An Earlville, Iowa, hog farmer took the stand Thursday and addressed the central question in his first-degree murder trial.
“Todd, did you ambush your wife, brutally beat her and chop her up with a corn fork?” defense attorney Gerald “Jake” Feuerhelm asked his client, Todd M. Mullis, 43.
“No, I did not,” he replied.
“Do you know who did?” Feuerhelm asked.
Mullis’ voice cracked when he answered.
“I have no idea.”
Prosecutors say Todd Mullis fatally stabbed his wife, Amy L. Mullis, 39, with a corn rake on their farm on Nov. 10, then tried to make it look like an accident. Authorities said he was enraged over her latest affair.
His testimony Thursday came on the fourth day of his trial, which was moved to Dubuque over concerns about pretrial publicity.
On Thursday morning, an investigator said Todd Mullis’ internet history included searches for information about infidelity, historic punishment of cheating spouses and the placement of the organs of the body.
Deputy Travis Hemesath, of Delaware County Sheriff’s Department, said law enforcement used search warrants to seize all electronic devices in the Mullis home after Amy's death. An ensuing warrant with Google produced 700 pages of Google search history associated with Todd Mullis’ iPad.
It covered Dec. 25, 2017, to four days before Amy Mullis’ death. The history included searches for topics including “was killing more accepted centuries ago,” “characteristics of cheating woman (sic),” “did ancient cultures kill adulterers,” “the thrill of the kill” and “once you hunt man you will always feel the thirst.”
Hemesath testified that the iPad was the possession of Todd Mullis and that other searches included ones for Jerry Frasher -- the farm's field manager who testified on Wednesday that he was having an affair with Amy right up until her death -- and the field manager’s wife.
But while on the stand later in the day, Todd Mullis said at least three other people had access to the iPad and knew the password, including Amy.
“She’s the one who put (the password) in there for me,” he said.
He also addressed some of the search phrases that raised suspicions among law enforcement
“We used the iPad a lot for research,” Mullis said. “Amy used it a lot. She would research price quotes. I didn’t track what she looked up.”
Asked about internet searches about cheating spouses, Mullis said, “I have no idea who looked that up.”
He was questioned about searches about Aztec punishments.
“We watched the History Channel a lot," he said. "That often led to follow-up searches. We both would watch a show and look stuff up. If there was a movie, we might have talked about something like that.”
He also questioned about a search regarding the location of the body's organs that was done on Nov. 6, 2018 -- four days before Amy's killing.
“That was the day of Amy’s (uterine procedure)," he said. "My daughter Taylor and I were sitting on the couch, and she was asking about (Amy’s) surgery.”
Asked about internet search queries concerning “gaping chest wounds,” Mullis said, “That was actually Taylor going through a hunter education program she was studying for.”
Defense attorneys noted that the batch of Google search results obtained by investigators also included queries about wedding dresses, designing wedding rings, bridal shops and Pinterest.
“I have no idea what Pinterest is,” Mullis said.
Special agent Jon Turbett, of Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, also took the stand Thursday.
He testified that, in a Nov. 16 interview, he confronted Todd Mullis with the medical examiner’s finding that Amy Mullis’ death was a homicide and that Todd Mullis was the suspect. The hog farmer remained unemotional.
“The most I get from him is, ‘How? What evidence do you have?’ He never denied killing Amy,” Turbett said.
Mullis never instructed Turbett to look for anyone else who could have killed his wife. Turbett said Mullis’ reaction was “very unemotional, very flat.”
On the stand, Mullis said that, in his mind, he denied the investigator’s assertion that he was responsible.
“I stated, ‘You want me to confess to something I didn’t do,’” Mullis said.
Mullis testified that Turbett’s rapid-fire interrogation style left little room for response.
“He wouldn’t give me a chance to say two words,” Mullis said.
Also during Turbett’s testimony, prosecutors showed jurors a video clip of the Nov. 16 interview.
Mullis initially characterizes his wife’s relationship with Jerry Frasher as strictly businesslike. Later, Mullis admits he confronted Frasher and Amy separately about a large number of text messages between the pair.
On the stand, Mullis testified that he called Frasher after noticing that Amy “was acting a little different, and I had looked at phone records and saw a large number of communications with him. I was curious. I wanted to know what was going on.”
Mullis said Frasher explained that the text messages were about showing pigs and children's activities, such as gymnastics.
“He said, ‘I guarantee there is nothing going on,’ but I was a tad bit unsure," Mullis said.
That uncertainty prompted him to call Frasher’s wife. Mullis testified that after speaking with both of them, his suspicions subsided.
Hemesath testified that Jerry Frasher was initially a “person of interest” in the case.
“We sought a search warrant for his cellphone activity and his Gmail records,” the investigator said.
Using cellphone tower data, investigators determined that Frasher never strayed from his home in Anamosa, Iowa, between 10:14 a.m. Nov. 10, when he sent an email to Amy, and 12:01 p.m., when Todd Mullis called 911 to report his wife's injuries.
The Mullis' son Trysten testified on Tuesday that he found his mother impaled by a corn rake when he went to check a shed on the family's farm for a pet carrier. He called for his father immediately.
On the stand Thursday, Todd Mullis testified about the next moments.
“When I stepped in, I looked over and I seen (sic) Amy hunched up, facedown,” he said. “I dove down by her and put my head down next to hers. ‘Amy! Amy!’ I was yelling at her. I picked her head up a little bit but there was no response.”
