BREAKING: Jury finds Peacemaker NOT GUILTY on all counts in Watertown murder trial (Audio)

March 6, 2024
Mike Tanner

WATERTOWN, S.D.–Jeremiah Peacemaker spent 1,279 days in the Codington County jail awaiting trial for a murder he said he didn’t commit.

Late Tuesday night, a 12 person jury agreed with him.

The jury of 10 men and two women found Peacemaker not guilty on all three counts–First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder and First Degree Manslaughter.

Peacemaker was charged with the August 2020 death of 28 year-old Kendra Owen, a Native American woman whose decapitated, decomposing body was found in her small apartment at 307 North Broadway in Watertown.

During closing arguments Tuesday, Attorney General Marty Jackley asked the jury to, “follow the evidence.”

His co-counsel, Brent Kempema told the jury, “science doesn’t lie, and science points its finger at Jeremiah Peacemaker.”

But the prosecution did not have a murder weapon to show the jury because none was ever found. Their strongest piece of evidence was Peacemaker’s right thumbprint found on a tube of toothpaste in Owen’s bathroom. The two sides disagreed on whether the substance found on the tube was blood.

Peacemaker was arrested in the early morning hours of September 3, 2020 following an eight hour long interview conducted primarilyl by former Watertown Police Detective Sergeant Chad Stahl and Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Agent Cam Corey.

Peacemaker never confessed. He told them he met Owen for the first time at his neighbor’s apartment the night of August 23, 2020, and at some point during that night, they walked to Doc’s Lounge to buy beer.

Peacemaker said he left Doc’s and walked home alone, but later reconnected with Owen at Doc’s around 2:30 a.m. on August 24th.

He told investigators he walked Owen home to her apartment, where he spent about 20 minutes listening to music with Owen and talking to her. He says she was, “good company,.” He said he used Owen’s bathroom, and then left.

Defense attorneys made light of the evidence, or lack thereof, in their closing statement.

Attorney Kate Benson called it a case, “with a lot of holes, no weapon and no motive.” She went on to criticize the South Dakota Crime Lab for writing what she said were misleading reports on the case, the DCI for failing to test many items of evidence found at the scene, including blankets, eyeglasses and a stocking cap, and called the Watertown Police Department’s investigation, “terrible.”

Judge Carmen means read the verdict to the court at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Members of Owen’s family began screaming expletives in the court, and were escorted out.

Defense attorneys were escorted out of the courthouse flanked by Sheriff Brad Howell and deputies who were there to provide security for them.

“We respect the decision of the jury,” said Attorney General Jackley. “Thank you to the law enforcement officers who investigated this case, and the jury for their work.  We recognized the challenges of no murder weapon, no eyewitnesses, or confession but felt other evidence, including a fingerprint and blood, needed to go to the jury and was deserving of their 10 hours of deliberations.”

Hear KWAT News Director Mike Tanner’s interview with Jackley by clicking below:

Defense attorney Scott Bratland declined comment to KWAT News.