OSKALOOSA — Just before lunch Thursday the state’s case against Luke VanHemert rested laying the way for the defense to present its case.
In the final day of testimony, jurors watched a video interview with Van Hemert, then saw evidence from an autopsy performed on Marquis Todd. Van Hemert is accused in the stabbing death of Todd on March 1, 2018.
Special Agent with the Department of Criminal Investigation Don Schnikter talked about the process of gathering evidence for the case. Much of his testimony related to the interview of VanHemert.
Jurors listened for about 45 minutes as Van Hemert laid out the incident that led to a confrontation in his front yard between himself, Eli Marcus and three William Penn students including Mikeal Donaldson, D’Angelo Allen and Todd.
During the interview Van Hemert said that he saw no knives, but that one of the black men had a dark pole or something in his hand. He stated it was not the man he was fighting with. He repeatedly said there were no weapons displayed.
Thursday morning opened with Jeff Beard taking the stand. Beard had been in the Van Hemert’s car at the time of a collision with a car driven by Donaldson around 10 p.m. on March 1, 2018. He related that he, Van Hemert and Elijah Marcus were headed to McDonald’s, but had forgotten a credit card and went back to the Van Hemert residence at 603 N. Third to retrieve one when the collision occurred. He remained in the car when the initial confrontation between VanHemert and Donaldson took place.
In an interview clip heard by Beard, it was stated that Luke Van Hemert said, “We have to ready up.” Prosecutor Andrew Prosser asked if that meant to be ready to fight.
“The meaning was misconstrued,” said Beard, who suffers from severe anxiety. “It referred to me getting home.”
He added that Luke Van Hemert said, “We will handle it.”
Beard said he and VanHemert entered the house and Luke gave him a bong and wax to remove from the home.
“I took the paraphernalia and left,” said Beard. “I went out and walked around back toward my house. I heard a commotion and walked back and heard voices but could not make out what was said. I saw Eli and a guy on top of him.”
Beard stated he could not see Luke or Stanley VanHemert nor anyone else. He said he did see someone with a blunt object with a curve. Defense attorney Allen Cook asked like a crowbar? “Yes,” said Beard.
The state’s final witness was Dr. Dennis Klein with the state medical examiner’s office. He is a pathologist who conducts autopsies to determine manner of death and cause of death. Klein explained there are five manners of death, natural causes, accident, suicide, homicide and undetermined. In his examination he came to the conclusion that the cause of death was a stab wound to the right ventricle of Todd’s heart made by another person and ruled the death a homicide.
In his examination, he noted three defects in the body related to stab wounds. Besides the chest wound, there was a stab wound to the left shoulder, which was 2-inches deep into the muscle, also known as the triceps. A third would was on the front side of Todd’s left arm about halfway between the elbow and shoulder. This wound penetrated through to the other side of the arm.
Klein stated the holes in Todd’s clothing lined up with the wounds to assist in his determination.
Defense begins testimony
Elijah Marcus was the lone person to testify on behalf of the defense on Thursday. He spent about 90 minutes on the stand. Cook had him relate the incidents that occurred the evening of March 1, 2018. Just as Beard related, the three men, Van Hemert, Beard and Marcus, left the house to go to McDonald's but returned when a credit card had been forgotten.
“We were driving residential speed on North Third when I saw a car following pretty fast,” said Marcus.
Marcus said the car attempted to pass on the left side, but because another car was parked on the other side of the street the car struck Van Hemert’s Jeep. Marcus said and Van Hemert jumped out and asked was going on. Marcus also admitted he slapped his hands on the hood just as Donaldson began backing away.
Marcus indicated just as Beard testified that they thought the incident was a hit and run. They returned to the residence and Marcus went in to get Stanley Van Hemert to show him the damage. Marcus also admitted at some point that he took a dried-up tree branch and struck the Donaldson car breaking the driver’s side windshield but was not aware of any brick or rock being thrown and piercing the other side.
Ritland asked Marcus why if this was a minor collision that Luke thought there was a need to remove drug paraphernalia from the house.
“It would not be the first time they would use this for a raid,” said Marcus.
Marcus denied knowing that anyone had weapons. He said he was punched by one of the men and he hit him back.
“I started to get away and tripped and fell down,” said Marcus. “Someone jumped me, and I got hit in the back and the back of the head. Everything was kind of fuzzy after that.”
Another point Ritland questioned Marcus on was looking at police reports and other information that was given to Stanley Van Hemert. Marcus was still renting a room at the residence and said he looked through the documents. When asked he said no one had told him he should not be looking at the documents.
Just after 3 p.m. Judge Lucy Gamon stated the defense did not have a witness available, so court ended for the afternoon. It is expected the evidentiary portion of the trial will wrap-up on Friday.
R.D. Keep is the editor of the New Sharon Sun and is partnering with The Oskaloosa Herald for coverage of this trial.