Jury hears first witnesses in Russell trial

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Murder defendant Mark Russell listens to testimony at his first-degree murder trial being held at the Cerro Gordo County Courthouse on Tuesday.

MASON CITY — A Cerro Gordo County jury on Tuesday heard from the daughter of homicide victim Angela McLeod and the first two officers on the scene following her death in a Fort Dodge apartment on Jan. 20, 2020.

Mark David Russell, 31, of Fort Dodge, is on trial for first-degree murder, accused of beating 45-year-old McLeod to death with a golf club at 21 N. 14th St. Last fall, the defense was granted its motion for a new venue and the trial was moved to Cerro Gordo County.

In his opening arguments, First Assistant Webster County Attorney Ryan Baldridge told the jury that some of the evidence they’d be hearing would be the defendant’s own words about the graphic crime. He said that while Russell is claiming self-defense, “the state’s contention is that this is not self-defense.”

He said the crime was a “brutal and vicious attack” against the victim.

Baldridge noted that while McLeod wasn’t necessarily a sympathetic victim, she did not deserve to be beaten to death.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Fort Dodge Police Lt. Joe Bates testifies about his interaction with Mark Russell on the morning Russell allegedly killed Angela McLeod. Bates was the second officer on the scene on Jan. 20, 2020.

“Angela McLeod — by all accounts — to the victim, she wasn’t very nice,” Baldridge said. “And on the day in question, they’d been arguing and the police had already been called once prior to the murder.”

McLeod’s daughter would later testify that as McLeod and Russell were arguing, McLeod hurled racial slurs at the defendant.

“He beat her to death because she disrespected him and he’d had enough,” Baldridge told the jury. “No matter the type of person she was, she didn’t deserve what happened. This wasn’t self defense — this was about retribution for the mean things that she had said to him.”

On behalf of the defendant, attorney Matthew Moore highlighted to the jury that the burden of proof in this case is on the state to prove that Russell’s actions were murder and not self-defense.

“You’re not going to have a lot of ‘whodunnit?’ In this case, that’s not going to be an issue,” Moore said. “But what will be an issue is what happened legally.”

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Fort Dodge Police Officer Matt Weir testifies about being the first officer on the scene after Mark Russell allegedly killed Angela McLeod on Jan. 20, 2020.

Moore said Baldridge’s description of McLeod saying “mean” things to Russell was wrong.

“This is a gross mischaracterization of the provocation in this case,” Moore said. “You will find that the mean words pre-existed the provocation for a long time prior to the incident in question, but there was a particular boiling point here.”

First on the witness stand was Melissa McKinley, McLeod’s daughter. McKinley testified that McLeod and Russell were both living with her in January 2020. McKinley and Russell had previously been in a relationship.

McKinley said she had a “rocky” relationship with her mother.

“She wasn’t a nice person,” McKinley said.

She said that McLeod was also “not nice” to Russell.

About an hour before the murder, the police responded to the victim’s residence for a domestic disturbance. McKinley said they were told to “figure it out” and if law enforcement came back, someone was going to jail.

The conflict began again, McKinley testified. McLeod initially had the golf club and at one point had pulled it back as if she was going to swing at Russell, and then Russell charged at McLeod, McKinley said. Russell pushed McLeod into a dresser in the bedroom and McKinley left the room to call 911.

McKinley said she called law enforcement again because she feared for her mom’s safety. The defendant, she testified, said McLeod “wasn’t going to leave the room alive.”

McKinley also testified that McLeod had recently had abdominal surgery and she had an incision across the lower part of her stomach and a drain tube for the wound.

Baldridge asked McKinley if Russell had ever left the apartment that day, if he ever said he was scared of McLeod or if McKinley had ever seen McLeod hit Russell. She answered no to each question.

Following the attack on McLeod, Russell was smiling and laughing and holding a golf club that was missing its head, McKinley testified.

McKinley testified that both McLeod and Russell had used meth the day of the attack.

Upon cross-examination from defense attorney Wendy Samuelson, McKinley said the morning before McLeod was killed, McLeod had made comments about having “her boys” come “take care of” Russell.

The jury then heard from the first two officers on the scene following the attack.

Fort Dodge Police Officer Matt Weir was the first to respond. When Weir arrived at the apartment, “the defendant was not wearing a shirt and he was out of breath” and he advised that he had assaulted McLeod. Weir then detained and handcuffed Russell.

The jury watched the body camera video from Weir’s body camera when he responded to the scene. At one point in the video, Russell can be heard saying, “If you officers had done your job earlier we wouldn’t have this problem.”

Weir found McLeod unresponsive in the apartment’s bedroom and began life-saving attempts.

Assistant Webster County Attorney Brad McIntyre asked Weir if Russell had ever told Weir that day that he had been acting in self-defense.

“He did not,” Weir responded.

FDPD Lt. Joe Bates was the second officer to the scene. When he arrived, Russell was exiting the front of the apartment. Bates testified that he handed Weir an automated external defibrillator for the victim and then he took the defendant to Weir’s patrol vehicle and placed him in the back.

The jury then watched Bates’ body camera video.

After Bates put Russell in the squad car, Russell can be heard saying “I’m sorry sir, for what I did to her…I beat the s— out of her…I beat her with the golf club.”

The state has one more witness on Wednesday before it rests its case. The defense will then present its case.

Russell’s trial has been delayed many times over the last three years. A competency evaluation for the defendant was ordered three different times since the start of the case. A trial in Webster County in August 2022 ended in a mistrial before the conclusion of jury selection.

On Tuesday afternoon, Iowa State Medical Examiner Dennis Klein testified that McLeod’s cause of death was blunt force injuries to the head.


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