WADENA COUNTY COURTHOUSE-Just days before his 28th birthday, Antonio Eugene St. Marie was found guilty on seven counts including counts of first-degree murder and kidnapping after a 12-person jury deliberated nine hours on Friday.
Family exited the courtroom in tears. Many felt justice had been served, but felt great loss as well.
"It's a situation where nobody wins," Alicia Wynn, a close friend of the St. Marie's said after hearing the verdict. "Ultimately the kids are left without both parents, but justice is served for Maggie."
Margaret and Antonio were married for two years and had two children together, Margaret brought a third child from a separate relationship. The two grew up in Wadena and graduated from Wadena High School.
Friday night Antonio St. Marie was found guilty of murdering his wife in their Bryant Ave. apartment Nov. 7, 2016, just hours after getting out of jail for a domestic assault arrest. St. Marie fled the scene after shooting his wife and crashed head-on into another vehicle. He later testified that it was an attempt at suicide.
"I'm just very glad its over," Marilee Longmuir, Margaret's mother said. "It's been very hard the last 15 months, but now we can put it behind us and try to go on without her."
"We lost a very beautiful soul, mother, daughter, friend," Wynn said. "Sister," Longmuir added.
St. Marie was originally charged with nine felony counts and pleaded not guilty to all those. Those included: three counts of first-degree murder with intent, while committing a felony, one count of first-degree murder while committing domestic abuse - with a past pattern of domestic abuse, and one count of first degree murder, premeditated, as well as; two counts of second-degree murder, with intent, not premeditated and while under restraining order for protection; one count of kidnapping and one count of a felon in possession of a firearm.
Two of the nine counts against St. Marie were dismissed Thursday morning - Count No. III (tampering with a witness) and Count No. IV (aggravated robbery). Then on Friday morning he agreed to being guilty of a felon in possession of a pistol; guilty to manslaughter of his wife Margaret St. Marie and guilty of false imprisonment of James Flath Jr.
The jury chose not to go with the lesser charges, of manslaughter and false imprisonment in their verdict.
A sentencing date was not yet confirmed for St. Marie. Murder in the first degree is punished by life imprisonment in Minnesota.
Attorneys for both sides commented on the results of the trial outside the courtroom.
Defense attorneys Malcolm Whynott and Nathaniel Welte were disappointed but respected the jury's decision.
"It's the jury's responsibility to decide the facts, they did so," Whynott said. "I'm disappointed in their verdict, but we respect their decision."
"Disappointed in the verdict," Welte echoed. "It was a tough case, I believe we put in our case. I believe that the jury gave it some consideration. I'm glad for the service."
The prosecution was pleased with the verdict of guilty on all counts.
Assistant Attorney General David Miller who represented the State, was appreciative of the Wadena Police Department including Sgt. Brandon Pearson and Chief of Police Naomi Plautz for their work in gathering evidence. He also noted the Minnesota BCA helped provide an abundance of evidence to support the case.
"They did a lot of dedicated work," Miller said.
"The State is very appreciative for the hard work that everyone put into this case right from the start-Wadena Police Department, Wadena County Sheriff's Office, MN BCA Crime Scene team and Special Agent Eric Jaeche," Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd said by email. "The State is also very appreciative of the hard work that the jurors did on this case in evaluating and reviewing all the evidence during their deliberations-this was tough stuff to work through. These kinds of cases are difficult work for all involved but especially difficult for the family members of Margaret St. Marie. This trial reflects how our justice system works and in the end, Margaret St. Marie had her day in court over these last several days and she received justice by the verdict that was handed down and for that I am very grateful."
Before the verdict
In closing arguments Friday morning, prosecution had the first opportunity to speak. Miller brought up numerous pieces of evidence to again try to prove the State's charges against St. Marie. The first image brought forth was that of Margaret St. Marie, deceased on the couch, in her apartment on Nov. 7, 2016.
"It's been proven Antonio St. Marie killed Margaret St. Marie - he admitted to killing her," Miller said.
