Man sentenced to over 90 years in Fowler murder case

Rhett Martin has been sentenced to 92 years in prison Thursday. The sentencing comes after testimony trials back in October.

Posted: Nov 19, 2020 8:24 PM
Updated: Nov 20, 2020 7:13 AM

FOWLER, Ind. (WLFI) - Rhett Martin will spend 92 years behind bars for the murder of Daniel Riegle. It’s been almost a year since Riegle was found shot to death in his burning Fowler home. As we previously reported, firefighters responded to the home on Polk Street around 8 a.m. on December 6th, 2019.

After a long four day trial and dozens of testimonies in October, a Benton County jury found Martin guilty of all four of his charges: murder, murder while committing theft, murder while committing burglary and arson. The jury also found him guilty separately of use of a firearm, which is a sentence enhancement. Benton County Prosecutor, John Wright, said that because of an Indiana double jeopardy law, Martin can only be sentenced on one of the murder charges.

Wright called one witness to the stand for sentencing evidence. Indiana State Police Investigator Brock Russell was the lead investigator in the case, and testified multiple times during the jury trial. Currently, Martin is facing a theft of a firearm case in Tippecanoe County. He allegedly stole a Benelli shotgun in the incident. Russell confirmed that it is the same gun found inside Martin’s and his cousin-slash-accomplice, Duane Scott Muse’s Fowler home. The state presented crime scene photos of the gun during the trial.

He also confirmed that they found multiple laptops in Martin’s possession. On one of the laptops, they found a video where you see Martin installing a hidden camera inside a shower. The state played the video for the court. The investigators were not able to identify whose shower it was being placed in. They found other videos of females using a toilet on the laptop, but were not able to identify the women.

Defense attorney Mike Troemel cross-examined Russell briefly. Russell confirmed that there were no videos of the toilet cameras being placed. And he confirmed that he did not know who put those videos on the computer.

During trial testimony, Daniel Riegle’s daughter-in-law, Sonya Riegle, testified to finding hidden cameras in her bathroom. Dan Riegle had been living in her home at the time and he admitted to placing those cameras. She said he was immediately thrown out of the home and this is when she resumed her affair with Martin.

Testimony and evidence showed that Martin made it seem he was avenging the intrusion of Riegle and would make him suffer for his actions. The state said during closing arguments that clearly Martin was no better than Riegle, seeing as he was also planting his own hidden cameras in private areas.

The defense called no witnesses and Martin chose to remain silent.

One member of the Riegle family wanted to give a character witness for Dan. Sharon Hiatt is Dan’s sister. She attended the entire four day trial in October. She said her brother suffered from social anxiety and found solace in the internet. She said he also found darkness, which led him down the path that ended at Sonya’s home.
However, she said her brother chose to get on a better path in life. She said he went to counseling where he was encouraged to take up healthy hobbies. This is where he discovered his interest in metal detecting and had bought a bike to go on bike rides. Riegle’s metal detecting equipment was found at Martin and Muse’s home.

She said he was waiting on the arrival of granddaughters that he never got to meet. He was a carpenter, which he learned from their father, and was artistic and creative, like their mother. She said he was raised in a family of faith and was able to find lightness and forgiveness again.

She said forgiveness is for the offender and not the offense, and with that in mind, she told Rhett Martin that she forgives him.

Wright began closing arguments for the state by saying the evidence and the trial really speak for themselves. He felt no mitigating factors applied in this case, but there were ample aggravators. He said there was no justification for the murder and that it was a senseless act. He said Martin was clearly lying in wait for Riegle, stalking his morning routine so he could murder him at the opportune time.

He said Indiana law states that committing murder while also committing burglary and robbery can be used to justify life without parole or even the death penalty, even though the prosecution was not seeking that level. Since the judge can only sentence the singular murder charge, the state argued that the court should put weight onto the fact that he was also found guilty of murder while committing robbery and burglary.

The defense disagreed with this course of action. Troemel said the purpose of double jeopardy means you can only sentence on the one count, and you can’t then also add weight to the murder charge with the other charges. He said the jury was not asked to determine who the shooter was.

Moving on, the state argued that Martin was technically not eligible to purchase a firearm. He had a previous felony conviction from 1999 that was expunged in 2014. Wright argued this was a perfect example of why the expunging law is not a good law, since Martin was able to purchase the murder weapon in 2017 because of it.

