Editor’s Note: Graphic details of the killings could be offensive or disturbing to some readers.
Summary: Several witnesses, including Kelly Tonsmeire, father of Elizabeth Tonsmeire, testified today, filling in details of the last days of the victims and the circumstances surrounding their deaths. The trial of Laron Graham for the 2015 double murder of Robert Meireis and Elizabeth Tonsmeire will continue Thursday.
“After you left the Breeze In, did you go back to your place,” Norris asked. “I believe so,” Wilson said. Meireis visited Wilson’s house, he said, giving Wilson’s girlfriend an ice cream treat for her birthday, which was that day.
Wilson attempted to call Meireis several times the next morning on Nov. 15th; the calls went unanswered.
Wilson testified that he also saw Meireis’ money. “It was about an inch and half thick,” Wilson said.
Wilson was excused afterwards.
Norris began her cross examination by asking Wilson to clarify how long he’d known Meireis. Wilson said that he’d seen him before, but he hadn’t interacted with him until a few weeks before the murder. Wilson said that he’d been buying methamphetamine from Meireis every other day or more.
“He just straight asked me, hey, you want some,” Wilson said. He began purchasing drugs from Meireis more frequently at that point. Wilson said Meireis had a large bag that he’d occasionally use to store the drugs. Wilson said he spent roughly $1,200 on drugs in that two week period.
Wilson testified that he thought he saw Meireis more than once on Nov. 14th.
Fate Wilson was next to testify.
“I was buying drugs from him,” said Wilson, of his relationship with Meireis.
Wilson said he’d buy drugs from Meireis every other day or so, contacting him by phone or text. His last contact with Meireis was buying $30 of methamphetamine from him on Saturday, Nov. 14.
“We went to the Breeze In,” said Wilson. “I got some money out of the ATM for him.”
Afterwards, they drove to the Juneau Hotel to drop off the other passenger before Meireis dropped off Wilson.
The methamphetamine Wilson purchased weighed roughly two grams. When he ran out the next day, Wilson attempted to contact Meireis again. Meireis didn’t respond, which Wilson considered atypical.
“I don’t think the sun was out,” said Wilson, recalling when Meireis picked him up.
A juror was brought before Judge Pallenberg and excused for accidentally seeing the witness in restraints. That juror was excused, so that their perception of Graham was not prejudicially influenced by viewing the defendant restrained.
Jesse Echave was the next witness, a former firefighter/paramedic with Capital City Fire/Rescue. Echave got the call to respond on Nov. 15, 2015.
“The nature of the call was what’s called a field pronouncement,” said Echave. “It’s what happens if someone is suspected to be deceased.”
Emergency personnel always respond with all their medical gear in case the victim require assistance. The nature of a field pronouncement means that JPD is usually on the scene first, Echave said.
“I went in by myself,” said Echave. “I observed two people who were deceased and my job was to verify they were deceased.”
The three main things they look for is lack of pulse, lack of breathing, and stiffness and lividity brought on by death.
“My job is to decide if this person is worth the attempt of saving,” Echave said. He saw no signs that there was any chance of saving either victim.
“I was asked not to touch things, not to manipulate things,” said Echave. He pronounced both victims dead at the scene.
“The last interaction I had with my daughter was the evening before she died. Go on. Ask your questions,” Kelly said.
The last time he saw her was driving her to a psychiatric appointment at Bartlett outreach and attending the appointment with her, Kelly testified. Kelly asserted that his conversation with Elizabeth about giving her money for a security camera did not occur on the Friday before her death, but some time before.
“My daughter was bipolar. We didn’t know if this was paranoia, and we didn’t know if it was true fact,” Kelly said. “What we were trying to do was to help her.”
After temporarily dismissing the jury, Norris stated that she would be asking Kelly a number of questions about the security of Elizabeth’s condo. Kelly had told police during their investigation that they had changed the locks repeatedly and purchased a security camera because Elizabeth did not feel safe. Darnall objected, saying that these questions were taking the line of questioning too far afield into collateral matters.
“They changed the lock ten times, not once or twice,” Norris said. “I think to say that this is collateral or not relevant or that it’s confusing borders on the absurd to me. This is relevant, it’s probitive, this is exactly why there is the ‘other suspect’ defense.”
Pallenberg allowed for testimonial on the security issues, such as those concerning changing Elizabeth’s locks, but did not allow the defense to question Kelly on an alleged assault by a Russian woman on Elizabeth recently before the murder.
“I don’t know the exact time, but it was around noon,” said Kelly. He parked in front of her condominium. He noticed a vehicle parked haphazardly. Kelly stated that he didn’t see anyone until he opened the door. He knocked on the door without response.
“I turned the knob,” Kelly said. “I walked in on the most horrific scene you could imagine. I saw a man on the floor, surrounded by blood. Someone I’d never met or knew who he was. I saw my daughter on the couch.”
Kelly didn’t recall any noises or smell that he can recall, he said. Kelly said it was totally apparent that it was blood all over the floor.
“He was laying on the floor in a pool of blood,” Kelly said. “I went immediately to my daughter. She was laying face-down. I assumed she was asleep.” Kelly clarified that she was lying on her stomach.
“I touched her,” Kelly said. “She was stiff.”
“She often slept on the couch. She was laying there,” Kelly said. “That was my first impression, was that she was sleeping.”
Kelly stated that he hadn’t looked that closely at the body lying on the floor, and that his first concern was for his daughter. After he touched her, Kelly said, he immediately called 911 and stepped outside the apartment. He called two friends of his after calling 911.
Kelly never re-entered the residence, he said. He’d never met Robert Meireis.
Kennedy-Brown is a dispatcher for Juneau Police Department. She has been for 11 years, and was duty when Kelly Tonsmeire called emergency services to report his daughter’s death.
