Opening statements given; initial witnesses testify as murder trial begins
The quadruple murder trial of Omar Mohamed Kalmio, 28, heard opening statements and initial testimonies throughout Monday.
The jury was reduced by one over the weekend and now contains only 12 jurors and three alternates. The juror who sent a letter stating his intention not to return to the jury was found in contempt of court and is fined $500 but will not return to the jury. Once the remaining jury was brought in, Judge Douglas Mattson defined their duties to them.
“This is not TV. This is real life, real victims, real murders. They happened right here, in this county, in this city of Minot, North Dakota. Two years ago, to the day, January 28, 2011, four bodies were discovered, dead. Two residences, four murders,” began prosecuting Assistant State’s Attorney Sean Kasson in his initial argument.
Kalmio is being tried on suspicion in the murders of his former girlfriend, Sabrina Zephier, 19; Sabrina’s mother, Jolene Zephier, 38; Sabrina’s brother, Dylan Zephier, 13; and Jolene’s boyfriend, Jeremy Longie, 22. Each charge is a class AA felony.
Kasson then laid out the sequence of the events, at least the order in which the bodies were found and what state they were each found in. Each were found dead from a single gunshot wound to the head. Sabrina was found lying next to her bed in the bedroom of her Main Street apartment. Dylan was found on a bed in the main room at a home in Jefferson Park Trailer Court. Jolene and Jeremy were found dead, lying in bed together in the bedroom of the same home.
“Four murders, one survivor: the child (Kalmio) shares with Zephier. Unharmed but present and close by when Sabrina was murdered,” Kasson said. He then told the jury they will hear testimony that will point out that Sabrina “was scared” and that “he wanted control of his child” and that he disapproved of Sabrina’s family due to religious qualms about drugs and alcohol which he felt were too present in his child’s life because of them.
“Mr. Kasson made a marvelous opening argument,” began Kerry Rosenquist for his opening argument in defense of Kalmio, “I wanted to agree with him on a few points. This was a horrendous crime. Citizens of the state of North Dakota, Ward County, Minot, should be incensed. This shouldn’t happen in our town … The other thing I have to agree with Mr. Kasson on is that they have no evidence. He talked a lot … about circumstantial evidence. The judge gave you instructions on circumstantial evidence. One thing he didn’t talk about is that circumstantial evidence can be negated by other circumstantial evidence.”
Rosenquist then went on to talk about what he sees as the “premise” that the state is working with: “shock and awe.” He defined it as a tactic used by the military throughout time and most recently heard used in the war in Iraq.
“We are shocked just hearing about these murders. You’re going to be further shocked by seeing the pictures … there’s going to be graphic descriptions from testifying investigators, there’s going to be graphic descriptions given to you by” the testimonies of the first people to find the bodies at both locations. “That’s the shock part. The awe is going to be the overwhelming number of people that you will hear testify,” he said, referencing the lengthy list read out by Assistant State’s Attorney for Ward County Kelly Dillon prior to Kasson’s opening arguments.
“What you’re not going to hear is any one police officer, or even a combination of police officers, tell you that Mr. Kamio admitted to them that he did it. You’re not going to hear one police officer say he had a gun. You’re not going to hear one police officer state to you that there is evidence that Mr. Kalmio ever bought a gun. You’re not going to hear one police officer tell you there is any evidence that Mr. Kalmio ever bought any ammunition,” and then continued to expound on what he sees as a lack of concrete evidence. He reminded the jury about what is known as “a tell” in poker and how people can tell when people are holding back or other things about them, and then how they will have to put together all the evidence together to find that “small sliver of truth. You have the hardest job in the room.”
“We all come through that door with biases. We don’t like certain things, we don’t like certain people, we don’t like certain religions, we don’t like certain genders … Everybody has biases, but we have to leave them outside that door. We have to come in here and view everyone as an equal. … You’re going to be incensed, you’re going to be mad, and if you’re not you’re probably not very human. This is the kind of case that makes people mad.”
The first witness called was Elizabeth Lambert, who was living with Sabrina Zephier at the time of her death. She was the first to find the body. Lambert is currently serving a prison sentence for “fleeing and eluding” police. Lambert had known Zephier and Kalmio after meeting both of them at Job Corps in 2008.
Neither she nor Sabrina had a key to the apartment and they would have to get the door open with an ID card, and Kalmio visited the apartment, which he had the key to, at least twice from the time she moved in with Sabrina in early January, 2011, before Sabrina’s death on the 28th.
“What woke me up was that I heard someone in the kitchen pouring out beer bottles,” she said of the first time she found Kalmio in the home. She later said that she didn’t know what woke her up on the second visit from Kalmio, but that “She (Sabrina) don’t want to ever be alone with him, that’s why I was there.”
“I walked through the living room and then I walked through the kitchen then I walked to the bedroom … and when I turned around I seen her feet … she was laying on the floor by her bed … I tried to wake her up,” Lambert said in an emotional testimony when she discovered Sabrina’s body on January 28. “She was holding her face and I just seen all the blood and I tried to wake her up … I went outside and I called Loren … I knew he was coming back so I called 9-1-1.”
