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Crime scene evidence analyzed

Tanner King trial continues

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Victor Murillo, a firearms expert for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, analyzes the modified holster that prosecutors assert belonged to Tanner King.

NEVADA — Prosecutors continued Tanner King’s homicide trial with 10 witnesses Thursday to establish what investigators found at the scene of the crime and in King’s apartment, the chain of evidence for custody and what those closest to King saw in the days following the Oct. 22, 2018, shooting deaths of the Rhodes brothers.

Witnesses presented a more technical view of the evidence, with half working for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation in some capacity. The other half included a Fort Dodge Police Department evidence technician, an Iowa State Patrol trooper, King’s landlord and two of King’s past romantic partners.

King, of Fort Dodge, is charged with two counts of first degree murder in connection with the deaths of Marion and El Dominic Rhodes, who were found shot to death in an alley near Second Avenue North and Ninth Street.

The primary evidence at the crime scene were the various parts of ammunition found, both on the ground and in the victims’ bodies. A total of seven fired cartridge casings (what is ejected from the side of a gun when a bullet is fired at a target) and bullets were found.

The state submitted a multitude of evidentiary exhibits, many of them collected from search warrants conducted at King’s apartment, where 128 items were seized. Items seized included boxes of ammunition in the garbage, gloves, a gun holster, and a Walmart receipt for the purchase of some of those items. Of 128 items, less than 20 were sent to labs for analysis.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Iowa State Patrol Trooper Mark Anderson walks the court through the scene where El Dominic and Marion Rhodes were found dead, using an illustration made from points of data collected from equipment he typically uses to analyze car crashes.

DCI firearms expert Victor Murillo testified that all but one of the bullets analyzed from the scene of the shooting were fired from the same gun. The only one that could not be determined was too damaged to examine, he said. The expert analyzes scratch patterns left on the bullet as it exits the barrel of the gun under a microscope. Entering the characteristics into DCI’s data base, he produced a list of guns that the bullet could have potentially been fired from.

The cartridges analyzed were also consistent with a partial box of Tulammo brand ammunition submitted, which was seized from the garbage can in King’s apartment, he said.

Defense attorneys attempted to highlight two other bullets analyzed by DCI, which altogether the expert said would implicate two other guns in the scene. Cross-examination from the defense and direct examination of Special Agent Ray Fiedler revealed that the rounds the defense attorney referenced, however, were apparently submitted to DCI in December 2018, two months after the other bullets were submitted from the crime scene.

Those two were retrieved from Skelly Mines, where King directed investigators; it’s unclear why.

The defense consistently objected to evidence presented by technicians, citing concerns about a broken chain of custody with certain periods of control and access unaccounted for. They also consistently objected to having the labels on the multiple bags of physical evidence, carted into the courtroom, read aloud or shown to the jury.

District Court Judge Kurt Stoebe allowed for only literal descriptions of the evidence labels, written by the technician herself, to be read in order to avoid giving various interpretations of the evidence, such as a label written by the state medical examiner, to the jury.

Other witnesses called by the state painted a more vivid picture of concern from those who visited King in his apartment in the days following the October shooting.

One was his landlord, Pamela Visedo, who was cleaning up the apartment and boxing up his possessions in mid-November, after his arrest.

“One sock I picked up and heard a clanking noise,” she said, describing what she thought was the sound of marbles. “I thought his daughter played a joke on him.”

But what she pulled out of the sock were two live rounds of ammo.

Other witnesses described more jarring experiences with individual rounds of ammunition in the top-floor apartment.

“He was just not the same person (as before),” said former romantic partner Jaide Wetzel, describing how King’s demeanor changed after Oct. 22.

She saw him the day before and within two days after that day in his apartment.

But his look wasn’t the only thing that unnerved her, she said.

Wetzel described an interaction in which she, King and friend Megan White — the girlfriend of Cletio Clark, whom the defense has accused of the murders — sat down at a folding table. There, she said King placed a gun and a bullet in front of each one.

The female friends left together, scared and crying, Wetzel said.

Wetzel was one of two witnesses with a prior romantic relationship who testified to seeing what they believed to be a holster with handguns under King’s shirt.

“It’s kind of a makeshift holster that can be wrapped around the waist of an individual,” Murillo said, describing the holster, with pockets for a gun and magazines.

That individual item, cited in the state’s opening statement, was perhaps one of the most discussed pieces of evidence in both direct and cross-examinations, second to analysis of ammunition.