Jury hears key testimony in day two of Rhett Martin trial

A former lover and a long-time friend of Rhett Martin both testified on Tuesday, along with eight other various people connected to the investigation. Martin faces three murder charges and one arson charge in a December 2019 incident that left one man dead.

Posted: Oct 20, 2020 8:57 PM
Updated: Oct 20, 2020 9:21 PM

FOWLER, Ind. (WLFI) – Testimony continued in day two of Rhett Martin’s jury trial. As we’ve previously reported, he is accused of murdering Daniel Riegle and setting Riegle’s Fowler home on fire. He is also charged in the case along with his cousin, Duane Scott Muse. The incident happened on December 6th 2019.

The morning was dominated by two witnesses, each questioned for more than an hour. First to take the stand was Indiana State Police Detective Brock Russell, who was the lead investigator in the case. He said he interviewed Martin around 3pm on the 6th. Martin told Russell he was self-employed and that he lived with Muse. He said they were about a month behind on their rent.

He told police about his relationship with Sonya Riegle, who eventually became Daniel’s daughter-in-law after marrying his son, Nick. Martin said they had an on-again-off-again relationship for four years and had lived together for about six months. He told police that he still loved her and that she was his whole world. He said he had a sporadic relationship with her at the time of the interview and that he had not seen her in person since January or February of 2019

Martin said it had been almost a year since he had contact with Nick Riegle. He said Sonya had kicked him out in December of 2018 and that he would sit outside the house to see if Nick still lived in the home. He mentioned to police about the cameras Sonya said she found in her home and how the incident tore her up and mentally affected her. Sonya testified later in the morning that Daniel had admitted to planting the camera in her bathroom, which she and her three daughters used.

The police interview then turned to Martin’s whereabouts in the early hours of December 6th. He said he was at home with Muse and that ISP would not see his car on any surveillance cameras they looked at for the investigation. Martin told police he was sleeping, watching movies and was depressed at the time of the fire. He also had no idea why police thought he might be involved. But when police told him Nick had tipped them off to his possible involvement, he was not surprised. He said he believed Nick was afraid of him and had a problem with him. He also claimed that Nick owed him $5,700 and admitted to threatening Nick’s life.

Det. Russell said they questioned him about his access to any firearms. Martin told police that his cousin, Muse, owned several guns. He said he did not have any guns and that he had already gotten rid of the one gun he did own, which was a Glock. He told police he did not have much knowledge about firearms. Russell said they never told Martin that Dan Riegle had been shot and they did not tell him what caliber of gun was used to kill Dan. Russell said he didn’t even find out that information until months later.

Martin told police that he had knowledge of how law enforcement obtain and use cell phone records during investigations. Russell said he appeared to have more knowledge on the procedure than the average person would have.

Det. Russell was then asked by the state to explain a compilation of surveillance footage taken from the nights leading up to December 6th. The footage comes from cameras located at the Benton County Jail and the Good to Go Gas Station located on 5th street. During his interview with police, Martin said he owned several cars, including a silver Dodge Avenger and two box trucks. The video footage shows a car that matches the description of the silver Dodge and police believe it is Martin’s car.

The footage is from the early morning hours on December 2nd, 3rd and 5th. It shows the silver car driving in the area of 4th Street, Lincoln Street, 5th Street and Polk Street. Dan Riegle’s home was located in the 100-block of Polk St.

After the fire happened and police discovered Dan’s body, Russell said investigators went back to Dan’s home on December 8th to look for evidence. They found an empty box for metal detector headphones and two empty boxes for Garrett pin-pointer metal detectors. The state brought the actual boxes as evidence and showed them to the jury. As Russell brought them out, you could still see the soot left on the items from the fire.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Mike Troemel wanted to clarify some points about the interview. Det. Russell confirmed for Troemel and the jury that Martin voluntarily went to the police the same day of the incident. He confirmed that Martin was read his Miranda Rights and chose to talk to police without the presence of an attorney. He also confirmed that ISP released him after the interview since nothing in the interview warranted his arrest.

Troemel asked Russell about a program called Cellebrite. Russell explained that the program takes a mirror copy of the cellphone that police can use to look at things like calls, texts, emails and location data. Russell said they went through a portion of the thousands of pages generated in the report. He said they used key words to search the phone and that no location pings were used as evidence in the case.

Troemel then moved on to the metal detecting equipment. Russell said all the actual devices that came from the boxes were found at Martin and Muse’s home and that DNA evidence. Cadaver dogs were used in the investigation at Dan’s home. DNA was also taken off of Dan’s steering wheel in his car. Russell said were able to lift four fingerprints from the car for analysis.

