Testimony continues in Kalmio murder trial
Family members of the victims killed in the Jan. 28, 2011, quadruple murder gave their testimonies Tuesday in the Ward County Courthouse where Omar Mohamed Kalmio, 28, stands trial for their deaths.
The day also heard the testimony of scientists from the Crime Lab division of the North Dakota Attorney General’s office, who explained the evidence; leading investigators on the case, who described the sequence of events; and the medical examiner who performed autopsies on all the victims examined their deaths.
Kalmio is being tried for 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.
Special Agent Mike Marcus was the first on the stand. He had been questioned by prosecutors at the end of Monday’s session, but began Tuesday being cross-examined by Kerry Rosenquist, who along with Thomas Glass, is the defense attorney for Kalmio.
According to Marcus, Dylan was the first to die, lying in a makeshift bed in the living room of the home located in the “B” row of Jefferson Park Trailer Court. Dylan was shot in the back of the head with a 9 mm bullet that exited slightly above and behind his left ear according to testimony by Dr. William Massello, the medical examiner for the state Department of Health who autopsied the bodies.
The next to die were Jolene and Jeremy, each from a gunshot to nearly the center of the head, Massello said. They were lying together in a bed in a disorderly room of a home that was described as “quite cluttered at best.” In fact, the dirty state of the home was why investigators were unable to use black-lights or “blue-light specials” to check for proteins blood or semen at the scene, according to later testimony by North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation special agent Dale Maixner, who worked as the chief investigator of the case.
It is unknown if Sabrina’s death in her apartment on S. Main Street came before or after the other murders, but she was shot twice. The first shot discussed entered her body to the left of her mouth leaving “stippling” small burns and debris that collect from the gunpowder and flecks of metal from a gun fired at close range and exiting near her left shoulder blade on her upper back. That first shot had “lethal potential,” Massello said, but the next shot, which entered her through the center of the back of her head and exited her near her right temple, was “probably more devastating.”
Toxicology results from the autopsy showed no drugs or alcohol in Sabrina’s system. Jeremy’s results showed evidence of marijuana, morphine, and trace amounts of alcohol that Massello believes not to have been consumed but, instead, naturally produced by the body as it begins to decompose. Jolene showed that same alcohol result and Dylan showed traces of marijuana. The results point to no other cause for death other than the gunshot wounds sustained that night.
“Terri, I need you to come and get me. Please don’t call because if Omar knows you’re calling he’ll get mad and start hitting me again,” began a Facebook message left for Terri Zephier by her sister, Sabrina, on Jan. 20, 2011. The message, which prosecuting Assistant State’s Attorney Kelly Dillon had Terri read aloud to the court, continued to reveal fears Sabrina had of Kalmio.
“Her face was swollen and there were welt marks on her body,” Terri testified about checking up on Sabrina after receiving the message.
“At the time when your mother died, was she on probation for drug dealing or drug use?” Glass asked Terri after Dillon had revealed in her questioning that Terri was often given money by her mother to buy “pills, marijuana” for her.
“Yes. Drug use,” Terri said. She had bought her mom “personal-use size” amounts of marijuana. Glass also revealed that Terri has three counts of “false reports to law enforcement” charges.
Terri was informed that her sister had died from a phone call from Elizabeth Lambert, who testified Monday that she was the first one to find Sabrina’s body before calling 911 to report it.
Detective Matt McLeod of the Minot Police Department was in his car doing “something else” when he heard a dispatch of a woman “down and bloody” at an apartment on S. Main Street. Upon arriving at the scene McLeod testified that he met Minot police officer Daniel Wheeler, who had been the first on the scene and who described his account during testimony Monday.
McLeod’s testified to examining a video-tape of a white truck traveling along U.S. Highway 2 through Ray the day of the murders that prosecution believes to have been driven by Kalmio to get between his worksite in Williston and Minot. Defense proved the possibility that there are any number of white trucks travelling these roads and that the video, which could not be enhanced despite the best efforts, showed no identifying markers like a company name on the side, a license plate or details of the driver.
The longest testimony of the day, though, was given by Maixner, who identified shell casings and corroborated the sequence of events in the trailer given by Marcus, who had worked with Maixner on the case.
“If I remember correctly, it was relatively warm that day so there was soft snow” on the ground in front of the home, Maixner said in answer to Rosenquist’s question about footprint evidence in the snow being ruined by all the police and personnel there.
That wasn’t the only qualm the defense had with Maixner, who has served in law-enforcement since 1974 and with the Bureau of Criminal Investigations since 1979, had with his handling of the case. The biggest error, according to Rosenquist, was that Maixner had left crime-scene evidence in the seat of his car parked in front of his home, unsecured except for basic car-door locks.
“Is this standard procedure?” Rosenquist asked.
Maixner said that it was and circumstances required it. While the police department never closes, detectives and services like the lab are not available at all hours of the day. There was also only one lock-up in which to store the evidence.
Just as Rosenquist promised in his opening arguments for the defense Monday, no police officer so far has been able to testify that Kalmio owned or had access to a gun, and Maixner was no exception. Although no weapon was ever found to match the bullets and shell casings found on the scenes, with 5 bullets and 6 shell casings tested altogether, Lamonte Jacobson, forensic supervisor and firearms expert for the state Crime Lab, compared all of them. All of the bullets had been fired by the same gun, as were the casings. However, without the murder weapon it would be impossible to determine whether the bullets and the casings were connected.
Two other scientists with the state Crime Lab offered testimony. All the scientists spent most of their testimony explaining the science they did before defining their findings.
Two prints recovered from the dresser-top taken from the trailer remain unidentified, with no matches in the Minnesota-Dakotas tri-state fingerprint database, testified Annette Dietrich, a latent print examiner for the Crime Lab. Kalmio, though, has been excluded from the remaining five prints.
Likewise, Kalmio can be excluded from most DNA evidence recovered from the scenes, according to Amy Gebhardt, a DNA analyst with the Crime Lab. DNA profiles swabbed from a diaper, though, contain a mixture of two different DNA profiles, although neither the major or minor profile can be determined. Kalmio can not be excluded from this DNA evidence.
The trial is set to resume today at 9 a.m. in the Ward County Courthouse.