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Murder trial in death of Apple Valley woman goes to jury

  • Article by: Pat Pheifer
  • Star Tribune
  • December 16, 2013 - 3:46 PM

Only one person had the motive, the ability and the opportunity to kill Margorie Holland in the Apple Valley townhouse she shared with her husband, prosecutor Phil Prokopowicz told a jury Monday.

That person was her husband, Roger E. Holland, who is charged in Dakota County District Court with two counts each of first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder for allegedly strangling his 37-year-old wife, who was 15 weeks pregnant with their first child.

His fate is now in the hands of the jury, which listened to closing arguments from Prokopowicz and defense attorney Marsh Halberg on Monday before breaking for lunch, then started deliberations about 1:30 p.m.

Jurors have testimony of more than two dozen witnesses — including Holland — and upward of 500 pieces of evidence to sift through to reach their verdict.

“It is not easy to strangle someone to death,” Prokopowicz said in his closing argument. “Think of the intensity of that moment, whatever he used to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.

“She fought,” he said. “She fought for her life and that of her unborn child.”

Halberg, however, told the jury that the lead police investigator “convicted Holland in the first five minutes.”

Any evidence that pointed toward accidental causes for Margorie Holland’s death was ignored. Suffocation, rather than strangulation, was never considered as a possible cause of death. The first statements Holland gave police were lost or destroyed. And the 25 law enforcers and rescuers who were in the Hollands’ townhouse the day of her death could very well have contaminated the scene with unknown DNA.

According to the charges and trial testimony, the Hollands met while both were serving in the Texas National Guard. They married about three years ago and moved from San Antonio to Apple Valley in late December 2012 so Margorie Holland, who grew up in Faribault, Minn., could be closer to her family while she was pregnant.

The morning of March 7, Roger Holland left to pick up breakfast for the couple. When he returned, he found his wife lying at the bottom of the stairs, unresponsive and not breathing. He called 911 at 9:57 a.m., and police, fire and medical personnel tried to resuscitate Margorie Holland for more than an hour, first at the townhouse, then at the hospital before she was declared dead shortly before 11:30 a.m.

Officers, EMTs, doctors and, later, the assistant Hennepin County medical examiner who performed the autopsy saw bruises and abrasions on her neck, arms, elbows, knees, and ankles. The first police at the scene noticed petechiae, tiny hemorrhages that can be caused by pressure on the neck — or forceful coughing, contractions, vomiting and myriad other causes.

The medical examiner determined that Margorie Holland’s manner of death was homicide and the cause was strangulation. Investigators testified that they later learned about a web of lies, deceit and fraud Roger Holland had perpetrated on his wife.

He didn’t have a high-paying job, as he had told her; he actually was unemployed. He had maxed out her credit cards and signed promissory notes for up to $25,000.

The couple fought fiercely via text message about finances and Margorie Holland had threatened to divorce him and turn him in to authorities for using her credit cards. There also were searches on Roger Holland’s laptop and iPhone about whether a person can break their neck falling down stairs and whether it’s possible to break someone’s neck with your bare hands.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the defendant Roger Holland considered, planned and prepared for the death of his wife,” Prokopowicz said Monday. “What the defendant didn’t have was a good plan to cover it up.”

Halberg told the jury, though, that the couple’s financial picture wasn’t nearly as bad as the prosecution portrayed. Two cars made up $80,000 of the debt. Two motorcycles accounted for another $28,000.

Margorie Holland was the volatile person in the relationship, the defense attorney said. She would threaten divorce one minute and be loving a half-hour later. Roger Holland wasn’t angry and had no motive to kill her, Halberg said. The computer searches stemmed from a Vince Flynn novel both had read and a disagreement about whether it was possible to break your neck falling down the stairs.

Margorie Holland’s brother testified that he believed Roger and his sister were “soul mates,” Halberg reminded the jury.

“It’s not your job to solve this case,” Halberg told them. “It’s your job to decide if it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Jurors will be able to deliberate as late as they wish to on Monday. If no verdict is reached, the deliberations will continue Tuesday.

 

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284

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