Public Safety

Prosecutor: Mariana Lesnic made decision to shoot Ernest Kummer 4 times at close range

Mariana Lesnic walks into the courtroom for a hearing at Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. Lesnic is charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 6, 2017, death of Ernest Kummer. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Mariana Lesnic walks into the courtroom for a hearing at Iowa County Courthouse in Marengo on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017. Lesnic is charged with first-degree murder in the Sept. 6, 2017, death of Ernest Kummer. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

MARENGO — Mariana Lesnic “made the decision” to shoot Ernest Kummer in the head four times on Sept. 6, 2017, after the couple spent the Labor day weekend together, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

“This is a straightforward case,” Assistant Iowa Attorney General Douglas Hammerand said during his opening statement in Lesnic’s first-degree murder trial in Iowa County District Court.  

Hammerand said Kummer, 60, a Monroe truck driver, and Lesnic, 44, were coming back from Illinois in his semi-trailer truck and pulled in the westbound Interstate 80 rest stop, near Victor, just before 1 a.m. to spend the night. Kummer went to sleep in the cab and at some point, Lesnic put a white T-shirt and shorts over his head and shot him four times with a 9mm handgun, the prosecutor said.

“The gunshots were at close range,” Hammerand said.

Lesnic, who is defending herself without a lawyer, declined to give an opening statement. She still has the option to give an opening statement after the prosecution rests and she starts her defense.

A jury of eight women and five men was selected by about 2 p.m. and the prosecution started its case with four witnesses Tuesday afternoon.   

Lesnic seemed confused about when she could ask questions and what objections she could make. She nearly admitted guilt in trying to ask a question of a witness.    

In previous hearings, 6th Judicial District Judge Andrew Chappell warned her about issues she might have in defending herself but she insisted on going forward without a lawyer. Chappell did appoint a stand by counsel, Trevor Anderson, a Des Moines public defender, but he can only advise, not take over the defense.

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The prosecution’s four witnesses testified about locating Lesnic at the rest stop after she called 911 and admitted to shooting a man, who authorities later identified as Kummer.

Jamie Cronbaugh, an Iowa County Sheriff’s dispatcher, took the 911 call from Lesnic at 2:41 a.m. Sept. 6, 2017. Lesnic was hesitant at first but eventually told her she “thought” she shot and killed a man and he was in a truck at the rest stop.

Cronbaugh said Lesnic told her she “sort of” knew the man.

Williamsburg police officer Jason Mochal testified he and two other officers found Lesnic behind the rest stop, near the fence line of the property. They had guns drawn when they saw her. She had her phone in her hand and immediately told them the gun was in her purse, which was behind her on the ground.

Mochal said he found a 9mm handgun in her purse with a live round in the chamber.

Iowa County Sheriff’s deputy Andy Pahl said he, Mochal and another officer found the semi with Kummer’s body in the sleep cab, lying on the bed with an “article of clothing” over his head. There were also shell casings on the mattress and on some clothing, Pahl said.

Kummer didn’t have a pulse, so the officers backed out of the cab and Pahl took photos to preserve the scene before emergency medical personnel arrived.

Jurors were shown a video taken by a deputy of the inside of the cab with Kummer’s body and the clothing over his head. Pahl also pointed out, in one photo, a gunshot exit hole on the outside of the cab, consistent to where the shooting happened.

Lesnic, on cross examination, asked Pahl if he knew how old that hole was because “I never shot him (there).”

Pahl said it looked “fresh” and was consistent with paint chips inside the cab – in the area of the shooting.     

The trial resumes 9 a.m. Wednesday and is expected to last all week.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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