Next Troemel asked about ground down keys found at Muse’s home. He asked if metal shavings found at the scene were preserved, but Russell said they were not taken for analysis. Martin and Muse also had a metal grinder at their home. The keys could have been ground down to avoid detection.

Det. Russell couldn’t answer several of Troemel’s questions about the DNA samples taken and the results they got back. Prosecutor John Wright made it clear that they have people coming in the following days from the ISP laboratory who will be able to answer those questions. He also had Russell clarify that they used more than just key words in the Cellebrite program when searching through the phone records.

Wright also took note of how Troemel called the home that Martin and Muse lived at “Muse’s home” when asking about the keys and the metal grinder, arguing that both men lived at the home. However, Troemel countered next, arguing that only Muse’s name was listed on the lease agreement for the home.

After Det. Russell left the stand and the jury and audience were released for a mid-morning break, Wright called Sonya Riegle to the stand.

She said she had been married to Nick Riegle for four years now and had dated him for five years prior. She confirmed that Nick is Daniel Riegle’s son. She also said she had known Rhett Martin for four or five years and had met him through a mutual friend with Martin’s previous wife. She believed Martin had divorced his wife in 2018, but that a romantic relationship developed between them even while she was still dating Nick.

Dan Riegle lived with Sonya and Nick in 2017, along with Sonya’s two daughters. He lived there for a year before she said she kicked him out. When asked by Wright why she kicked him out, she started to become emotional. Sonya said she had found a camera in the bathroom she and her daughters used. When she confronted Dan about it, he admitted to planting the camera and said he “was sick.” Nick and Sonya then kicked him out immediately. They moved the camera, a TV and some other electronic equipment that belonged to Nick into the garage. She said the incident caused problems in her relationship with Nick and that she found it hard to trust the men in her life, especially around her kids.

She said she hadn’t been in contact with Martin for several months when the camera incident happened. She said he contacted her about a week later. She said he listened to her and comforted her about the traumatizing incident. That’s when she resumed her affair with Martin while still married to Nick. When Nick found out around the summer of 2018, she said he moved out and became a truck driver. She said that Nick knew about an agreement with Martin where he could move in as long as she and Martin could pay the bills and the mortgage on the house.

She said Martin moved in around late August of 2018. She said Martin bought a laptop and what he told her was an external memory drive. She said he would close the bedroom door and spend hours on the computer. She wasn’t sure what he was doing on the computer.

After Martin moved in, she testified that she went to the garage in order to take Dan’s computer equipment to police. But when she went to get them, they were missing from the garage. She said this was upsetting and caused her to freak out, but Martin told her not to worry. She said he thought Dan and Nick had come back and gotten the equipment in secret.

She said she eventually kicked Martin out of the house around Christmas time in 2018 and Nick moved back in. However, she said Nick was still driving a lot and would come and go. She said Martin began to threaten her about Nick’s presence, saying she shouldn’t be around him and making vague remarks about harming Nick.

It was in February or March of 2019 when she remembered first seeing Martin sitting outside her house in his car watching. She said Nick was still driving trucks at this point and took steps to avoid Martin when he did come home. She said he would park his truck in random vacant lots and wouldn’t tell others when he was home so it wouldn’t get back to Martin. She said Martin soon caught on and would drive up to them or near them as they were coming or going from the vacant lots. She said Martin was always claiming he had a gun on him. Eventually, she said she called the police about Martin’s apparent stalking around Easter time in 2019.

She said in closer to the summer time, Martin sent her a photo of his gun in his hand. She was able to recognize his hand because of a tattoo. She said he would also send her pictures of Nick’s semi-truck when it was parked.

Wright asked her if she knew who Duane Scott Muse was. She said she did know him and had seen him three or four times after Martin had moved in. She said Martin talked about him as being lazy and “mooching off of him” as his employee.

Sonya said she told Martin about the camera she had found after he had moved out. Martin told her that he had the videos on his hard drive and that he saw her, her daughters and other family members on the videos. She said he would try to get her to meet him so he would give them back but she wouldn’t. She said he kept saying he was “figuring things out” and that he would “make Dan pay.” She said Martin told her about seeing members of the Riegle family around town, including Dan.

Leading up to December 6th, she said Martin would text her constantly, but that changed in the few days before the murder, saying he texted her less. She said he texted her that he loved her around the lunch hour on the 6th. She said she last saw Martin on February 14th, 2019 in the West Lafayette Meijer parking lot where he had told her he wanted to get back with her. After the 6th, she said Martin told her that he had lost his job and that he was angry and depressed.

