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

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

Leisa Martin threw a can of beer at her brother as the argument escalated, and Troy Martin came from the house to calm them down, the complaint says, then held down his sister.

She had “snaked out” in similar fashion before, Todd Martin would testify, and restraining her — sometimes to the point where she briefly couldn’t breathe — was the only way to settle her down.

The brothers thought she had merely passed out from drinking, but after about 20 minutes, they found her unresponsive, the complaint said.

They never tried CPR nor did they call 911 or their father, who was a physician.

Todd Martin said they put her body in a car and brought it to an isolated stretch of woods along Roy Lake in Mahnomen County, where they buried it in a shallow grave.

Three days later, the body was found by two men looking for firewood.

At the time, both brothers denied involvement in their sister’s death.

Over the next 11 years, investigators chased nearly 1,000 leads trying to unravel the mystery of her death. Court documents say the investigation pointed to a family member “and Todd Martin in particular, but was stymied by a lack of physical evidence.”

‘I’m totally lost’

Court documents refer to the family’s “shroud of silence” following Leisa Martin’s death. And Steve Hagenah, who was part of nearly every homicide investigation in northern Minnesota before retiring after 29 years as an agent with the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, found the lack of concern both troubling and unusual.

“I don’t think I’ve ever in my career worked a case where I wasn’t getting phone calls from family members routinely asking me what the status, what the progress of the case was, what was going on, do we have any leads,” Hagenah said.

Investigators finally got their break when, after he was arrested on a drunken-driving charge in 2010, Todd Martin implicated his brother.

Both brothers initially faced charges of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter, aiding an offender, and aiding and abetting interference with a dead body.

However, Todd Martin struck a deal with prosecutors to testify against his brother in exchange for the most serious charges against him being dismissed.

Arguing that there was no probable cause to charge Troy Martin, who passed a polygraph test and who claims he was asleep in the house when his sister was killed, Undem pointed to the inexplicable loss of two key pieces of evidence that could help his client’s cause.

During Todd Martin’s DWI arrest, he attacked and strangled the deputy and made statements about his sister’s death. “Conveniently, they have lost that tape recording” of the deputy’s call for assistance, Undem said.

Todd Martin was allowed to plead down on those charges after implicating his brother in the killing, he added.

Second, a note scrawled on a bank deposit slip bearing the name of a witness suspected in helping move Leisa Martin’s body was found on her grave in 2003 by three of her friends.

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