Feuerhelm asked why Mullis began driving his wife to the hospital, then placed a 911 call.
“I’m a doer,” he said. “I just wanted to help her go to the hospital. There was something wrong.”
Court adjourned Thursday afternoon before prosecutors had an opportunity to cross-examine Mullis. The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Friday.
ORIGINAL STORY THAT APPEARED IN THURSDAY'S TH
The field manager for the Mullis family’s hog farm testified that he and Amy L. Mullis started a physical relationship in the summer of 2018 and that he tried to slow down the pace of the affair after being confronted by her husband over text messages.
Jerry Frasher, 49, of Anamosa, Iowa, took the stand Wednesday on the second day of testimony in the first-degree murder trial of Todd Mullis, 43, of Earlville, Iowa. Mullis is accused of fatally stabbing Amy Mullis with a corn rake on their farm on Nov. 10.
Frasher said he oversees more than 40 hog confinement farms in eastern Iowa, providing marketing and other assistance to farmers. He had worked with the Mullis farm for about seven years.
Frasher said he usually communicated with Todd Mullis about the farm’s operations and only occasionally with his wife.
But in late May or early June of 2018, Frasher said, his relationship with Amy Mullis became sexual.
The pair would meet “maybe once a week, maybe more depending on how it worked out,” Frasher said.
“I know she wasn’t happy,” Frasher said of Amy Mullis’ relationship with her husband. “She said she felt like a slave or a hostage around there. She said she was wanting (to leave Todd). One time, she said if he ever found out (about the affair,) she would disappear.”
Todd Mullis confronted him in July 2018 after a phone bill showed more than 100 instances of Frasher and Amy texting, Frasher said.
“I said it was about other stuff, like showing pigs,” he said.
Todd Mullis called Frasher’s wife asking questions about the text messages, and that discussion appeared to satisfy him, Frasher said.
“Two days later, he called us both back and apologized,” he said. “He asked us to quit texting, and we did.”
Frasher told Amy, “We need to slow down.”
Instead, the pair set up email accounts, which they used to communicate up until her death. The pair last communicated via email at 10:14 a.m. on the day of her death.
During cross-examination, Frasher said he continued to provide professional services to the Mullis farm until Amy Mullis’ death and that Todd Mullis never showed any animosity toward him.
TESTIMONY OF FRIENDS
Several of Amy Mullis’ friends testified Wednesday about their correspondences with the farm wife.
Terri Staner said her friend’s marriage was at a crossroads as summer turned to fall in 2018.
“Amy didn’t know how to go on with her life,” Staner said.
Staner testified that Amy was having an affair and that rumors of it were circulating in the community.
“She was telling me, ‘I’m still not sure what I should do,’” Staner said of her conversations with Amy. “When she very first told me about the affair, I was so angry with her. I said, ‘You’re putting yourself in a difficult place. He is going to kill you.’ Todd is the person you don’t mess with.”
Staner testified that she tried to protect her friend while also avoiding answering questions from a concerned Todd Mullis. Staner said she did not want to lie to Todd.
Deb Scherbring is a longtime employee at Regional Medical Center in Manchester, Iowa, where Amy Mullis had worked as a nurse until about five years ago. She testified about a frantic telephone call she received in the late summer of 2018.
“She was crying hard. She was very upset,” Scherbring said of Amy.
Amy asked that her friend, if she heard any rumors about an affair, please stop them from spreading.
AN UNHAPPY MARRIAGE
Patricia Christopherson said she talked or texted with Amy at least weekly.
“We would talk about their marriage and life in general,” she said.
During a June 2018 conversation, Amy told Christopherson that she needed to “unload” about her marriage.
“She wasn’t happy and hadn’t been happy for many years,” Christopherson said.
Christopherson said Amy Mullis admitted to having an affair with the farm’s field manager.
“He made her happy,” Christopherson said. “She talked about wanting to be married with him, eventually. Amy said she was done with Todd.”
Christopherson said she asked Amy Mullis why she remained in the marriage if she was so unhappy.
“She said she was scared of Todd, and if he found out about the affair, he would kill her,” she said.
In October, Amy Mullis told her friend about a confrontation with Todd Mullis’ mother, who accused her daughter-in-law of spending too much time away from the farm.
During cross-examination, Christopherson said Amy Mullis told her that Todd Mullis had stood up for his wife with his mother.
Christopherson also said she only met Todd Mullis twice.
“Once was at Amy’s grandmother’s visitation,” Christopherson said. “The other was at Amy’s visitation.”
Earlier in the day, the forensic pathologist who performed an autopsy on Amy Mullis testified that the farm wife was impaled by a corn rake “at least twice, possibly three times.”
Dr. Kelly Kruse, of the state medical examiner’s office, said the direction of the sharp-force puncture wounds to Amy Mullis’ torso led her to that conclusion.
Kruse testified that four of the six puncture wounds documented by the autopsy procedure in Ankeny, Iowa, traveled from back to front in a downward direction. Two additional wounds traveled back to front in an upward direction.
“She would have to be impaled by the rake at least twice, possibly three times,” Kruse said.
Kruse testified that the cause of Amy Mullis’ death was the sharp-force injuries to her torso.
“The manner of death was homicide,” Kruse said.
Kruse also testified that the autopsy revealed blunt-force injuries to Amy Mullis’ left jawline and in the areas of the knuckles of both hands.
Scrapes and bruises found on Amy occurred immediately before or during her death, Kruse testified.
The trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. today at the Dubuque County Courthouse.