‘Boom, shot him right in the head’
MASON CITY – The trial of a Marshalltown man accused of murder began Wednesday afternoon with the testimony of a witness who is also charged in the case.
Jeremy A. Gartin, 30, is charged with killing a 59-year-old Garwin man and mutilating his corpse post-mortem.
Following an opening statement by Marshall County Attorney Jennifer Miller, the state called Max E. Nelson Jr., a Marshalltown man police charged with accessory after the fact, abuse of a corpse and first-degree theft.
Nelson testified David Warnell, his second cousin, was shot in the head, at close range by Gartin following a dispute about a methamphetamine sale.
Nelson said he met Gartin the night of Warnell’s death because Gartin was part of a group celebrating a birthday party at some Marshalltown bars. When Warnell showed up that night he was looking for drugs, Nelson said.
“He asked me if I knew where to get a teener of methamphetamine,” Nelson said.
“I said I don’t know off hand because I don’t distribute that stuff anymore.”
Nelson said he knew from a previous conversation that Gartin might have some.
Warnell did end up buying meth from Gartin that night, Nelson said, and he witnessed the drug deal take place at Gartin’s home, 504 N. Fourth Ave.
It was when Warnell and Nelson returned to the house later, Warnell saying he was short a few ounces, that Gartin shot and killed Warnell, Nelson said.
According to Nelson, Warnell brought a scale with him and he and Gartin began comparing the weight of the drugs, Warnell claiming he was 3 grams short.
“Jeremy got up and went into the other room he came back out and he had black gloves on and I thought that was odd,” Nelson said.
He then walked to a bedroom in the house and this time returned to point a gun at Warnell’s head, Nelson said, and asked Nelson to leave.
“He looked at Davey (Warnell) and brought his hand around and had a gun in his hand pointing it at Davey and he said to me, ‘Max you need to get the hell out of here’ I told him ‘no,’ I said ‘put the gun down.’ He said, ‘No Max you need to get the hell out of here now. Davey said ‘What’s going on?’ and then boom, shot him right in the head.”
Following the shooting, Nelson testified that Gartin pointed the gun at him and said to him, “I’m sorry but you’re the only witness.”
At that time, Nelson said a man walked out of a bedroom and Gartin said to him, “Dad don’t look this way, go out the back door” and he walked out the back door.
Nelson said it was then he kicked into survival mode.
“You just seen what someone is capable of doing by shooting your cousin in the head and now the gun is now pointed at you and you’re trying to figure out how to not be the next victim,” Nelson said. “Jeremy’s comment to me was then well you’re going to help me dispose of the body.”
Nelson said one of Gartin’s friends, which Nelson identified as Bradd Quigley, came to Gartin’s house following the shooting and looked at Warnell’s body. Quigley suggested putting Warnell in a car, driving it to the hospital and parking it in the parking lot, he said. Quigley would also stop by again later, that time to discuss cleaning supplies, Nelson testified. Quigley was carrying a pistol, according to Nelson, and was there for about 10 minutes talking to Gartin.
“That’s when Jeremy came over to me and said ‘do you realize that if you ever testify or tell anyone about this that your daughters and grandchildren will be raped and killed,'” Nelson said.
According to Nelson, he and Gartin then left the house in Warnell’s car and drove out on Sand Road. Gartin got out at a house and acquired three shovels. Upon returning to the Gartin’s house Gartin threw the shovels under some bushes near the house, Nelson said.
Gartin then got out a roll of plastic and asked Nelson to help him move Warnell’s body from a couch, he said.
Once the body was placed on the plastic, Warnell’s clothes were removed and thrown in the garbage, Nelson said. Gartin said Nelson should stab Warnell in the heart because he wasn’t going to be the only one blamed for it, Nelson said.
It was then Gartin began mutilating the body, Nelson said.
Gartin used tin snips to cut off Gartin’s fingertips, used a knife to cut off tattoos on his arm and shoulder and also attempted to break Warnell’s back with a pry bar so he could get the body folded over, Nelson said.
Gartin also tried to knock out Warnell’s teeth with a pry bar, Nelson said, and when it didn’t work, Gartin began removing his teeth with pliers.
“I was throwing up,” Nelson said.
Nelson testified he did not participate in any effort to mutilate Warnell’s body.
Warnell’s body was taken to the basement after Gartin tied the body up with an extension cord and duct tape and placed it in a sleeping bag, Nelson said.
Nelson said he did zip the sleeping bag and aided in taking it to the basement. Nelson used a knife to cut out patches of blood-soaked carpet in the living room at Gartin’s request, he said. Nelson said he and Gartin both removed all of the clothing they were wearing and placed it in garbage bags.
Nelson also said Gartin got on the phone to try to find a pickup to borrow – his intention was to burn the couch and to bury the body, he said.
During Wednesday’s testimony, Gartin was seated between his attorneys Paul Rounds and Michelle Wolf and rocked in his chair, often with one hand tucked under his chin. Other times he took notes and whispered to Rounds.
Nelson’s testimony will continue with questions from prosecutor Douglas Hammerand, a state assistant attorney general, who is assisting Miller with the case.
Rounds said during his cross examination of Nelson he intended to look at Nelson’s role as a confidential informant for the drug task force, and his 20-year-old felony larceny charge.
Nelson pleaded guilty last week to a 2012 drug charge in which he sold more than 5 grams of meth to an undercover officer. He remains in custody and will be sentenced for that charge in January.
Gartin’s trial was moved to Cerro Gordo County after his attorneys requested a change of venue due to pretrial publicity. Jury selection for the trial began Tuesday. Nine men and three women are serving on the jury, with four alternate jurors also sitting in on the trial.
Gartin is charged with first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse and first-degree theft.
If convicted, Gartin faces a lifetime sentence without parole.