the carpet, she testified Todd Martin said, “You just can’t sit there. We need to leave. You guys need to leave.”

Schummer confirmed another instance that has come up in testimony in the past week. After leaving a bar, Schummer said Todd followed her to her car and said, “It was supposed to be you, you (expletive). It was supposed to be you.”

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

Friday, Jan. 17 TROY MARTIN MURDER CASE: Brother testifies against brother

Tuesday, Jan. 21 TROY MARTIN MURDER TRIAL: Inconsistencies and alleged confessions brought up in 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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