Vanhemert Takes Stand In Final Day Of Testimony

Luke Vanhemert took the stand Friday morning to tell his side of the story of what happened on March 1, 2018. Vanhemert is charged with one count of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Marquis Todd

Luke Vanhemert took the stand Friday morning to tell his side of the story of what happened on March 1, 2018. Vanhemert is charged with one count of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Marquis Todd.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – Luke Vanhemert took the stand Friday morning to tell his side of the story of what happened on March 1, 2018. Vanhemert is charged with one count of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Marquis Todd, a William Penn University student. If convicted, Vanhemert faces a 50-year prison sentence. He has pled not guilty and asserted that he was acting in self-defense on the night of March 1, when he stabbed Todd to death in an altercation.

Vanhemert started his testimony by recounting the traffic accident that ultimately led to the fight that evening. According to Vanhemert, his vehicle was sideswiped by a car driven by Mikeal Donaldson. Vanhemert acknowledged during his testimony that he had exited his vehicle and approached Donaldson’s vehicle. Downplaying testimony offered by Donaldson, Vanhemert said he was not acting in an unhappy manner when he exited his vehicle.

“I wasn’t yelling, but it was elevated a little bit,” Vanhemert said of his voice.

However, Vanhemert said before he could speak to the driver, the vehicle left the scene.

“He backed down the road and left,” Vanhemert said.

Vanhemert said that after the vehicle left, he and his friends, Elijah Marcus and Jeff Beard, returned to his house, which was feet away from where the accident happened. Vanhemert said that he was concerned the police might arrive and enter his home because of the accident, so he asked Beard to dispose of some drug paraphernalia in his house. Before long, Vanhemert said, the vehicle involved in the accident returned and swerved at him as he was standing close to the curb.

“I threw a rock at the vehicle,” Vanhemert said.

Vanhemert said that after he threw the rock at the vehicle, Elijah Marcus hit the windshield of the car with a stick, and the car left. He added that after this happened, he went to check on his friend, Jeff Beard, who was walking along close to the old community stadium. Just as he returned to his house, Vanhemert testified, Donaldson’s car pulled back up to Vanhemert’s house, and Donaldson exited the vehicle with two additional persons: Marquis Todd and D’Angelo Allen. Vanhemert said he stood in a darker area of the left side of the house and watched events unfold.

“I was scared… because there was three huge guys who had already come by a couple of times and I didn’t know what they were going to do,” Vanhemert calmly recounted of that evening.

Vanhemert said that his father, Stanley, told all three men they needed to leave his property and that he was going to call the police. Vanhemert added that he watched one of the men, later learned to be Marquis Todd, start to walk up behind Vanhemert’s father. Vanhemert said that Todd was acting in an aggressive manner, as if he was going to hit his father.

“At that point, scared for my dad’s life and mine, I leave the side of the house,” Vanhemert testified.

Vanhemert said he tried tackling Todd but said he was put into a sort of headlock position and punched by Todd. Vanhemert added that he was able to force himself to the ground, but claimed that Todd fell on top of him as well. At that point, Vanhemert said he grabbed a pocket knife that was in his pocket, noting that he always carried a knife at that time, and swung it at Todd.

“I feel like I’m fighting for my life at that point,” Vanhemert said.

After swinging the knife, Todd got off of Vanhemert, and, according to Vanhemert, left with the other two men he had arrived with. After they left, but before police arrived, Vanhemert said that he ran behind his house and got rid of the knife he said that he used to stab Todd with.

“I thought there was a pretty good chance I had stabbed someone,” Vanhemert said. “I was scared,” he added, in response to a question from Cook about why he got rid of the knife.

On cross-examination, Prosecutor Andy Prosser took Vanhemert back to the car accident, challenging his version of events. Prosser reminded Vanhemert that the testimony of Donaldson had Vanhemert aggressively approaching the car after the accident and shouting profanities at Donaldson.

“Do you honestly believe that what we just described is a hit and run?” Prosser asked.

“Yes, I do,” Vanhemert responded.

“If that person was backing up, then they have committed a hit and run in your view?”, asked Prosser.

“Yes”, Vanhemert replied.

Prosser challenged Vanhemert’s statement that he went back inside his house after the accident to dispose of drug paraphernalia. Prosser stated that Vanhemert had another reason to go back inside the house.

“You were readying up weren’t you?” Prosser asked Vanhemert, accusing Vanhemert of preparing for a fight. Vanhemert, however, denied the accusation.

Prosser also drew attention to the issue of the knife. He noted that investigators have never been able to locate the weapon. He reminded Vanhemert that it was his testimony that he had asked a friend to remove drug paraphernalia from his house so that he wouldn’t get in trouble if the police arrived. He asked Vanhemert if that was the case, why didn’t he get rid of the knife somewhere else other than behind his house.

“That didn’t occur to you?” Prosser asked.

“Like I said, I was scared, and I was panicking,” Vanhemert responded.

Prosser also drew Vanhemert’s attention to his police interview the evening of the stabbing, noting that he had not ever mentioned there being weapons involved, and that, even when prompted by investigators, had not ever said he was fearful for his life and had to use self-defense.

Before Luke Vanhemert testified, his father, Stanley took the stand. Stanley stated that he was awoken by Elijah Marcus, who told him that he and Luke had been in a car accident. Stanley said that while he was out looking at Luke’s vehicle for damage, the vehicle that had struck it arrived, and three men “aggressively” exited the vehicle.

“They were being very aggressive,” Stanley said.