Lambert also testified that she had heard Kalmio threaten Sabrina, saying things like he’s going to beat her up “and leave her to die with the garbage and things like that.”
In cross-examination, Rosenquist questioned why there was alcohol in the apartment if Sabrina was 19 and Kalmio “didn’t hide the fact that he didn’t approve of alcohol.” Lambert was unsure how the alcohol was there. Rosenquist also questioned whether her recollection levels have diminished in the two years since the murders occurred, and brought up the fact that she had lied about her own name to police on six different occasions.
The next witness was Odd Osteroos, who also goes by “Lauren” and was the one Lambert called when she discovered the body. In his testimony he said that he went up to the body and followed the directions of the 9-1-1 operator who asked him to attempt to perform CPR but that when he touched her arm “her skin was cold,” and that when asked to turn her over that he “could feel that her body was stiff.”
Defense attorney Thomas Glass asked Osteroos if he had been to the residence before, but Osteroos said that he had only been there a couple times due to his “relationship with Liz.”
The next witness was Roddy “Dray” Reynolds, who was stationed at Minot Air Force Base at the time of Sabrina’s death and was dating her at the time of the murder. He has since moved to Virginia after being honorably discharged from the Air Force in September 2012.
“I’d say we started dating in November, 2010,” Reynolds said. “We talked all the time, we talked on the phone and sent texts.”
Transcripts of those texts from the night of the murders were brought in as state evidence, although the court was not shown them. The last text from Sabrina came to him at 2:01 a.m., to which he responded but never heard back from her.
In cross-examination Reynolds revealed that his relationship with Sabrina “was kind of casual … because of my work schedule at the time I only got to see her every two weeks or so.”
The first law enforcement witness was Minot Police Department officer Daniel Wheeler, who was the first on the scene after responding to what was initially described as a “health and wellness check.” At the scene he spoke with Osteroos, who led Wheeler up the stairs for the second floor, where Sabrina lived. At the landing he left Osteroos and entered the apartment where he found Lambert in the living room holding the infant and then he saw Sabrina’s body in the bedroom between the dresser and the bed with “a large puddle” of blood beneath her head. There was no cross-examination.
Detective Jason Sundbakken of the Minot Police Department was a detective on the case. Dillon submited photographic evidence which is displayed on the screen and Sundbakken walked the court through a diagram he had created of the apartment, pointing out where shell casings were found, spots of blood on the carpets, and a bullet hole through the headboard of Sabrina’s bed which gained much attention in cross-examination on suspicion that there was no blood on the headboard and that a mark on the wall behind it might point toward ricochet. Sundbakken said that he wasn’t a firearms expert.
“It was a combined effort. (Detective) McLeod was there first … it was assigned to him, if that’s what you’re getting at,” he said when Rosenquist asked who the lead investigator was.
At this point the trial moved to the home in Jefferson Park Trailer Court where the bodies of the other three victims were found.
“I just looked and I saw Dylan laying there on the floor … looked like he was sleeping but there was blood,” testified Diane Anderson, who went into the home after the murders and was the one who called 9-1-1 when she got back to her apartment. She had said that it was a regular occurrence for Jolene to visit her home for coffee before going to work, and that Jolene had said that she would stop over that morning and seemed in good spirits the previous day.
Much talk in cross-examination by Glass centered around a supposed drug dealer named “Jose” who had just gotten out of prison. Glass felt that Jolene was scared that he was out because she had done something to get him into prison or that she owed him money, which she might have told law enforcement after the murders. Glass alluded to Anderson’s testimony that Jolene often needed money from her, but Anderson said those loans “were just like five dollars … Money for Dylan, school lunches and stuff.”
“When I got on the scene there was no one there to greet me,” said Shannon Lackey, a Minot police officer who arrived at the trailer home for an emergency call described as “a 13-year-old bleeding from the mouth.” She had to force the door open because it was locked, and upon entering the building she saw Dylan lying on “a makeshift bed” in the main room.
“He appeared to be deceased. He had blood and brain-matter coming out of his nose,” she said. When she approached the bedroom where Jolene and Jeremy would be found, dead together on the bed and covered up, she said there was a small dog acting vicious and that there was another dog that appeared to be injured. Bobby Roberts, who works as an animal control officer for the city of Minot, corroborated the dog reports and said that the dog had calmed down but was bleeding from around the stomach area.
Photo evidence from the bedroom showed that the dog might have also been shot.
The final witness of the day was Mike Marcus, a special agent for the Bureau of Criminal Investigations, which is a part of the North Dakota Attorney General’s office. Like Sundbakken did with Sabrina’s apartment, Marcus went through photographic evidence he, along with another BCI agent, had taken and diagrams of the trailer home he had created. Just like Sundbakken’s diagram, the diagram Marcus used was marked with letters that indicated evidence had been found there. Marcus’ testimony went on for nearly an hour as he described the entire scene and all that was found, going into great detail about the positions of the bodies, bullet-casings found, and much more.
Court adjourned for the day prior to cross-examination. Marcus will continue his testimony, along with new witnesses, today at the Ward County Courthouse.