KEOSAUQUA — Tuesday was a dramatic and difficult day in the murder trial of Shawn Bentler. The day started with video of his interrogation the day after the murders. It ended with crime scene photos of the victims.

This is the first time prosecutors made the photos public. Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown introduced the photos as he questioned Michael Halverson, an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation criminalist who examined the home. Halverson described each photo before Brown displayed it for the court. Brown warned the courtroom when a photo showed a victim.

Family members broke down crying. Some watched each photo. Others looked away. Bentler, 23, also appeared to be crying.

The first victim shown was Sheena Bentler. Authorities found her lying on her back in her bed, fully dressed, with a gunshot wound to the left temple area. Sandra Bentler was on her knees, her right arm draped on the seat of a chair at the top of the main stairway in the family home. Both she and Shelby Bentler wore jeans and red shirts. Shelby was found in her closet, slumped to the left from a sitting position.

Shayné Bentler was in her room, sprawled into her closet. She was dressed differently from her two sisters and mother, wearing gray shorts and a striped tank top. There was an obvious wound to her right temple and a mark on her cheek authorities say was a keypad stamped on her face when a bullet struck the phone she used to call 9-1-1.

Michael Bentler was laying face down in the entrance to the master bedroom. There was an apparent wound to the top left side of his head.

Michael was shot in the right eye and right ankle. Blood, later determined to be Sandra’s, was on his back. Halverson said he thinks it dropped onto the body from someone standing over it.

The photos followed a sometimes harrowing interrogation video. Authorities made the video while questioning Shawn Bentler after his arrest in Quincy, Ill. Much of the interrogation’s first segment focused on Bentler’s location during the murders. He described his family warmly; making sure investigators had his sisters’ names spelled correctly.

The entire tone changed when authorities told Bentler his family was dead. DCI Agent Bill Kidtzman led the interrogation.

“It’s very important that we talk about some things today that are going to be very difficult,” Kitdtzman said.

“At my parents’ house? What happened?” Bentler asked.

Kidtzman didn’t answer immediately. Bentler continued to ask what happened to his family.

“Why we’re here today is to get your side of the story,” Kidtzman said.

“What happened to my family? Are they OK? Tell me what happened,” Bentler said.

“Basically at this point it’s a crime scene. We’re processing it as a crime scene,” Kidtzman said.

Bentler put his head down on his arm on the table in the interrogation room. Kidtzman continued.

“There’s no question in my mind that you were there last night. There were phone calls made. As things were happening in the house last night there were phone calls made,” Kidtzman said.

“That’s not true,” Bentler said.

Kidtzman repeatedly accused Bentler of lying about not being at the house when the murders happened. He pleaded with Bentler to give his side.

“This is the most important day of your life right now. We’re here to get your side of the story. I can’t tell you how important this is. We need your side of the story,” Kidtzman said.

Bentler became increasingly agitated as the interrogation continued. Kidtzman told him he had to help explain what happened. He asked what happened, how things got out of hand at his parents’ house.

“This fake crying, acting like you don’t know what’s going on, that’s bull----,” Kidtzman said.

Bentler continued to insist he was not at the house and did not harm his family.

“Last night, when this was going on, a lot happened in that house, people were scared, phone calls were made. Phone calls were made to the Van Buren County emergency. Your sisters called, they were scared out of their minds, saying their brother Shawn was there doing horrible things,” Kidtzman continued.

Bentler stood by his account of the previous night, with his mother’s visit to Quincy.

“Don’t make me leave here today with this being your story. This is your chance to tell your side of the story,” Kidtzman said.

“I was not there!” Bentler yelled.

Family members cried as the tape played. A court attendant handed Bentler a box of tissues. He took one.

Defense attorney D.J. Arbabha challenged a portion of the tape. He said the court previously agreed that speculation on Bentler’s reaction to the news was not admissible.

“I think this is a bit of a twist on what the defense was asking for in their motion ad limine,” Assistant Attorney General Brown responded. The motion sought to prohibit Kidtzman’s speculation from the witness stand. He said statements in interrogation are designed to elicit responses and are “not offered for their truth.”

Mullins said he will view statements about Bentler’s reaction on the tape as an interrogation technique, not testimony.

The tape ended with Bentler alone in the room, his head bowed on his arms, sobbing.

Arbabha closely questioned Kidtzman about the Bentler cell phone. He called it “a critical issue.”

Bentler told authorities he left his cell phone in his mother’s vehicle when she visited the previous night. Arbabha pressed Kidtzman on whether fingerprints are left on cell phones. He said the presence of fingerprints on the phone or in the vehicle could confirm Bentler’s account.

Arbabha also said Bentler’s reaction to his interrogation were reasonable. Police arrested him on a relatively minor charge from Illinois. But two Iowa officials conducted the interrogation.

Defense attorneys drew attention to Bentler’s refusal to change his story. Arbabha said Kidtzman used every interrogation technique in his arsenal, but never got Bentler to waver.

Tuesday also saw testimony from Travis Holder, Bentler’s roommate at the time of the murders. Prosecutors say Bentler took Holder’s car for the drive to Bonaparte and back.

Holder testified he parked the car after work the evening of Oct. 13 with a quarter-tank of gas. It “was basically empty,” the next morning.

Defense attorney David Sallen tried to elicit testimony on how much gas the trip from Quincy to Bonaparte would consume. The prosecution objected, saying an answer requires speculation. Sallen then switched tactics.

“How much gas did you use on the way here for the deposition?” he asked.

“My car wrecked on the way here,” Holder replied.

Holder is a tricky witness for both sides. His testimony about the car’s gas gauge would seem to support the prosecution’s theory. But he is also the person who can place Bentler in Quincy in the hours before the murder and again the next morning. Those times are important to the defense.

Holder was drinking before he went home in the early morning hours of Oct. 14, when he saw Bentler at the residence they shared. He was, by his own admission, “not sober.

“I was not trashed, but I was pretty drunk,” he said.

The trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. today.

Matt Milner can be reached at (641) 683-5359 or via e-mail at mwmilner@mchsi.com

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