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 Defense attorney Azhar Sheikh, middle, talks with his client, Robert Marzejka, Nov. 14 in Macomb County Circuit Court. Marzejka is charged with  killing his sister, Danielle, 18, and her boyfriend, Seren, 19.

Defense attorney Azhar Sheikh, middle, talks with his client, Robert Marzejka, Nov. 14 in Macomb County Circuit Court. Marzejka is charged with killing his sister, Danielle, 18, and her boyfriend, Seren, 19.

Photo by Nick Mordowanec

Murder trial begins for man accused of killing sister and her boyfriend in Clinton Township

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published November 15, 2019

MOUNT CLEMENS — The trial has begun for Robert Leo Marzejka, the 26-year-old Clinton Township resident who is alleged to have killed his sister and her boyfriend.

The bodies of Robert’s sister, Danielle Marzejka, 18, and her boyfriend, Seren Bryan, 19, were found in black contractors’ bags on Aug. 26, 2018. The defendant skipped town in a white 1999 Ford E-250 van and was arrested by authorities days later near Cincinnati, Ohio.

He faces two counts of first-degree murder, also recognized as premeditated murder, for each of the victims’ deaths. He faces up to life in prison if found guilty.

Opening statements

Jury selection for the trial took place Nov. 13 in Macomb County Circuit Court, in front of Judge James Biernat. Seven men and seven women were selected.

On Nov. 14, opening statements and two witnesses testified under oath for about 3 1/2 hours. Assistant Macomb County Prosecutor Elizabeth Rittinger opened the proceedings with four hard-hitting words: beaten, bound, gagged and bagged.

She referred to a hammer that was allegedly used to bludgeon the victims, causing blunt force trauma. Duct tape was used to bind and gag the victims over their noses and mouths. Their bodies were placed in contractor bags and left for dead in a shed that sat outside the family’s home on Culver Street, in Clinton Township.

“There’s no indication of any sudden impulse accident,” Rittinger said, alluding to the murders as an act of premeditation rather than something spontaneously committed.

The defendant allegedly had sexual relations the night of the murders, as well as the evening afterward.

Rittinger said the trial will provide a slew of evidence, in the form of photographs, blood, DNA, fingerprints, clothing of the defendant and victims, items from the murder scene found in separate locations, and photos and videos of the defendant once he left town.

Marzejka’s mental health has been in question, but Rittinger said that evidence may not lead to a motive — and that no motive has to be proven at all. She said the suspect knew both parties, that there was time between the thought of murder and the action itself, and that a “reasonable person” likely would have thought twice before committing such an act.

Marzejka, who shares the same name as his father, allegedly killed his sister and her boyfriend while they were asleep in their bedroom in the family’s shared trailer home on Culver Street.

“They were sleeping and were attacked and could do nothing about it,” she claimed, alluding to the nonexistence of defensive wounds on the victims.

After “a large quantity of duct tape” was allegedly used to bind the victims, multiple black plastic bags were utilized and the bodies were hidden in the shed. In addition to blunt force trauma, the medical examiner’s report cited asphyxiation as a cause of death.

“Both of (the victims) were alive,” she told the jury. “They didn’t die by getting hit in the head. They died because they couldn’t breathe.”

Marzejka’s attorney, Azhar Sheikh, said he is not disputing the fact that his client killed the two victims. He said his client “absolutely” killed them.

Instead, he hopes the jury finds that the evidence leads to second-degree murder, or manslaughter, rather than a premeditated attack. He said without a motive, the murders could not have been premeditated.

Sheikh said Marzejka lost his mother, Jill, in 2011 while he was 17 years old. While Danielle was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, the defendant reportedly began hearing voices after his mother’s death. Sheikh said he visited multiple specialists at a variety of facilities.

He stressed that the jury pay attention to facts and not hearsay.

“From (the suspect’s) point of view, what would he have to gain (by murdering the victims)? … The prosecution has not been able to find one iota of motive,” Sheikh said.

Witnesses take the stand

Rittinger first questioned Diane Bryan, the mother of Seren, as the first witness.

The mother said her son moved in with Danielle about three weeks prior to the murders taking place. He leaves behind a sister.

She said the pair met in the summer of 2017, at a mutual friend’s bonfire right after her son finished high school. He would routinely travel 1-1 1/2 hours to hang out with Danielle.

“Seren just thought the world of (Danielle),” she said. “He was as deeply in love as a 19-year-old could be.”

She said she encouraged her to son to find himself and be independent. She said under oath that she didn’t even know the “inseparable” couple was living together until after she learned of their deaths.

“I was very proud of the man he was,” she stated.

The next witness was Danielle’s best friend, 28-year-old Khriscinda Whaley. The pair only knew each other for about two years, after meeting at a music venue, but they instantly became close.

“She was my person,” Whaley said.

Whaley said her interactions with Robert were slim to none. It was mostly small talk.

She talked about Danielle’s generous nature, telling the courtroom a story of how Danielle needed to buy a couple things at the mall but instead gave her remaining $30 to a stranger who was on hard times.

She talked about how Danielle moved multiple times, from living with her family in St. Clair Shores to moving in with Whaley and her sister and mother in the same city. Whaley got Danielle a job as a busser at National Coney Island, in Royal Oak. The group — which included Whaley’s sister — drove together to work. Seren got a job there as well.

Whaley described the couple’s relationship as “unique,” that they didn’t subscribe to labels and instead acted as friends who loved one another.

Hours before the couple was murdered, Whaley said she and her sister dropped them off at the Culver Street home after their usual midnight shifts. For a period of about 36 hours, Whaley became worried because Danielle didn’t answer any of her texts — which was highly unusual considering Danielle was always on her phone and even carried a charger with her.

Whaley and Kevin Marzejka — Danielle and Robert’s brother — were the ones who found the bodies in the shed, due to flies swarming in the vicinity. Kevin’s fiancé had a spare key to unlock the shed, and Whaley said she immediately smelled decomposition.

“It’s not like anything else you ever smelled. … I didn’t think it was real,” she said.

Along with the bodies found in the contractor bags, Danielle’s bed comforter and Bryan’s blood-soaked T-shirt were also discovered.

The defense did not get to question Whaley Nov. 14 due to shortness of time. More witnesses were expected to testify on Nov. 15 and into the following week. The case is expected to conclude prior to Thanksgiving.

Check back for more coverage.