Cold case from Bagley, Minn., takes a twist with new murder charges

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 26, 2013 - 11:37 PM

Troy Martin has been charged — again — in the 1998 slaying of his sister, Leisa, after a Court of Appeals decision nullified his earlier indictment by a grand jury over prosecutorial misconduct.


A mysterious note, now missing, left on the homicide victim’s grave.

A pair of brothers charged in their sister’s slaying before one agrees to testify against the other, after a dozen years of closely guarded family silence.

A witness contacting a grand jury member on the sly.

The 15-year-old case of Leisa Martin’s death has all the truth-defies-fiction elements of a movie thriller.

But for Troy Martin, of Bagley, Minn., in Clearwater County District Court for a second time to face murder charges in his sister’s death, the harsh reality of a possible 40-year prison term looms.

In a rare decision, the Minnesota Court of Appeals last December invalidated a grand jury’s second-degree murder indictment of Martin, finding that jurors wouldn’t have reached that decision if not for improperly admitted evidence and misconduct by prosecutors — including a witness’s improper contact with a juror and participation in deliberations by the county’s attorneys — during the jury’s two weeks of proceedings.

Now, Martin again faces second-degree murder charges in his sister’s death, this time by way of a criminal complaint based primarily on testimony from his brother Todd.

“I’ve never seen such a fiasco,” said John Undem, Troy Martin’s attorney. “I know I’m the defense attorney, but I’ve never seen an innocent man pursued so relentlessly. It’s the worst miscarriage of justice I have ever seen.”

But Richard Mollin, who took over as Clearwater County attorney in 2011 and was not part of the original prosecution that resulted in the nullified indictment, said the facts in the case still support the renewed charges.

“The basis of the Court of Appeals ruling was errors in the manner in which the indictment from the grand jury was obtained, not the substance of the case that brought it to the grand jury in the first place,” Mollin said.

The appeals court’s ruling doesn’t preclude filing a complaint on second-degree murder charges if a grand jury’s indictment is thrown out. The decision will have no bearing on the new effort to prosecute Martin, Mollin said.

Undem last week argued for dismissal of the charges before District Judge Paul Benshoof. Mollin will have a chance to argue in response next month, and the judge will make a ruling soon after. If Benshoof decides to proceed with a jury trial, it is scheduled for early next year.

Leisa Martin’s death

Both Martin brothers have remained free as the case progresses in Bagley, a northwestern Minnesota community of 1,400 where homicides are almost unheard of.

Leisa Martin, 31, died from asphyxiation due to an assault in the early hours of Oct. 28, 1998, at her mother’s Bagley home, where the family was living, according to the medical examiner’s report.

According to the new complaint, Todd and Leisa Martin were dropped off at the home after an evening of drinking in nearby Clearbrook. As the pair continued to drink on the porch, Leisa started talking about her ex-husband.

“I kind of told her I didn’t want to hear it,” Todd Martin told investigators.

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