Robert Leo Marzejka was found guilty Nov. 22 of first-degree murder in the deaths of his sister and her boyfriend

Robert Leo Marzejka was found guilty Nov. 22 of first-degree murder in the deaths of his sister and her boyfriend

Photo by Nick Mordowanec


Clinton Township man guilty of first-degree murder in deaths of sister, her boyfriend

“He did it himself”

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published November 22, 2019

 Toledo Police Department officer Anthony Duncan testifies on the final day of the trial, pointing at a video of Marzejka buying a Greyhound bus ticket in Toledo after the murders.

Toledo Police Department officer Anthony Duncan testifies on the final day of the trial, pointing at a video of Marzejka buying a Greyhound bus ticket in Toledo after the murders.

Photo by Nick Mordowanec

 Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor William Cataldo delivers his closing statements Nov. 22.

Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor William Cataldo delivers his closing statements Nov. 22.

Photo by Nick Mordowanec

MOUNT CLEMENS — At 3:33 p.m. Nov. 22, a jury announced it had found Robert Leo Marzejka, 26, guilty of first-degree murder in the August 2018 deaths of his sister, Danielle Marzejka, 18, and her boyfriend, Seren Bryan, 19.

Following closing arguments, the 12-person jury — composed of six men and six women — began deliberations at about 2:55 p.m. and reached a verdict 38 minutes later. Marzejka, who faces up to life in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 17 in Macomb County Circuit Court by Judge James Biernat.

Trial and final witnesses

The trial lasted barely more than a week, as visual evidence and fact-based witnesses backed up the prosecution’s claim that Marzejka planned and deliberately killed the victims.

Defense counsel Azhar Sheikh, who on the first day of the trial stated that his client “absolutely” killed the victims, pushed for a manslaughter verdict.

Throughout the course of the trial, prosecutors William Cataldo and Elizabeth Rittinger laid out a case that included testimony from numerous Clinton Township Police detectives, forensic experts, a medical examiner and even Marzejka’s own brother, Kevin.

There were three final witnesses called on Nov. 22.

The first was Anthony Duncan, an officer with the Toledo Police Department the past 33 years, who spoke of how he was contacted by U.S. Marshals to help locate the defendant, who had left town after the alleged murders.

Previous testimony provided by other witnesses, notably Clinton Township Police Department detectives, painted a picture of how Marzejka left the scene of the crime, on Culver Drive in Clinton Township, and traveled about 20 miles west by bus to West Bloomfield Township.

He later traveled to Toledo, Ohio, and was captured on surveillance camera footage in a Circle K convenience store. Duncan, when contacted Aug. 28, 2018, by U.S. Marshals, was provided a “wanted” flyer with Marzejka’s picture and various physical characteristics.

He first went to local homeless shelters to keep an eye out for the suspect. Then, he scoured local bus and train stations.

“My thinking was, he’s going to try and blend in,” Duncan said.

His instincts were correct, as a Greyhound bus attendant contacted him because Marzejka was believed to have purchased a ticket with the destination of Cincinnati.

Marzejka could be seen wearing a disguise — including a hat and wig — in the surveillance video and when he purchased the ticket. He also used a fake alias instead of his real name.

Duncan pointed to Marzejka in the surveillance video that was shown in the courtroom. It was believed the Circle K trip occurred after he purchased the Greyhound ticket, due to the bus being nearly 2 hours late, according to Duncan.

Sheikh called two witnesses to the stand: Marzejka’s aunt, Debra Scotella, and his cousin, Christine Macklem.

Scotella took the stand first. She was the older sister of Jill, the suspect’s mother, who died in 2011. She said she never saw any animosity between Robert and Danielle, adding that he later visited her at the hospital during a diabetes episode.

But Robert did not seem himself at his mother’s funeral.

“He was withdrawn and very quiet and to himself,” Scotella said, opposite of his brother.

In one car trip, she said her nephew begin saying random things to her out of the blue, like quoting random Bible verses and telling her she should smoke marijuana. She said “he was not normal.”

“I loved Danielle,” she said. “This was a tragedy. And I love Robert, too. His mom’s not here, but I feel I should be near him.”

Macklem recalled communicating with Robert to collect rent money for a leased property the family was staying in, adding that nothing indicated to her he had a mental illness.

“Every interaction seemed normal,” she recalled.

Closing arguments

Cataldo opened closing arguments by slamming a binder against the court table and podium, displaying how full of rage and chaos Marzejka was the night of his murders.

He told the jury how Danielle and Seren had “no chance to survive” after being hit in the head by a hammer,. Seren was struck three times, Danielle seven.

Danielle likely died before she was bound and gagged by duct tape, yet Seren was likely still conscious even after the blunt force trauma, according to previous testimony from Mary Pietrangelo, of the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“Seren was alive,” Cataldo said. “He was breathing. He could have lived.”

Cataldo said it was “part of the plan” for Marzejka to inflict the physical damage, bind the victims, suffocate them with tape and plastic bags, and then leave them in the shed outside the family trailer home.

When the bodies were discovered, in black contractors’ bags in the shed, another bag was found that contained towels, rags, Danielle’s insulin, clothing and the murder weapon.

It was a series of events, Cataldo argued, that displayed motives of premeditation. They included Marzejka’s relationship with the victims, his attempts to conceal the crime, and his conduct following.

He staged a scene, as Cataldo put it, calling a carpet cleaning company and using products to clean blood from Danielle’s room.

“Nobody saw blood,” he said. “That’s how effective a job he did.”

The victim’s phones were taken and disposed. The key to the shed was stolen. When he boarded the bus off Gratiot Avenue, all the way to a coffee shop on Orchard Lake Road, the defendant sipped on a beverage and scrolled through his phone.

He purchased a disguise once he was in Ohio — with Cataldo saying it didn’t matter how effective the disguise was, but “it’s the fact that he used one.”

Sheikh maintained that he knew his client was culpable for his role in the slayings, but that the prosecution’s story of premeditation didn’t add up. He said Marzejka’s actions were in the “heat of passion.”

Cataldo said that Marzejka waited for his brother Kevin and his girlfriend, Erin, to move out the Sunday prior to the attacks. But Sheikh countered by asking why the murders weren’t committed the following Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

Sheikh also pondered why his client didn’t use another weapon, such as a gun, if he thought about the crime ahead of time. He also made a point that if he thought previously of how the crime would occur, he could have discarded the bodies “in the Detroit River or on the other side of 8 Mile.”

Cataldo’s final words were noting that Marzejka didn’t hire or ask anybody else to kill his sister and her boyfriend. 

“He did it himself.”