Troemel said the conviction was from more than 20 years ago and Martin went through the proper channels of expungement. The court obviously felt he was worthy of getting his gun rights back because of his low criminal history between 1999 and 2014, which he argued showed he is capable of good character.

Wright asked the court to consider Martin’s three current pending felony cases in two different counties. In Tippecanoe County, he is facing four charges, including burglary of a dwelling and theft of a firearm. This incident happened in October of 2019, just two months before the crime in Fowler. In Newton County, he has two separate cases. One is for performing sexual conduct in front of a minor in November 2018. The second is for stalking in March 2019.
Muse is also facing charges for the Tippecanoe County burglary. Wright said this shows Dan Riegle’s home invasion was not their first and they had experience working together in crime.

He pointed to the arson and how unnecessary it was in the grand scheme of things. He accomplished getting rid of Dan Riegle with the gunshot, but he went back an hour later to destroy evidence and to light Riegle’s body on fire. He said this action placed local firefighters at risk and was a risk to the community.

Troemel began his defense closing arguments next. He again argued that the jury did not decide who pulled the trigger. By giving Martin the firearm enhancement, it is pinning who pulled the trigger on him. He said this enhancement will give incentive to others to simply carry out their murder with something other than a firearm.

He again said the nature of the other two murder charges cannot be used to enhance Martin’s sentence. He argued that Martin’s criminal past is minimal aside from his current cases, which are still pending. And a person is innocent of the crime until proven guilty. He argued that the court can’t give a maximum sentence for arson and then also use it to enhance a murder sentence.

Some mitigators he argued were Martin’s family support during the trial. His parents and several other family members sat through all four days of the trial. However, only his brother showed up for the sentencing. Troemel argued that Martin had a good work record and was making good money. And most importantly, Martin is a veteran who served three years in Iraq, received multiple awards and was honorably discharged.

Judge Rex Kepner began by addressing Martin’s pending felony cases. He agreed that while Martin is innocent until proven guilty, the fact that he has racked up three cases all in the span of a little more than a year certainly says something about his character. Especially since the Tippecanoe County case is connected to this case by the shotgun found in Martin’s home.

Judge Kepner contemplated the nature and circumstances of this case. He said it is clear from the security camera footage that Martin and Muse were driving around stalking the victim multiple days in advance. He said they were preparing to do harm, burglarize and murder. He said this murder case is far more offensive than others. He said it was not a spur-of-the-moment, heat of emotion, quick decision. They planned, stalked and prepared for what was going to happen. He referenced the practice door locks found inside Martin and Muse’s home show just how calculated they went to execute this crime.

He said Rhett Martin is far scarier and he should be more worried as a judge about what happens in this man’s future.

When looking at the arson, he had the same sentiments as the murder. There are people who could choose to burn a house for insurance money or as revenge, but with no one inside. He took the evidence as Martin murdered Riegle, left assuming police would be on their way, when he realized they weren’t, he went back and burned the house and the victim. He read a report from a family member of Riegle, saying they couldn’t have a proper funeral because of how damaged the body was.

Judge Kepner believed Martin has a high likelihood of re-offending, saying he can expect the same level of planning in the future if given another chance.

He did not agree with the defense that Martin had a strong work history. It was clear in evidence that Martin and Muse were behind on rent, utilities were starting to get cut off and Martin was significantly behind on paying child support. He wasn’t working a good, honest job and didn’t see any strong work ethic in him. He did acknowledge the time in the military, but said three years isn’t that long to serve and he didn’t seem to take any positives out of service into his civilian life.

Judge Kepner said an important part of a jury trial is the body language and the emotions displayed throughout the process. He observed that Martin was emotionless throughout the entire trial, and even saw some smirking with probation officers that alluded to arrogance.

Judge Kepner ultimately showed little mercy towards Rhett Martin. He said that if Martin were released tomorrow, he would be a danger to the community, and would only use this experience as a way to become smarter and more calculated in executing crimes. He said he doesn’t deserve to be released again.

He sentenced Martin to 65 years for the murder charge, 12 years for arson and added on a 15-year firearm enhancement for a total of 92 years. Martin left the courtroom as stoically as he had entered it. The family of Riegle hugged and cried knowing that justice was served. Hiatt said she is satisfied with the result.

“It really speaks to the investigation what the state police did, that they were able to locate those videos and that we had all that evidence available to us,” said Wright after the hearing ended. “Mr. Riegle's family has been very supportive of our office and the state police throughout the entire investigation. I know they are relieved and pleased with the sentence.”

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