A prosecutor on Tuesday argued that an Earlville, Iowa, man killed his wife by stabbing her with a corn rake and then attempted to make it look like an accident.
On the witness stand, Todd M. Mullis’ son said his father left his view for a period of time on the morning of the killing, and a doctor said Amy Mullis’ injuries were not consistent with an accident.
“I found it very difficult to see how four (rake) tines could cause six wounds in a single impact,” said Dr. Craig Borden Thompson during his testimony.
But one of Todd Mullis’ attorneys said in his opening statement that the defense doesn’t dispute that Amy Mullis was killed. Rather, they dispute the assertion that her husband is the killer.
“You will find there is a reasonable doubt,” said defense attorney Gerald “Jake” Feuerhelm to conclude his opening statement.
Todd Mullis, 43, faces a charge of first-degree murder in connection with the Nov. 10 death of his wife, Amy Mullis, 39. A conviction on that charge would result in an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
His trial was moved from Delaware County to Dubuque as a result of pretrial publicity, and Tuesday marked the first day of testimony.
Iowa Assistant Attorney General Maureen Hughes said in her opening statement that the death of Amy Mullis represented the execution of a plan her husband had been formulating for months.
Hughes painted Todd Mullis as a man irate over an affair his wife was having and one who was in fear of losing his farm if she divorced him.
“He wasn’t going to let Amy take half of his farm,” Hughes said. “Being a farmer means everything to him. The defendant had to find a way to keep that farm.”
When Todd Mullis told investigators that his wife had fallen on the corn rake, “nobody believed his story,” the prosecutor said.
“Doctors could tell Amy was struck at least two times in her back,” Hughes said. “It was not an accident.
“Amy was fearful of the defendant. She was afraid if Todd found out she was in an affair, he would kill her. The evidence in this case is overwhelming, and the trail of evidence leads to only one place: where the defendant sits in this courtroom.”
In his opening statement, Feuerhelm agreed that Amy Mullis was killed and that the farm was important to her husband.
“But not so important that he would murder the mother of his children,” Feuerhelm said.
He said the identity of the killer is unclear.
The first two prosecution witnesses were Amy Mullis’ brother and stepmother.
Jeff Fuller said his sister was not happy in her marriage and talked about getting a divorce.
Eileen Fuller testified that Todd Mullis knew about an affair his wife had in 2013. In the summer of 2018, he expressed concerns that Amy Mullis was having another.
“Todd seemed angry, frustrated,” Eileen Fuller testified.
Trysten Mullis testified on Tuesday, though he was not in the packed courtroom. His testimony was shown via closed-circuit television.
Authorities have said Todd Mullis reported that he, Amy and their now-14-year-old son, Trysten, were working in the hog barn at the family’s farm on the morning of Amy’s death, preparing it for the arrival of young pigs. Amy was cleaning light fixtures but said she was dizzy. She recently had undergone a surgical procedure.
Todd said he instructed his wife to stop cleaning the fixtures and go to a shed on the property to retrieve a pet carrier while he and Trysten continued working.
Trysten testified that he and his father worked in the hog barn for about an hour and a half after his mom left.
The son said he lost sight of his dad at some point during that time, while the teen was twice getting drinks of water from a hose near the office of the barn.
In a previous deposition, Trysten Mullis stated that he lost sight of his dad for about one minute, 40 seconds.
Testifying Tuesday, the teen said that time estimate was inaccurate, though he did not provide a new estimate.
He said his dad eventually asked him to check the shed for the pet carrier when they did not see it sitting outside.
Trysten found his mother unresponsive and with a corn rake protruding from her back.
“She was just inside the door. She was on her hands and knees face down,” Trysten Mullis testified. “I yelled for my dad.”
Under cross-examination, Trysten testified that he didn’t see tears in or blood on his father’s clothes and that his father did not look distraught prior to finding Amy.
Jurors listened to a 911 call that Todd Mullis placed while driving Amy and Trysten toward Regional Medical Center in Manchester.
A 911 operator instructed him to pull over and await an ambulance. The operator instructed Todd Mullis to begin chest compressions on his wife until first responders arrived.
Delaware County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Luke Thomsen was the first responder to arrive on the scene. He said Amy Mullis was unresponsive and not breathing.
“There was quite a bit of blood on her clothes and bruises on her jaw and arm,” Thomsen said.
Thomsen said the 911 dispatcher who sent out the emergency call indicated that Amy Mullis had fallen on a corn rake in a shed at her farm.
Fellow Deputy Eric Holub testified that Thompson, the director of emergency medical services at Regional Medical Center in Manchester, raised concerns that the wounds did not support that story.
“(The doctor) was concerned that there were too many holes on her back,” Holub said. “He wanted me to take a photo of the corn rake to see how wide it was.”
The doctor also requested to see the rake.
The doctor’s concerns, Holub said, shifted authorities from investigating a farm accident to investigating foul play.
The trial is set to resume at 9:30 a.m. today in Dubuque, with more prosecution witnesses.