An Earlville 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, 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 Mullises’ 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. today.