During cross-examination, Troemel didn’t hold back. He asked Sonya if she had kissed Marin in the Meijer parking lot, and she said yes. He asked if she would text him “I miss you” while also getting back with Nick, and she said yes. He asked if she had lied to Nick and Martin about each other during the affair, and she said yes. Troemel said she was clearly stringing Martin along until December 2019.

Wright countered by asking if she still has feelings for Martin and she said she does not. She could not pinpoint when exactly her feelings for him ended. She said she continued to text him and lead him on out of fear.

Troemel again countered. “You said I missed you out of fear?” he asked, and she said no. “You kissed him out of fear?” he asked, and she said she wasn’t sure.

In some more back and forth questioning from the state and defense, Sonya told the court that the following around and the threats happened after February. She confirmed that the Riegle family would not have her at Daniel’s funeral, and that she is now completely alienated from the family.

After two long and intense questioning sessions for Det. Russell and Sonya, the court broke for lunch. When it resumed, it rapidly got through eight more testimonials.

First was Detective Phil McBride who works for the Indiana State Police in the drug enforcement section. McBride said he went to collect the trash from Martin and Muse’s home on December 11th, which he said is a routine part of the investigation. He said they will take the trash from a crime scene in order to look for evidence.

He said the 11th was the routine day for trash pick-up in Fowler. He approached the on-coming trash truck and talked to the driver about what he needed. He said he got into the truck with the driver and they went to the home on West 4th Street. He said the driver picked up the container with the mechanical arm of the truck and the carried it to the park nearby. He said he dumped the contents into the bed of his department-issued truck, gave the trash bin back to the trash truck driver and took the truck to the Fowler Police Department. He confirmed that he was not part of the search investigation of the trash, and that he only was part of bringing it to FPD.

He said he then went back to the home on 4th Street to do stationary surveillance of the home. He said he parked at the Benton County Country Club. He said he saw a gold GMC pickup truck, a silver Dodge, two box trucks and a red Ford F150. He said he saw two men come and go around the house but wasn’t close enough to identify them. He saw the men drive the red Ford and one of the box trucks onto Harrison Street.

The two men eventually leave the area with the red truck and the box truck. Det. McBride said he began to follow them as they drove south out of town. He said they stopped at one point, the two men got out and looked around the two cars. When they got back in and continued driving, he said he went back to his surveillance spot at the country club. From what he knows, another trooper doing surveillance continued to follow them all the way to Independence in Warren County.

During cross-examination, Troemel asked if he saw Muse rummaging in the gold truck that day he was doing surveillance. McBride said he did see Muse on the porch, saw him “roaming” around the yard and saw him lean into the truck. What he was doing in the truck, he said he did not know. He confirmed at this point Martin and the other male had already left. He saw Muse get into the silver Dodge and followed him as he drove to a nearby gas station, to the Dollar General and then back to the home. He said he saw Muse messing with an object above the doorway, which looked like a security camera to him. He confirmed that Muse was not part of the group that was moving the vehicles or driving to Warren County.

Robert Pauley testified next. He the trash truck driver who helped McBride grab the trash can on December 11th. He confirmed what McBride testified as far as the series of events that day. He said after he took the trash receptacle back to the home on 4th Street, he said someone approached him to ask about the trash. After seeing Muse’s mug shot, he confirmed the identity of the person inquiring. He said Muse asked him if he had taken the trash cart. He confirmed for Troemel that it was not the defendant, Rhett Martin, who approached him about the trash. He said he saw Muse drive away in a silver car.

Indiana State Police’s Jason Sample testified next. He was a Drug Enforcement Investigator in December 2019. He also was part of surveillance of Muse and Martin’s home. He followed the box truck to Independence and said he saw the red Ford F150 was towing the box truck. He confirmed what McBride saw, when the vehicles stopped in the middle of the roadway and two men got out to look around.

When they got to Independence, he said he saw them drive the truck onto a yard and unhook the box truck. He said he drove two blocks down to continue watching. He said he continued to remain in his position as ISP took one of the men into custody and as the tow truck arrived to haul away the box truck to the ISP Lafayette Post.

Next, the state called Trooper Doug Feazell. He said he was contacted by Det. McBride to go to a home in Independence. When he arrived, he said he saw two men standing by a box truck and a red pickup truck. He said he saw the rear axle of the box truck smoking. He is the one who arrested Martin and took him back to Fowler.

Under cross-examination, Trooper Feazell confirmed that he went back to the home on 4th Street because a warrant had been executed to search the home. He said he was strictly on scene security and did not help execute the warrant in any way. He said he did enter the home at the end of the search to warm up since it was a very cold night.

Wright then called on Chad Ray to take the stand. Ray said he had been friends and previous coworkers with Martin. He said he had known him for about 20 years. He said Martin contacted him on December 8th to catch up and to try to sell him things like LED lights, a Minelli shotgun, a plasma cutter. Ray told him he was looking for a motor for a truck he was building, and Martin offered him his smaller box truck for $200.

