OSKALOOSA – Just before lunch on Thursday, the state’s case against Luke VanHemert rested, paving the way for the defense to present their case.
On the last day of testimony, jurors watched a video interview with Van Hemert, then saw evidence of an autopsy performed on Marquis Todd. Van Hemert is charged with the stabbing death of Todd on March 1, 2018.
Criminal Investigations Department special agent Don Schnikter spoke about the evidence-gathering process for the case. Much of his testimony concerned the interview with VanHemert.
Jurors listened for approximately 45 minutes as Van Hemert recount the incident which led to a confrontation in his front yard between himself, Eli Marcus and three students of William Penn, including Mikeal Donaldson, D’Angelo Allen and Todd.
During the interview, Van Hemert said he didn’t see any knives, but one of the black men had a black pole or something in his hand. He said this was not the man he was fighting with. He repeated on several occasions that no weapon was on display.
Thursday morning opened with Jeff Beard at the helm. Beard was in Van Hemert’s car at the time of a collision with a car driven by Donaldson at around 10 p.m. on March 1, 2018. He recounted that he, Van Hemert and Elijah Marcus were on their way to McDonald’s, but forgot a credit. and returned 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 prepare.” Prosecutor Andrew Prosser asked if that meant being ready to fight.
“The meaning has been misinterpreted,” said Beard, who suffers from severe anxiety. “It was referring to my coming home.”
He added that Luke Van Hemert said: “We will take care of it.”
Beard said he and VanHemert entered the house and Luke gave him a bong and wax to remove from the house.
“I took the paraphernalia and left,” Beard said. “I went out and walked around my house. I heard a commotion and came back and heard voices, but couldn’t understand what was being said. I saw Eli and a guy above him.
Beard said he couldn’t see Luke or Stanley VanHemert or anyone else. He said he saw someone with a blunt object with a curve. Defense attorney Allen Cook asked like a crowbar? “Yes,” Beard said.
The last state witness was Dr. Dennis Klein from the state medical examiner’s office. It is a pathologist who performs autopsies to determine the mode and cause of death. Klein explained that there are five modes of death, natural causes, accidents, suicides, homicides and the undetermined. During his examination, he came to the conclusion that the cause of death was a stab wound to the right ventricle in Todd’s heart by another person and ruled that the death was homicide.
During his examination, he noted three bodily defects related to stab wounds. Besides the chest injury, there was a stab wound to the left shoulder, which was 2 inches deep into the muscle, also known as the triceps. A third was on the front of Todd’s left arm, halfway between elbow and shoulder. This wound penetrated to the other side of the arm.
Klein said the holes in Todd’s clothes line up with the wounds to help him with his resolve.
The defense begins its testimony
Elijah Marcus was the only person to testify on behalf of the defense on Thursday. He spent about 90 minutes at the bar. Cook had him recount the incidents that took place on the evening of March 1, 2018. Just as Beard recounted, 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 traveling at residential speed on North Third when I saw a car following quite fast,” said Marcus.
Marcus said the car attempted to pass on the left side, but because another car was parked across the street, the car struck Van Hemert’s Jeep. Marcus said and Van Hemert jumped in and asked what was going on. Marcus also admitted that he slapped his hands on the hood just as Donaldson started to back 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 to get Stanley Van Hemert to show him the damage. Marcus also admitted at one point that he picked up a withered tree branch and hit the Donaldson car, smashing the driver’s side windshield, but was unaware of any brick or stone thrown and piercing the other side.
Ritland asked Marcus why, if it was a minor collision, Luke felt it was necessary to remove the drug paraphernalia from the house.
“It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve used it for a raid,” Marcus said.
Marcus denied knowing anyone had guns. He said he was hit by one of the men and hit him back.
“I started to pull away and tripped and fell,” Marcus said. “Someone jumped on me and I was hit in the back and the back of the head. Everything was a bit hazy after that.
Another point that Ritland questioned Marcus about was reviewing police reports and other information provided to Stanley Van Hemert. Marcus was still renting a room at the residence and said he reviewed the documents. When asked, he replied that no one had told him that he should not look at the documents.
Just after 3 p.m. Judge Lucy Gamon said the defense did not have a witness available, so the hearing ended for the afternoon. The probationary part of the trial is expected to end on Friday.
RD Keep is the editor of The New Sharon Sun and is partnering with The Oskaloosa Herald for the cover of this essay.