Prosecutors say that a defendant on trial for the 2015 double murder in Douglas first killed a drug dealer, then a woman to silence her.
“Dead men don’t tell tales,” said John Darnall, prosecutor from the Alaska Office of Special Prosecution. “That’s the kind of thinking that caused Elizabeth Tonsmeire to lose her life on or about November 14th.”
The long-anticipated trial against Laron Carlton Graham, 42, kicked off Tuesday in a crowded Juneau Superior Court with both prosecutors and defense providing opening statements, and the first two witnesses for the prosecution. The family of Tonsmeire was present.
Graham is on trial for two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Robert Meireis, 36, and Elizabeth Tonsmeire, 34, who were found dead in Tonsmeire’s Douglas apartment at 2750 Roger St. on Nov. 14, 2015. They were both found with gunshots to the head.
Darnall in opening statements said that his case will show that activity levels on Meireis’ cell phone, plus data from Graham’s movements obtained via cell tower coverage, prove that Graham shot both Juneau residents dead. His case will also show that Graham confessed to a fellow inmate while incarcerated, he said.
Defense attorney Natasha Norris, however, said that there’s no forensic evidence or eye witnesses tying Graham to the crime scene. She described the prosecution’s case as fragile, and said that no murder weapon was recovered, and no witnesses reported hearing or seeing the shooting.
“Forensics? Guess what. There’s nothing tying my client to the crime scene,” Norris said. “No DNA, no blood spatter, no fingerprints. My client is being set up as a scapegoat, and he is not guilty.”
Drugs, especially methamphetamine, are playing a big role in the case. Meireis was identified by prosecutor Darnall as a drug dealer, in possession of a great deal of cash and drugs the evening of the party before the murder, a fact corroborated by Bill Reyes, 57, the prosecution’s first witness.
A jury of 15 will listen to evidence and witnesses by both the defense and prosecution as the case runs over the next six weeks. Some questions over evidence collected during the investigation and Graham’s previous history of emotional outbursts in court were both brought up before the trial began Tuesday.
“Mr. Graham has spoken up for himself, sometimes forcefully,” Norris said, before the jury was sworn in, when Judge Philip Pallenberg was deliberating letting Graham appear without a foot shackle. Graham was quiet throughout the trial except when addressed and showed no signs of anger throughout.
The first witness the prosecution called, Reyes, testified to the events of the previous evening, Nov. 13, when Tonsmeire had people over to her apartment for a small party. Meireis and Graham, among others, were present, along with methamphetamines that Meireis supplied, Reyes said. Reyes testified to smoking methamphetamines several times that afternoon. Reyes also said in court that Graham seemed agitated during the party, and that he thought someone had a revolver at the time. Reyes left the party at 3 a.m., he said to Darnall on direct examination.
Minjy Leisholmn, human resources manager for Breeze Inn, also testified. The Juneau Police Department requested the store’s video surveillance footage following the deaths, which Breeze Inn provided. Leisholmn identified Meireis and Fate Wilson, who was by his own admission getting money to buy methamphetamines from Meireis, from the surveillance footage taken at the Douglas Breeze Inn the afternoon before the shooting.
The trial will continue Wednesday.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.