He said that after Martin told him about being questioned in the murder case, he said he did not want anything to do with the gun. He said Martin assured him it wasn’t used in the incident and that “police had told him it was a smaller caliber gun” that was used and that “it wasn’t a shotgun.” Det. Russell had already testified that morning that no such information had been shared with Martin.
Ray said they arranged for him to come to Fowler and pick up the box truck a few days later. On the 11th, he said he went to Martin’s home where Martin showed him the LED lights, lock picks, doorknobs and a body armor vest/jacket. He said Martin told him he was in need of money.

He said he was with Muse and Martin inside when they saw the trash truck take their trash away. He remembered Martin became “stressed,” “paranoid” and started acting “extremely out of the ordinary” after the trash truck came. He said he glanced at a video on one of their phones that showed the trash being taken away. He said Muse and Martin were both watching it intently.

He said the box truck he was buying was full of tools and other materials. He said he helped Martin unload some of it into the other box truck. He said they made a plan to take the truck to Independence where Martin would come back and finish getting his things out of the back. He said as they hauled it out of town, the breaks locked up causing a loud screeching. So he said they stopped to get out and check the truck before continuing on.

Ray said Martin asked if he realized that they were being followed by undercover police once they arrived at his home. He said he saw what appeared to be an undercover cop sitting at the church up the road. He said two cops came up to them and ordered them to stop with their guns out. He said they took Martin away and he took the red Ford back to his parent’s home. He said the cop at the church was still there when he got back and stayed there until the box truck was towed away.

Wright asked Ray if he knew if Martin was interested in guns and firearms. He said Martin had a military background and that he had texted with him about guns. He said Martin told him his role in the military was on the first team to enter homes after they had been bombed.

The state presented a packet of text messages between Martin and Ray. The defense objected to a portion of the texts where Martin is telling Ray about the superior brand of the Minelli shotgun and how it had a solvent trap. He also talked to Ray about his plans to develop the body armor suit. Troemel argued that the body armor texts weren’t relevant and that the texts about the gun were highly prejudicial and not connected to the case.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Rex Kepner overruled the objection. He said Ray had already testified about the body armor, so the knowledge was already out there for the jury that Martin had this in his possession. He disagreed that the texts about the gun were prejudicial, saying they could be very important. A solvent traps can be used as suppressors in guns. Judge Kepner remembered a neighbor testifying yesterday that she did not hear a gun shot, so the fact that Martin appeared to have knowledge of a way to dampen the sound of a shot was relevant to the case.

Troemel questioned Ray’s testimony of Martin’s reaction to the trash truck arriving. Ray confirmed that Martin was “not jumping off the walls” and had no physical signs of anguish. He also wanted more clarity as to why they stopped unloading the box truck half way through. Ray said he had to get the F150 back to his parents and to be there when his son got home from school.

The state countered on the trash truck reaction. Ray confirmed that Martin’s reaction was enough to make him uncomfortable and want to leave the hocme on 4th Street. He also clarified that he only glanced at the video Martin and Muse were watching and that he did not know who’s phone or who’s camera they were watching from.

Newton County Patrol Sergeant Christopher Wilson testified next. He said he went to Sonya and Nick’s home in April of 2019. He said he found Martin sitting outside in his car actively watching the home. When asked eventually if he was waiting for Nick, Wilson said he replied yes. When he asked him to leave the area, he said Martin complied and left.

Matt Whittenborn took the stand. He said he is the chief for the Kentland Fire Chief for the volunteer department. He said he knows Martin because Martin was a volunteer firefighter from 2013 to 2015. He said Martin went through the mandatory firefighting training required by the state. He confirmed that Martin would have attended a dozen or more house fires during his tenure with the department. After a question from Troemel, Whittenborn confirmed that he was once the brother-in-law of Martin.

The last testimony for the day came from Kentland Police Chief Julian Elson. On April 15th, 2019, Elson said he was sitting at the Casey’s gas station parking lot in his car when he saw Martin drive past him. He said it was clear Martin was driving in the direction of Sonya and Nick’s home. Chief Elson said he was aware ongoing complaints from the Riegle’s about Martin’s unwanted presence. He said he parked about a block away and saw Martin drive by in a silver Dodge. He said he had previously pulled him over for driving by the Riegle home.

After getting through so many witnesses so quickly in the afternoon, Judge Kepner and the attorneys agreed to end the day early around 3:15pm. The trial will resume on Wednesday at 9am. Troemel told News 18 he expects the trial to end late on Thursday.

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