DCI Investigator, Medical Examiner Close Out State’s Case In Vanhemert Trial

Elijah Marcus is seen answering questions for Mahaska County Attorney Andrew Ritland during court on Thursday afternoon.

Elijah Marcus is seen answering questions for Mahaska County Attorney Andrew Ritland during court on Thursday afternoon.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The DCI special agent in charge who interviewed Luke Vanhemert in the early morning hours of March 2, 2018, just hours after the death of Marquis Todd testified Thursday morning.

Agent Don Schnitker headlined testimony for the State as they quickly wrapped up their side of the case. Schnitker briefly testified that he was notified of the incident shortly after midnight the evening of the death of Marquis Todd, and was in Oskaloosa by 1:30 a.m. the next morning. Schnitker and Oskaloosa Police Lt. Troy Boston interviewed Vanhemert in the Oskaloosa Police Department.

During Schnitker’s testimony, prosecutors played the nearly 45-minute video recorded interview of Vanhemert. During the interview, Vanhemert calmly recounted that there had been a minor traffic collision near his house and that when and a friend of his went to speak to the driver of the vehicle that had hit him, Mikeal Donaldson, the driver fled. Vanhemert further recounted his side of the story that after the vehicle drove by his residence several times, it returned with Donaldson, and two other men he did not know. Vanhemert said that all three men acted aggressively towards him, his father, Stanley, and his friend, Elijah Marcus. Vanhemert stated before long, a fight broke out. In response to questions from Schnitker, Vanhemert said that none of the men in the car were armed, but also stated that he and Marcus were not armed with any weapons. Later on in the interview, Boston said that he and Schnitker were having trouble understanding what happened that evening, as one person was dead, and everyone at the scene was denying having weapons during the fight.

“It just seems odd that nobody seems to know anything,” Boston said. “I’m not saying you did anything intentionally… it’s just hard for us to believe.”

During the interview, Schnitker pressed Vanhemert that it was his one real chance to be open about everything and that it would look questionable later on if he started to change his story or add any details as to what happened. Vanhemert again reaffirmed his prior story.

During cross-examination by defense attorney Allen Cook, Schnitker confirmed that he had to interview Mikeal Donaldson twice. When pressed by Cook why this was, Schnitker responded that it
was a “clarification on the vehicle accident.”

“After examination of the vehicles we were questioning whether the damage of the vehicles was related to the collision between the two cars,” Schnitker said.

Rounding out the state’s case was testimony by Dr. Dennis Klein, of the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s office. Klein performed the autopsy on Marquis Todd on Saturday, March 3. Klein determined that Todd’s cause of death was from a stabbing and the manner of death was from homicide. Klein walked the jury through the autopsy, which sometimes included graphic photos of the injuries on Todd. He stated that Todd was stabbed three times, including one “through and through” stab wound on his left arm, meaning that the weapon used to stab him had gone all the way through his arm. Klein noted that this wound was four inches in depth. In addition to a “slicing” wound, Todd received one stab wound to the chest, which penetrated his heart. Klein said this was a sharp force injury that entered the left side of the chest down and into the heart. That was determined to be the fatal wound,” Klein said.

Klein added that the wound pierced the right ventricle artery of the heart. “Essentially this is the area responsible for pumping blood,” he said. On brief cross-examination, Klein acknowledged that the injuries could have been inflicted if Todd was in a position on top of, or over, Vanhemert. In follow-up direct testimony by Prosecutor Andy Prosser, Klein said that he is unable to determine the exact position of the bodies when wounds were inflicted. “What I can do is give a relative trajectory… I can’t tell you an exact position that person was at the time of those injuries,” Klein said.

After Klein testified, the State rested their case.

After a lunch break, the defense called their first witness, Elijah Marcus, who is a friend of Luke Vanhemert and participated in the fight with Vanhemert on March 1. Marcus recounted a different order of events stating that he and Vanhemert did not try to cut off Mikeal Donaldson, contradicting testimony offered by Donaldson Wednesday morning. Marcus added that he and Vanhemert did not know who was driving the vehicle at the time, but it left as they were approaching the car after the accident, leading them to believe they had been involved in a hit-and-run accident. Before long, Marcus testified, the vehicle drove by Vanhemert’s house. During one of those instances, Marcus said the vehicle intentionally swerved at them, prompting Marcus to pick up a stick and smack the windshield, leaving some damage on the car. Marcus said he did not immediately tell police about this as he was afraid he would be charged with property damage if he had mentioned it.

Marcus said that a short time later, Donaldson returned to the Vanhemert home with two other individuals, one of whom was Marquis Todd. Marcus testified that throughout all of the fight, he did not physically see Todd and Vanhemert fighting. Marcus stated he was punched “in the face” by Donaldson and D’Angelo Allen.

“He punched me, so I punched him back,” Marcus said.

He added that after the fight ended, he felt as if he was almost unconscious and collapsed inside the Vanhemert house. He added that he did not know anyone had been injured and again said that he did not actually see Vanhemert fighting with Todd. However, while waiting in the yard for the police to arrive, Marcus said something looked out of the ordinary.

“There were a few wood stakes that were out of place that I don’t remember being there,” Marcus said. In testimony that grew testy at times, County Attorney Andrew Ritland challenged Marcus’ version of events. Ritland took Marcus back to the initial car accident and asked if he had yelled any profanities at Donaldson at the time of the accident, something Marcus acknowledged. He also asked if he had approached the car while doing so.

“So, you believe that after a crash where people are coming out and yelling profanities and approaching a car, you still believe that’s a hit and run?” Ritland asked Marcus. “Well he hit our car and drove away,” Marcus responded.

Ritland also asked Marcus if, immediately after the fight, Vanhemert mentioned anything about feeling scared, angry or acting in self-defense “After the fight, while he was waiting in the yard, he was acting normal to you,” Ritland stated to Marcus.

Also testifying on Monday was Jeff Beard, a friend of Vanhemert’s who was present around the time of the accident. Beard testified to being asked by Vanhemert to destroy drug paraphernalia after the accident, out of fear that the police would enter their home because of the accident. However, Beard testified he was walking back to his home when the actual fight occurred.

Court will go back into session at 9 a.m. on Friday, as the Defense prepares for their next witness.

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