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Lemcke trial under way

GLENWOOD -- Two different accounts have been told in secret to as many grand juries as to how Nichole Riley-Lemcke, 26, was fatally shot in the living room of her Appleton home on the morning of Sept. 12, 2004.

Now, both versions are being told publicly to the Pope County jury which will decide whether her husband, Andrew Lemcke, 35, is guilty of murder in her death, or if the shooting was accidental as he claims.

Attorneys outlined their cases Monday afternoon as the trial began in Glenwood. The charges against Lemcke include first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder.

"This trial is all about how and perhaps why she died," prosecutor Al Zdrazil, with the Minnesota Attorney General's office, told the jurors.

Nichole Lemcke was shot by a .40-caliber handgun that had been pressed under her chin and fired upward. There was blood inside the gun, and investigators found a trail of blood from the living room couch where she was shot to the car in which her husband drove her to the Appleton Hospital.

The shooting occurred the morning after a send-off party for the local National Guard unit deploying to Iraq. Nichole Lemcke was having an affair with one of the soldiers, intended to leave her husband and been "dismissive" of him at the events, according to the prosecutor.

She had sex with her lover before returning home. Lemcke had called the man's wife at 4:01 a.m. and learned he was not home.

His next phone call was a 911 call made at 6:43 a.m. before leaving the house to bring his mortally wounded wife to the Appleton Hospital.

Attempts to revive her there ended when Dr. Romulo Kabatay determined that her heart was still attempting to pulse, but there was no blood, according to the opening statements.

The prosecution will attempt to show that Lemcke delayed calling for help after the shooting by as much as seven minutes. A blood trail also suggests he tossed her over his shoulder to carry her out of the house.

The prosecution pointed out that the defendant was 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 220 pounds, while his wife stood 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 102 pounds.

In his previous employment as a prison guard, Lemcke was specially trained at safely disarming people as a member of the equivalent of the facility's SWAT team, Zdrazil told the jurors.

He said the state will also bring testimony from a sleep expert that will refute defense assertions that Nichole Lemcke could have come into living room in a sleep-like daze and fired a gun.

Two shots were fired in the house, with one of the bullets lodging in a wall.

Defense attorney James Fleming, with the state Public Defender's Office, told the jurors that Nichole Lemcke was under emotional stress and suffered "night terrors." He said she came into the living room with the gun where the defendant was sleeping, and fired a shot while expressing fears about an ex-boyfriend. Lemcke attempted to wrestle the gun from her.

"As she falls, the gun goes off," said Fleming.

Fleming said there is evidence of trace metals from the gun on her hand. He also said that jurors will learn that the pathologist who examined her body believes her death to be a homicide, but that she "cannot exclude what Mr. Lemcke said."

There are seven men and seven women seated on the jury. Two will learn they are alternates and be dismissed when testimony concludes, leaving the required 12 jurors to decide the case.

The prosecution is expected to present its testimony through this and much of next week, after which the defense will call its witnesses. It is not known if the defendant will testify.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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