Coroner testifies in Jeremiah Peacemaker murder trial

February 29, 2024
Mike Tanner

WATERTOWN, S.D.–There was a lot of information for the jury to digest during day three of the Jeremiah Peacemaker murder trial in Watertown on Wednesday.

He’s charged through a Grand Jury indictment with First Degree Murder in the death of 28 year-old Kendra Owen, who was found dead in her apartment at 307 1/2 North Broadway in Watertown on the evening of September 2, 2020. Prosecutors believe she was killed more than  a week earlier, in the early morning hours of August 24, 2020.

Wednesday began with the jury seeing the end of an eight hour long interrogation video of Peacemaker at the Watertown police station. South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Nate Winter collected fingerprints and palm prints from Peacemaker, who was later handcuffed and charged with murder.

Later in the day, the prosecution called Dr. Kenneth Snell to the witness stand. He testified that he’s conducted over 4,000 autopsies in his career, including one on Owen.

Snell said that Owen’s body was in a moderate state of decomposition by the time he performed the autopsy in Sioux Falls.  He said Owen’s death was the result of a homicide, and that the cause of death was, “an incised wound to the neck resulting in decapitation.”

Jurors were shown graphic videos of the autopsy, including a photo of Owen’s head detached from the rest of her body.  Snell said Owen sustained a total of 16 stab wounds to her face, neck and to the base of her skull, but that those injuries occurred before decapitation.

Snell said the cut on Owen’s neck that resulted in decapitation went from just above Owen’s thyroid cartilage (Adam’s Apple)  and exited between her C-3 and C-4 cervical vertebrae.

When Attorney General Marty Jackley, who’s prosecuting the case, asked Snell about the type of weapon used in the killing, Snell testified it would have been a, “sharp edged knife of some sort that must have strength, it can’t be flimsy.”

The defense then called Dr. Brad Randall, a self employed forensic pathology consultant, to the witness stand. When asked by defense attorney Scott Bratland if more than one person might have been responsible for killing Owen, Randall testified that it was “possible due to the flurry of injuries” she sustained.

Because there were maggots found on Owen’s decomposing body, Randall said it would have been helpful if a forensic entomologist would have assisted in the autopsy to more accurately determine the time of death, something Dr. Snell said earlier would not have been of much help.

The day ended with forensic scientist Heather Specht telling the jury that a bloody right thumbprint found on a toothpaste tube in Owen’s bathroom belonged to Peacemaker, although the manner and techniques used to collect that fingerprint were called into question by defense attorney Kate Benson.

The defendant admitted walking Owen back to her apartment in the early morning hours of August 24th after a night of drinking, but repeatedly has denied killing her.

During the police interrogation, Peacemaker tells investigators, “there’s nothing I can say to make you believe me at this point,” and later he says, “find out who did it and lock his (expletive) ass up.”