MARENGO — Mariana Lesnic, who is charged in the death of a Monroe truck driver, admitted that she fatally shot him but also claimed he wanted to have a sexual relationship with her, which she wasn’t willing to do, an investigator testified Wednesday.
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Ryan Herman said Lesnic, 44, was hitchhiking through Iowa on her way to Washington state when she met Ernest Kummer, 60, about two months before he was fatally shot Sept. 6, 2017.
Lesnic, charged with first-degree murder, is on trial this week in Iowa County District Court and is acting as her own lawyer. She is accused of fatally shooting Kummer while he was asleep in his semi-trailer truck cab, which was parked at an Interstate 80 rest stop near Victor.
Kummer was shot four times in the head at close range, Assistant Attorney General Douglas Hammerand said Tuesday during an opening statement. The shots were fired through a T-shirt and shorts, which were placed over his face and head, he said.
Lesnic, who is originally from Moldova, a border country of Romania, but has been a U.S. citizen for many years, identified Kummer as the man she shot but couldn’t remember his name, Herman said Wednesday. She told the investigator that she called Kummer on Sept. 1 or 2, when she was in Nebraska, and he came in his personal vehicle, not semi-trailer, to pick her up. Lesnic spent the Labor Day weekend with Kummer, and she rode with him when he left for a job in Illinois on Sept. 5.
Lesnic told Herman that she spent three nights with Kummer at his home in Monroe before they traveled to Illinois for his work, Herman testified Wednesday. Kummer was a driver for Copeland Trucking, a food distribution service in Des Moines.
Lesnic said Kummer wanted to date her and have a sexual relationship but she wasn’t interested because she said he was too old for her, Herman said.
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Because she is representing herself, Lesnic had asked 6th Judicial District Judge Andrew Chappell if her standby counsel, public defender Trevor Anderson, could leave because she didn’t want his help.
During trial on Tuesday, Lesnic didn’t understand how or when to ask questions, and even admitted guilt in attempting to ask a question. Chappell told Lesnic on Wednesday that Anderson had to stay and assist her, if needed.
On cross-examining Herman, Lesnic claimed Kummer’s brother was following them on Sept. 6. Herman said there was no evidence of that.
She also asked if investigators found any guns and a cat at Kummer’s home.
Herman said no to both. He said the only gun found was a 9 mm handgun that was in Lesnic’s purse, which prosecutors said Tuesday was used to kill Kummer.
“Why did you arrest me for first-degree murder?” Lesnic said. “Why that charge. I’m a woman and was threatened. I called police.”
Lesnic was referring to the 911 call she made Sept. 6, 2017, when she admitted that she shot and killed Kummer, according to testimony given Tuesday from an Iowa County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher.
Herman explained that the Iowa County Attorney's Office filed the charge, not him.
Charles Hoag, Kummer’s former boss and terminal manager of Copeland Trucking, testified about the GPS taken from Kummer’s semi that helped investigators track his route from Sept. 5-6, 2017.
Hoag said surveillance cameras at the trucking company showed a female passenger with Kummer when he left on Sept. 5. He was going to Illinois then coming back through Iowa on his way to Lincoln, Neb., when he stopped at the rest stop near Victor about 12:45 a.m. Hoag said drivers are only allowed to drive for 11 hours at a time, so that is likely why he stopped there, according to the truck’s GPS system.
Hoag said Kummer told him he wanted to see family in Nebraska.
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Hoag had known Kummer for many years. Kummer was Copeland’s first driver when the company started. Hoag described him as “goofy, funny and nice.” Kummer was “too nice ... a giving person and a good employee,” he said.
Kummer worked all the time, ever since his wife, Darla, died in 2016, Hoag said.
Iowa County Sheriff’s deputy Jon Fiser testified that Lesnic, after her arrest and while she was waiting to be interrogated, asked him if Iowa had the death penalty. And then told him, “It’s bad isn’t it.”
In other testimony, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation criminalists testified there was no DNA evidence that Kummer and Lesnic had sex and there was no blood evidence found on Lesnic’s clothes.
The prosecution has one more witness Thursday and then Lesnic may testify in her own defense.
The trial resumes 9 a.m. Thursday.
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