MARENGO — Sighs were heard from onlookers as Sixth District Court Judge Andrew Chappell uttered the word “guilty” while reading the jury’s verdict Thursday for the murder of Monroe trucker Ernest Kummer.
Jurors unanimously found 44-year-old Mariana Lesnic guilty of first-degree murder for shooting Kummer, 60, while he was sleeping in his semi-truck at an Interstate 80 rest stop near Victor in September of 2017.
The trial began Tuesday with jury selection and continued Wednesday with testimony from several law-enforcement officials and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation employees. Before the jury went into deliberation, Thursday began with a testimony of Dennis Klein, a medical examiner who performed Kummer’s autopsy.
After Klein, the state’s final witness, was excused from the stand, Lesnic gave her side of the story to jurors. She started by explaining the murder weapon’s origin — a nine-millimeter handgun purchased years ago after she was robbed in New Mexico.
Lesnic then mentioned meeting Kummer while hitchhiking in Nebraska while traveling from Colorado months before the murder. They exchanged phone numbers after Kummer gave her a ride, she said. At some point, Lesnic decided to travel to Seattle, and Lesnic claimed Kummer told her he could take her. Kummer’s supervisor at Des Moines-based Copeland Trucking Terminal, Charlie Hoag, testified Wednesday the trucking company does not travel to Washington state.
Kummer picked Lesnic up and let her stay at his home for three days before they were allegedly to go to Seattle. During those three days, Lesnic claims Kummer had firearms in his car, in his semi-truck and in his house. Lesnic alleges she found him lying on the floor of the home with a large gun.
Lesnic also said Kummer was “bossing” her around all the time while in possession of a firearm and at random times, wanted to show her pornography.
After a change of plans in Kummer’s route, he took Lesnic in his semi-truck to Illinois and back to the rest stop where the crime took place. Lesnic said Kummer had his brother following them, and when they stopped, both men planned to “party” with her.
“I shot him under fear and pressure,” Lesnic said during her testimony. “I was in trouble with an old man I felt sorry for.”
Lesnic’s testimony continued with her claim that Kummer pushed her back into the truck after a smoke break — where she was planning her escape — causing bruising. Lesnic said Kummer allegedly told her she could remove some of her clothes and sleep on the mattress next to him.
Lesnic said she grabbed her shorts after seeing someone approach the semi-truck in the mirror, shot Kummer and fled to hide in the darkness of the woods, expecting Kummer’s brother to arrive.
“This was the second fight for my life,” Lesnic said at the conclusion of her testimony. “It was shocking. My life is destroyed.”
Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand followed Lesnic’s testimony with cross-examination, asking her why she did not mention those details she just provided on the stand when she was interrogated by DCI Special Agent Ryan Herman. Lesnic told prosecutors she didn’t remember, she was in too much shock, and her interrogation was too short.
Hammerand later called Herman back to the stand to ask if any or all of the details Lesnic described were brought up while he interrogated her. Herman answered “no” to nearly every claim, except Lesnic telling him about Kummer’s brother following them.
In Hammerand’s closing arguments to the jury, he reviewed each piece of evidence and compared it to Lesnic’s comments in her testimony, repeating that Lesnic’s comments do not make sense.
Hammerand finished his closing statement by asking if Kummer was treating Lesnic with hostility, then would he truly let his guard down by going to sleep?
“If it happened the way she said, do you really think (Kummer is) going to lay there and close his eyes?” Hammerand said.
Kummer’s family declined to comment following Thursday’s guilty verdict. Lesnic’s sentence will be determined in a hearing at a later date.
Contact Orrin Shawl at 641-792-3121 ext. 6533 or at firstname.lastname@example.org