“There’s two dead people, including my daughter,” Kelly Tonsmeire’s recorded voice says as they play the recording of the call.
There were no further questions for Kennedy-Brown. John Kelly Tonsmeire, father of Elizabeth Tonsmeire, was next to testify.
Tonsmeire and his wife were paying for the condominium his daughter was staying in. He went to state under direct examination that Elizabeth was bipolar, and had some history of substance abuse.
“I’d seen her smoking pot some years before, but I had never known her to do drugs,” Kelly stated.
Elizabeth was certified in a number of information technology fields, including an Apple certification, meaning that she knew how to work on Apple computers. Kelly also testified that he had helped her to get around town, as Elizabeth didn’t have a vehicle. Kelly said that they helped her get to medical appointments, and that her bipolar condition could make things difficult sometime.
Williams confirmed his 2015 interview with the police where he said he had eaten lunch with Meireis sometime around noon.
“I will stand by whatever I said to the police, because whatever I said was the truth, and I don’t remember,” Williams said.
Williams was excused with the caveat that he might be brought back to testify further.
The next witness called by the state is Meghan Kennedy-Brown.
Williams and Meireis met in jail, Williams said. When they got out, Meireis stayed in touch.
“He tried to maintain a friendship, but I felt more guilted into it than anything,” Williams said.
Williams stated in interviews in 2015 that Meireis was a violent man, into weapons and drugs, and that he didn’t enjoy hanging out with him.
“The only reason I knew is because he was kind of bragadocious about it,” Williams said, when asked during cross examination how he knew Meireis was a drug dealer. “He wanted you know about it,” Williams said.
Kaci Schroeder, assistant attorney general, asked if Williams remembered anyone else in the car with them. He stated he did not remember saying anyone, but in a previous statement to police officers, he had stated that they had stopped at Fate (Wilson)’s place. Wilson also said that he knew Meireis had “a lot of drugs,” and a large amount of cash which he concealed in his sock.
“That was a long time ago,” said Williams. “I’m not trying to contradict myself.”
Williams also stated that Meireis had a handgun. In his interview in 2015, he said that it was a silver .45 caliber handgun, but today, he claims he can’t remember what kind of firearm.
“He had a lot of guns,” Williams said.
Fate Wilson, one of the witnesses for the prosecution, has been subpoena’d but has not appeared. Wilson was one of the last people to see Meireis alive, as he rode in Meireis’ vehicle and stopped at the Douglas Breeze In to withdraw money to purchase methamphetamines from Meireis. Wilson, who does not have a phone, has been contacted repeatedly with the intent of summoning him as a witness, but he’s currently absent.
Judge Pallenberg has issued a civil bench warrant for Wilson, which will order him to appear in court. The jury, composed of nine women and six men, have been re-seated, and the next witness, David Williams. Williams knew Meireis for several years after they met in jail, but said that he interacted with him infrequently, saying his last interaction with Meireis was sometime in November.
Williams stated that he went to lunch with Meireis the last time they saw each other.
A few days before her death, Tonsmeire dropped off a computer with Barrett. Tonsmeire instructed Barrett that if anything were to happen to her, Barrett should give the computer to the FBI. She had said she was moving her residence, Barrett said.
“She was pretty rushed,” Barrett said about when Tonsmeire dropped off the computer. “I didn’t think much of it,” Barrett said. “She seemed scattered. I thought she was blowing something out of proportion.”
After testifying to Darnall that he had seen Meireis yell at people and call them derogatory terms, Barrett was allowed to leave the stand, though Pallenberg mentioned that he might be recalled.
“So you’ve testified that you knew Mr. Meireis. You knew him through the Bergmann Hotel. And you said you knew him better than most,” asked Norris. “You said you had suspicions of his occupation. Suspicions of what?”
“Underworld kind of stuff,” Barrett answered. Barrett testified that he thought Meireis possibly had involvement in several areas of criminal endeavour- “he was into all sorts of stuff.” He said that he found Meireis could be volatile with others, and accordingly kept him at arm’s length.
Barrett testified that he had known Tonsmeire for about six weeks before the killing. They had talked and texted, and Barrett had loaned her his truck. In the days leading up to the killing, he said that Tonsmeire’s mood had turned anxious and agitated in the days before her death.
Cross examination under Natasha Norris, the defense attorney, begins.
“How long did you know Mr. Meireis before he was killed,” Norris asked.
“About a year,” Barrett answered. “I knew Meireis better than most. He was an elusive man.”
Norris went to ask if Meireis was enjoyable to spend time with. Barrett answered that he was brusque and quick to judge, but never unpleasant to Barrett himself.
Barrett was interviewed by the Juneau Police Department on Nov. 15, 2015, assisting the police with their inquiries.
“I was kind of in shock,” Barrett said. “It was just … the suddenness of it.”
The jury has entered and the prosecuting attorney from the Alaska Office of Special Prosecution John Darnall has summoned his first witness, James Barrett, a Juneau resident since 1992. Barrett knew both Tonsmeire and Meireis, he testified, and at the time of the killings, had loaned Tonsmeire his pickup truck.
“When you knew Robby Meireis, did you know what his employment was?” asked Darnall. “Not really, but I had my suspicions,” Barrett said.
The jury left the room while the attorneys and Judge Philip Pallenberg hashed out a procedural point concerning text messages between Barrett and Tonsmeire.
Wednesday is the second day of the trial of the man charged with a double murder in Douglas in 2015.
Laron Carlton Graham is charged with two counts of murder for his alleged involvement in the shooting deaths of Elizabeth Tonsmeire and Robert Meireis. Today’s first witness will be David Blanton, who has testified about the character of Meireis during the investigation.
The trial is well-attended, with many seats in the courtroom filled, both family members and members of the public.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.