Editor’s Note: Graphic details of the killings could be offensive or disturbing to some readers.
“There’s two dead people, including my daughter,” says an unsteady voice as the recording of a 911 call from Nov. 15, 2015 plays across the courtroom.
John “Kelly” Tonsmeire went to check on his daughter, Elizabeth Tonsmeire, after several failed attempts to contact her. She hadn’t come over for dinner Friday night, and didn’t return his calls Saturday, but that wasn’t that unusual for her, Kelly said in court on Wednesday. When she still didn’t answer his calls on Sunday, he drove the half mile down the street to check on her and make sure she was OK.
He walked out of life and into a nightmare.
“I turned the knob,” Kelly said. “I walked in on the most horrific scene you could imagine.”
Elizabeth Tonsmeire, 34, and Robert Meireis, 36, were killed in a double murder on Nov. 14, 2015. Both were killed by gunshot to the head. Laron Carlton Graham, 42, is currently being tried for the double murder in Juneau Superior Court.
“I saw a man on the floor, surrounded by blood,” Kelly said, recalling the scene from the witness stand on direct examination. “Someone I’d never met or knew who he was. I saw my daughter on the couch. I thought she was asleep.”
When he touched her, she was cold and stiff. Kelly called 911 and went outside, placing the call that replayed for a silent but crowded courtroom Wednesday. He said he hadn’t looked closely at the man surrounded by blood on the floor; his only concern was for his daughter on the couch. He didn’t go back inside the residence.
Kelly was one of six witnesses who testifed Wednesday — the second day of trial — including acquaintances and clients of Meireis, the dispatcher who took Kelly’s 911 call, and the firefighter/paramedic who pronounced both victims dead at the scene.
“The last interaction I had with my daughter was the evening before she died,” Kelly said during cross examination from defense attorney Natasha Norris. Kelly last saw his daughter alive while giving her a ride to a psychiatric appointment on Friday. Elizabeth didn’t have a car of her own at the time, though she was borrowing one from James Barrett, former owner of the Bergmann Hotel, who also testified Wednesday morning.
In the days leading up to the killing, Barrett said that Tonsmeire’s mood had turned anxious and agitated. She left a computer with Barrett several days before the killing, telling him to give the computer to the FBI if anything happened to her.
“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.”
They had changed her locks over 10 times, Kelly said, as well as hardened other security aspects of her condominium. He had also discussed buying a security camera with his daughter, Kelly said. Kelly and his wife paid for the condominium their daughter lived in. Elizabeth had earned a number of technical certifications, including an Apple qualification, meaning that she was certified to work on Apple computers.
Witnesses painted Meireis in a much different light. Robert Meireis and David Williams met in jail, Williams said on the stand. When they got out, Meireis stayed in contact.
“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. Other witnesses, including Barrett, who said he knew Meireis fairly well, confirmed that Meireis could be unpleasant.
“I knew Meireis better than most,” Barrett said. “He was an elusive man.”
Barrett told Norris during cross examination that Meireis was brusque and quick to judge, but never unpleasant to Barrett himself. He wasn’t shy about mentioning his source of income, either.
“The only reason I knew is because he was kind of braggadocious about it,” Williams said, when asked during cross examination how he knew Meireis was a drug dealer. “He wanted you know about it.”
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.