The 19 sonogram photos displayed on the refrigerator, backrubs to ease his pregnant wife’s cramps and a loving Valentine’s Day card left on the nightstand appeared to show that Roger and Margorie Holland had a happy marriage.
But beneath the surface lay fights about finances and threats of divorce via text messages, Internet searches about how to kill someone, maxed-out credit cards and lies to his wife and to police, prosecutor Phil Prokopowicz told a Dakota County jury Monday in his opening statement in Roger Holland’s trial on charges of first- and second-degree murder.
That deceit and fraud by Holland, 37, turned his marriage into a “house of cards,” Prokopowicz said, a house that collapsed when he strangled his 37-year-old wife the morning of March 7, also killing their 15-week-old fetus, then tried to cover it up.
The jury heard how Holland had maxed out his wife’s credit cards, and how he’d told her he had gotten a high-paying job when, in fact, he hadn’t. The prosecution also described how he’d done searches on his cellphone and his laptop for “If you pass out and fall down the stairs can you break your neck?” and similar subjects, as well as “Can you go to jail for using your wife’s credit cards?”
Defense attorney Eric Nelson, however, told the jury that Holland arrived home from fetching breakfast for the couple that morning to find his wife cold and not breathing at the bottom of a staircase. Frantic, he called 911. Officers made two decisions early on, Nelson told the jury: First, that Margorie Holland’s death was a homicide, and second, that Roger Holland was responsible.
“Investigators’ minds were made up before they investigated,” he said.
They chose to ignore the blood and DNA of another person that was allegedly found on or near Margorie Holland’s body, didn’t preserve surveillance video from the apartment complex that day and focused only on certain aspects of the couple’s relationship and “ignored the mutual affection they showed for each other in those very same texts,” Nelson said.
Shortly after investigators arrived at the Hollands’ home on the day of Margorie’s death, they noted that Roger had fresh scratches on his neck and that Margorie had bruises and abrasions from head to toe, some inconsistent with a fall down the stairs, according to a criminal complaint. She had broken capillaries in her eyes and on her face, consistent with strangulation, the document said. Blood had pooled in her hands and feet, suggesting she had been dead longer than the few minutes Holland said he was gone.
The autopsy found that Margorie Holland died of strangulation.
The Hollands had both served in the Texas National Guard. They married in 2010 and moved from San Antonio to Minnesota last December to be nearer to Margorie Holland’s parents while she was pregnant.
Threat of divorce
Prokopowicz said in his opening statement that the couple were planning to return to Texas, where Margorie Holland’s father and stepmother planned to retire. But on the day she died, Margorie Holland wrote, but never sent, a text to her sibling saying the move was off and a divorce was on.
The couple’s cellphones showed that they had argued numerous times via text message about money and about Roger Holland’s unauthorized use of his wife’s credit cards. In one exchange on March 1, he asked his wife how she was, and she responded, “Like I hate my life, I hate the man I married, and I wish I could erase the past 3 years.”
The night before she died, Margorie Holland texted her husband that she did not believe anything he said and that the only thing she could do was divorce him. Another text that night said she was planning to turn him in to police for using her credit cards “first thing in the morning.”
Apple Valley police officer Michael Tietz testified that he was first at the scene and that Roger Holland was outside, flagging him down as he arrived. Officer Greggory Neumann was just steps behind Tietz.
When the officers got into the two-story apartment, both noticed that her fingertips were darker than the surrounding skin. They started CPR until fire department and medical personnel arrived.
Both said Roger Holland was frantic, red-faced and crying. Tietz said he saw fresh scratches on the lower left side of Holland’s neck, which he said occurred when he was rubbing his wife’s back to provide relief from cramping, and she reached up and scratched him.
Tietz left and headed to McDonald’s about 2 miles away, where Holland said he’d gone to pick up breakfast. Tietz said he viewed a video showing that Holland was there at 9:44 a.m. Under cross-examination from defense attorney Marsh Halberg, Tietz acknowledged that there are several stop lights and stop signs between the Hollands’ apartment and the McDonald’s.
Patrol officer Shane Klokonos said he took photos when he arrived. The jury of nine women and five men saw the first photos taken of Margorie Holland’s body, splayed face up on the tile floor. She was wearing pink sweatpants; her shirt had been opened by first responders and defibrillator pads covered her chest.
Klokonos took photos of the apartment upstairs and down, including the contents of a nightstand drawer. He also photographed a large abrasion on Margorie Holland’s elbow and dried blood on her forearm.
The trial before Dakota County District Judge Timothy J. McManus is expected to last about three weeks. On Tuesday, jurors are expected to hear the initial 911 call from Roger Holland and testimony from family members and the medical examiner.