The trial of a man suspected of killing four people in St. Paul before leaving their bodies in a SUV in a Wisconsin cornfield began Thursday with graphic evidence and family members' tears.
Nearly three-dozen people packed the courtroom to hear opening statements and testimony against Antoine Suggs, 39, who is charged with four counts of second-degree murder in the killings of Nitosha Flug-Presley of Stillwater, 30, and Jasmine C. Sturm, 30, Matthew Pettus, 26, and Loyace Foreman III, 35, all of St. Paul. Their bodies were discovered Sept. 12, 2021, in a bloodied black Mercedes SUV that had been driven into the field.
Charges say that Suggs shot the four inside the SUV after a night out in St. Paul's W. 7th Street area before their bodies were driven 60 miles east to the Dunn County field. Surveillance video captured images of Flug-Presley slumped in the front seat along the route. Police also found six spent shell-casings inside the vehicle.
Suggs' motive for shooting and killing the four remains unclear. Charges say Suggs told his father that "he snapped and shot a couple of people." Family members say that Suggs and Flug-Presley were dating. Pettus and Sturm were half-siblings, and Foreman was dating Sturm. Suggs' father, Darren L. Osborne, is serving a nearly five-year prison sentence for helping his son hide the bodies.
"You, and only you, can decide the facts," Judge JaPaul Harris told the 14 jurors in court Thursday, warning them that evidencewould be graphic. Despite those warnings and unplanned breaks, the evidence was too much for some family and friends in attendance.
"The case that you're about to hear is about a night that was supposed to be fun," Prosecuting attorney Andrew Johnson said, describing how bullets traveled through each victim before re-enacting the moment when he says that Suggs killed them. "Boom, boom ... boom, boom."
Investigators found two bullets lodged in the SUV under cushions, wiring and blood. Photos showed blood splattered across seats, pooled onto floorboards and caked on the victims' faces.
It brought some family members to tears and sent others outside to grieve. A few tried to hold back sobs that echoed off the walls of the Ramsey County courtroom.
Suggs' attorney Kevin Devore deferred giving an opening statement, telling Judge Harris he would like to save it until later. One of the first to testify was Dennis Scheffler, the 63-year-old farmhand who discovered the SUV. Scheffler said he had cupped his hands to look into the tinted windows of the vehicle, soon realizing bodies were inside.
"It looked like there was dried blood on [the victim's] back," Scheffler said. "I kind of got startled when I looked down and there was a guy tipped up with a blank stare in his eyes."
Other testimony was by members of the Dunn County Sheriff's Office and forensic scientists who were among the first to arrive at the scene. They found a range of evidence including bullet casings, the remains of a Parliament cigarette that Suggs' father may have bought when helping his son hide the bodies and Suggs' bloodied Arizona driver's license.
One of those forensic scientists was Raschael Ellering with the St. Paul police, who said her investigation suggested that one victim was shot from the front of the SUV.
Testimony by Darren Suggs, Antoine Suggs' younger brother, was cut short when he exercised his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination after being asked if he spoke with his dad the day of the slayings.
"I don't see why I'm here," Suggs said on the stand, telling prosecutors that he did not want to be in court.
Judge Harris said he would be appointed an attorney in order to continue his testimony throughout the trial. The trial continues Friday at 9 a.m., and Harris told jurors that they might begin deliberating by the end of next week.