Stanley said that he told the men that they needed to leave and that he was going to call 911. Vanhemert said he was concerned there was going to be a confrontation. As he was walking into his house to call 911, he said Marquis Todd followed him. Vanhemert noted at this point, a fight began and he called 911. Vanhemert further testified that the fight ended after Todd yelled that they needed to leave because the police were being called. On cross-examination, Prosser challenged that claim by Vanhemert.

“You never told anybody that,” Prosser said, after playing back a portion of the Vanhemert’s 911 call.

Vanhemert further testified that he did not know what had happened to the knife used to kill Todd and that he and his son had never discussed the knife.

“I have no idea,” he said.

After hearing testimony from both Stanley and Luke Vanhemert, the defense rested their case, and the prosecution declined to call any rebuttal witnesses, effectively ending the evidence portion of the case.

Friday’s testimony came on the heels of what was an, at times, emotionally charged week of testimony, starting Wednesday morning with testimony by Mikeal Donaldson as to what had happened the night he and Luke Vanhemert were in a minor car accident. Donaldson said that after the accident, he returned to the William Penn University campus and showed two of his friends, D’Angelo Allen and Marquis Todd, his car and what had happened. All three decided to go back and talk to Vanhemert, and those who had been in the car with him, to confirm with them that they would reimburse Donaldson for the damages done to his car. However, after the three arrived at Vanhemert’s house and exited Donaldson’s car, things quickly took a turn. Donaldson said that after he asked why Vanhemert and his friend had damaged his car, Vanhemert “attacked” Todd.

“I just noticed they started scuffling,” Donaldson said.

Before long, Donaldson testified that he and Allen were fighting with Elijah Marcus. However, things ended when Donaldson said he heard Marquis Todd scream that he had been “tazed”.

“Me and D’Angelo proceeded to walk to Marquis, and then Marquis passed out,” Donaldson said. “He was snoring, kind of,” he added.

Donaldson recounted on Wednesday that he then drove off towards the Jiffy gas station, where he was headed initially when he got in the car accident. At the gas station, he was pulled over by several members of law enforcement, who had been alerted to the fight and the involvement of Donaldson, Allen, and Todd via a 911 call from Vanhemert’s father, Stanley. After being detained and frisked, it was at that point that Donaldson and officers realized the extent of Todd’s injuries. Donaldson said he would not speak to Todd again, and was at the Jiffy station when he found out Todd had passed.

“I punched a wall,” Donaldson said of the moment he realized his friend was gone.

Defense attorney Allen Cook sought to show inconsistencies in Donaldson’s testimony, stating as well as questioning why he had not simply called the police after the accident happened.

“If you would have contacted the police, does that make you less of a man for getting the police involved or handling it on your own?” Cook asked Donaldson.

“I really don’t know how to answer that question,” Donaldson responded.

Cook also questioned Donaldson about his actions after the police had been notified of the fight, noting that he pulled right up to a gas pump at Jiffy as the police located him and the occupants of his car.

“Were you hoping that the police weren’t going to notice you?” Cook asked Donaldson.

Donaldson denied trying to hide his presence from the police and denied charges from Cook that he refused to cooperate with the police after they were pulled over.

The other person involved in the fight, D’Angelo Allen, largely confirmed Donaldson’s testimony, stating that he, Todd, and Donaldson set out that evening to find the persons who hit Donaldson’s car, to ensure that they were going to reimburse Donaldson for damages.

Allen recalled that he, Todd, and Donaldson all loaded up into Donaldson’s vehicle and set out to find the individual who hit his car. Allen said that, at the time, they were not sure what they were looking for.

“We didn’t have any idea where the house was. All we knew was it was a grey jeep,” Allen said.

He added that, as they found the house, all three exited the vehicle and Donaldson did the talking.

“It was like no one wanted to respond,” Allen said.

He added that out of nowhere, Vanhemert and Todd began fighting.

“There was like a strike, an attack,” Allen said.

The 911 call from the night of the incident was also played on the first day of testimony. During the nearly seven-minute call, an often-times unintelligible Stanley Vanhemert, father of Luke Vanhemert, recounted that “three black men beat up my son” and had then left their residence, with Vanhemert reporting that one of the men had been injured. The three men were later identified as Todd, Allen, and Donaldson.

Highlighting the second day, Thursday, of testimony was DCI Agent Don Schnitker, who interviewed Vanhemert, with Oskaloosa Police Lt. Troy Boston, for 45 minutes in the early morning hours after the stabbing. Vanhemert’s entire videotaped interview at the Oskaloosa Police Department was played for the jury.

During the interview, Vanhemert calmly recounted that there had been a minor traffic collision near his house and that when 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, stating that after the accident the car 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 that 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 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.

Later Thursday, in graphic testimony, Dr. Dennis Klein, Iowa State Medical Examiner, testified regarding the injuries Todd sustained in the stabbing. Klein stated that Todd was stabbed three times, including once completely through the left side of his upper arm, and once into the left side of his chest.

“That was determined to be the fatal wound,” Klein said. “Essentially this is the area responsible for pumping blood,” he added.

The other individual involved in the fight, Elijah Marcus, also testified on Thursday. Marcus told a different tale of events, stating that after the accident, but before the fight, Donaldson had driven his car by Vanhemert’s house and “swerved” his vehicle at Marcus and Vanhemert, prompting Marcus to hit the windshield with a stick.

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.

Court is expected to resume at 9 a.m. on Monday, with jury instructions and closing arguments. After closing arguments, the alternates will be dismissed and jurors will begin their deliberations.

Posted by on Apr 12 2019. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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