UPDATE: Watertown murder trial goes to the jury

March 5, 2024
Mike Tanner

WATERTOWN, S.D.–Jury deliberations are underway in the Watertown murder trial of Jeremiah Martin Peacemaker.

He’s charged with First Degree Murder in the death of 28 year-old Kendra Owen at her apartment at 307 North Broadway in Watertown.

Owen had been stabbed 16 times before her head was cut off.

Her decomposed body was found September 2, 2020.

Peacemaker told Watertown police over the course of an eight hour interrogation that he met Owen at Doc’s Bar in the early morning hours of August 24, 2020 and walked her home after drinking a few beers.

He said he had never met her before, but spent about 20 minutes in her apartment listening to music and talking with her before leaving. He referred to her as, “good company,” but repeatedly denied killing her.

No murder weapon was ever found.

Closing arguments began Tuesday morning with prosecutor Brent Kempema telling the jury, “science doesn’t lie, it points its finger at Jeremiah Peacemaker.”

Kempema and Attorney General Marty Jackley used Peacemaker’s right thumbprint that was found on a tube of toothpaste in Owen’s bathroom as their main piece of evidence linking him to the crime.

Prosecutors called it a, “bloody fingerprint;” something the defense contested throughout the duration of the trial. Defense attorneys said testing on the substance was only a “presumptive test,” not confirmatory.

The prosecution also pointed to cell phone data that shows the final activity Owen did on her cell phone was to send a text message at 3:27 a.m. on August 24, 2020.

Kempema said after decapitating the victim, Owen’s head was, “propped up on her bed like some sort of trophy.”

He also spoke of Peacemaker’s sweatshirt that had Owen’s blood and DNA on it, saying, “all of the facts point to Peacemaker’s guilt.”

Then it was the defense’s turn. In her closing arguments, attorney Kate Benson called it a, “complicated case.” She pointed out that Owen’s body did not contain any of Peacemaker’s DNA on it, even after vaginal, anal and oral swabbing was done. Additionally, none of Peacemaker’s DNA was found under Owen’s fingernails.

She called the investigation of Owen’s murder a, “failure of justice that is shocking.” Benson said the case is, “full of holes, with no weapon and no motive.”

She criticized the South Dakota Crime Lab for writing what she says were misleading reports, and the Division of Criminal Investigation for not testing numerous items found in Owen’s apartment, including blankets, Owen’s eyeglasses and a stocking cap found next to her body.

As for the Watertown Police Department, Benson said they conducted, “a terrible investigation that didn’t even exist” by failing to document witnesses they talked to. In her words, “Kendra Owen deserved a better investigation.”

Jackley gave the final words to the jury in a 16 minute rebuttal telling them to, “follow the evidence.”

He says the murder of Owen was a, “deliberate action,” and speculated Peacemaker killed Owen because she refused to have sex with him.

The jury has the option of finding Peacemaker guilty of First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, First Degree Manslaughter, or acquitting him entirely.

A conviction of First Degree Murder carries an automatic penalty of life in prison with no chance of parole.

The jury received the case at 12:40 p.m. Tuesday.