Miller showed another image of the placement of the bullet casing next to the body, and used supporting evidence to describe where the shooter was when he shot her-standing over her. That argument was counter to the testimony of the defendant, who said that he was seated next to her on the couch when he shot her.
Miller suggested the jury start deliberations by looking at the charge of second degree murder. Miller suggested that the murder of Margaret was intentional, he said the evidence was "overwhelming" in fact.
The jury had to see that Antonio was acting with purpose, that he not only killed her, but that he planned to kill her. While there is no certain time limit to planning in which a murder can be labeled as premeditated, it has to be proven that the action was not a spontaneous action.
"He fired the gun knowing the result," Miller said.
Miller spoke further on the idea that the murder was premeditated, indicating that he not only planned to take his own life, he planned to take the life of a man from Perham who allegedly had an affair with his wife and he planned and followed through with killing his wife.
Miller spoke about the evidence which he believes points to kidnapping. He described the testimony of James Flath Jr., the victim's brother who showed up at the apartment while the couple was arguing. Flath testified that Antonio had a gun, that Antonio took his phone at one point and that he threatened him that if he ran, he would kill his sister and her kids.
"I submit that the atmosphere was more than tense, it was criminal," Miller said.
Miller argued that Flath Jr. was confined and threatened, that Margaret, by all accounts, never moved from her position on the couch while Flath was on scene. Flath indicated that he wanted to get out with Margaret but felt threatened to do so.
Next Miller brought up the evidence of premeditation by showing the image of the mattress, which Antonio shot a bullet through to test out the gun.
"He was making sure he could use it," Miller said.
He reminded jurors about the Facebook post, using 33 angry-faced emojis, indicating he was angry.
"His mindset is violence," Miller said.
Miller then presented the timeline of events showing that while Antonio was talking with his mother about making things right, he was also looking for a gun.
"It's apparent he can indicate one thing to one person but be thinking something else," Miller said.
Miller showed evidence and recalled testimony indicating past domestic abuse not only against Margaret but also others.
Miller again pushed the point that evidence showed Antonio planned to murder his wife.
"His plan always incorporated the murder of Margaret St. Marie," Miller said.
Taking a phrase from the evidence, Miller said, "He wanted someone else to share the pain he had inside."
Defense closing argument
The defense closing argument was done by defense attorney Malcolm Whynott and focused on the points that Antonio was making plans to "make things right", which involved hurting a man his wife had an affair with and plans to kill himself.
"'To Margaret and my kids,' that's how he starts his suicide note he wrote from prison," Whynott said.
Whynott admitted that Antonio pushing his wife on Nov. 2, 2016 was inexcusable. He said that push was his reaction after finding out she had an affair. Whynott said Antonio then left, but returned knowing he was in trouble and knowing there was a police officer there. He was arrested for domestic assault that night and remained in jail until he was bailed out Nov. 7, 2016.
Whynott described the thoughts going through Antonio's head. He wanted to make things right. In his note he tells his wife and kids he is sorry.
Whynott reminded jurors that Antonio had a troubled start, moving from placement to placement before being adopted. He often thought about suicide, he's dealt with alcoholism. In the last few years, he lost not only the father that adopted him, but he lost his sister to a murder, two very stable people in his life.
"There was never a plan to harm Margaret," Whynott repeated. "The goal was to find "Zach" (the person he believed Margaret had an affair with) and harm him."
"You don't write a suicide note to the person you're planning on killing," Whynott told the jury.
And why would he tell his mom he planned to divorce his wife the same day that he killed her, Whynott posed.
Whynott took the jurors back to the argument between Margaret and Antonio. He reminded jurors that Antonio was there despite a no contact order, but according to Antonio, she sought to give him a hug. Whynott noted that Margaret wanted to alter the no contact order to allow Antonio to see his kids. Whynott said Antonio was there to take Margaret to go find "Zach." But as Antonio started drinking alcohol, as no babysitter could be found and as James Flath Jr. appeared, the plan was falling apart. He was spiraling out of control.
The defendant's testimony was that Margaret did not regret her alleged affair. And in an instant, Antonio killed her and sought multiple ways to then kill himself.