Prosecutors opened the trial of a former jailer and campus security guard Wednesday by saying that DNA under the fingernails of the college student he is accused of killing proves he committed the crime.
Mindy Morgenstern, a 22-year-old Valley City State University student, was found in her off-campus apartment in September strangled with her own belt, stabbed with her kitchen knives and covered with cleaning fluid.
Moe Gibbs, 34, is charged with murder in her death.
The DNA, found on her shirt and under her fingernails, will help prosecutors prove that he killed her, Barnes County State’s Attorney Brad Cruff told jurors in his opening statement.
“Mindy told us with her dying breath who the murderer was, with a scrape of her fingernails,” Cruff said.
Gibbs’ attorney, Jeff Bredahl, said the DNA which he called so slight it was “almost nothing” likely came from a doorknob in the apartment building where both Gibbs and Morgenstern lived. He also said other men were seen around the apartment building the day the woman died, and she had a hair in her hand that could not have come from Gibbs, who is bald.
Male DNA on a knife also doesn’t match Gibbs, his attorney said.
“Things just don’t fit. There’s too many unanswered questions … that’s reasonable doubt,” Bredahl said.
Morgenstern’s friends testified about the horror of finding her body. Some of the first witnesses in the case, Toni Baumann and Danielle Holmstrom, had gone to check on Morgenstern after she failed to show up for a meeting.
It was “the worst thing ever,” Holmstrom said.
Robert Lynes, who was visiting someone else in the building, testified that he went to Morgenstern’s apartment after he heard Baumann and Holmstrom screaming hysterically. He said he checked Morgenstern’s pulse and “it was quite evident that she wasn’t alive.”
Morgenstern’s friends also testified she had a relationship with an older man, estimated to be in his 50s, and was worried about being stalked.
Police Detective Mark McDonald, the last witness of the day, showed pictures of the crime scene. Judge John Paulson limited the number of graphic photos, saying they might “inflame some passions.”
Cruff said Gibbs poured a cleaning agent on Morgenstern’s body to hide traces of any evidence. Bredahl countered that the cleaning solution was poured on her face not by Gibbs, but by someone who likely wanted to show “anger, rage and revenge.”
The murder charge against Gibbs carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole.
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