Police, forensic experts testify at double homicide trial in Macomb County

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published November 19, 2019

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MOUNT CLEMENS — The third day of the Robert Leo Marzejka double homicide trial took place Nov. 19 at Macomb County Circuit Court, in front of Judge James Biernat.

The 14-person jury sat for nearly five hours as prosecutors put police detectives and forensic experts on the witness stand to help corroborate a double homicide theory based on premeditation.

Clinton Township Police Detective Lt. Eric Reincke was the first to take the stand. He arrived at the crime scene on Culver Drive at about 9:30 a.m. Aug. 27. He was briefed by Capt. Richard Maierle and Sgt. Christopher Allis while numerous other personnel were on the scene.

Reincke said he interviewed neighbors about whether they were aware of any suspicious activity. On Aug. 27, he was requested by Detective Jay Anderson, who was overseeing the investigation, to contact the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transporation to secure any potential surveillance footage of the defendant skipping town.

A SMART representative provided a video copy for police with a date, time and route information. Marzejka boarded a bus near 15 Mile Road and Gratiot Avenue, traveling westbound nearly 20 miles until he reached Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield Township.

He was seen on the bus wearing a hat, black sunglasses, a black T-shirt, fidgeting with his phone and drinking some kind of beverage.

Detective Jeffrey Barbera then took the stand, continuing the forensics involved with determining Marzejka’s location once he exited the bus. He was provided information that the suspect had gone into a Tim Hortons with multiple video cameras.

On Aug. 30, Barbera was able to secure video from inside the coffee shop, with Marzejka matching the description of the subject from the bus. Marzejka purchased a beverage and then walked out after being inside for about 2 1/2 minutes.

Another surveillance camera from a Midas automotive shop across the street captured Marzejka pacing back and forth in the Tim Hortons parking lot, at which point the white work van synonymous with his and his father’s business was seen turning into the lot. It was not stated who was driving the vehicle.

“It appeared the suspect got into that van,” Barbera stated.

Detective Joe Burns followed his colleagues, saying he also arrived on the scene the night the victims’ bodies were discovered. He interviewed Marzejka’s brother, Kevin, who testified in court on Nov. 15.

Burns told of how Kevin attempted to communicate with his brother via text, yet was mostly unsuccessful. Burns, who has experience getting into phones as evidence, said he had difficulty extracting information to assess “a near mirror image” from Marzejka’s phone.

A forensic examination of the boys’ father resulted in nothing significant.

Burns said that Kevin and his girlfriend turned over the lock to the now-infamous shed, as well as the key to the lock, to the Clinton Township Police Department. U.S. Marshals were then contacted by authorities, with Burns saying, “They’re very good at finding people.”

The U.S. Marshals located the white van in Toledo, Ohio, in an unoccupied lot. However, the suspect was a couple of miles away from that location, at a Circle K convenience store, seen on surveillance cameras getting a beverage.

Standing in front of a video screen that displayed the footage, Burns noted that Marzejka was wearing a wig with longer hair. His black shoes and shorts remained, and the sunglasses were sitting on his hat.

“One of the clerks actually recalled seeing Mr. Marzejka in the store,” Burns noted, which led to the retrieval of the camera footage.

 

Scientific evidence
A slew of forensic experts followed detectives in taking the stand, starting with Ashley Mottar, of the Michigan State Police.

She discussed how the defendant’s DNA was discovered on numerous items attributed to the crime scene, including duct tape, a mirror, the handle of a hammer, shorts, a shirt and a hamper.

Another MSP witness who specializes in latent fingerprints verified that Marzejka’s thumb and index finger prints were located on the duct tape.

Prior to Mary Pietrangelo, of the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office, taking the stand, the jury was postponed due to a legal discussion regarding 15 graphic photos from the murder scene.

Defense attorney Azhar Sheikh said the photos were unnecessary due to the expertise of the witness, as well his lack of objection in regard to other expert witnesses.

However, Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor William Cataldo said the photos would lend themselves to the overall charge of premeditated murder of which Marzejka is accused.

“The photos depict exactly what the behavior was that leaves no stone unturned,” Cataldo said.

The two agreed to postpone the discussion until the next trial date, on Nov. 21.

Pietrangelo, who has conducted over 2,500 autopsies and testified over 40 times, was in the shed where the bodies were left.

“Quite honestly, I didn’t know what we were going to find in those bags,” she said.

Pietrangelo said that normal decomposition effects had begun. She and others on the scene laid the bodies on white sheets outside the shed, on a flat surface, in an effort to gather any other potential DNA prior to taking the bodies to the morgue.

Pietrangelo said the cause of death for both Danielle Marzejka and Seren Bryan was asphyxiation due to suffocation.

She said Bryan had been wrapped in five plastic bags — multiple black contractor bags, as well as store shopping bags around his head — and had duct tape around his head and neck. Danielle had been wrapped in three bags, with duct tape around her nose and mouth.

Closing statements were anticipated to be made on the afternoon of Nov. 22, after press time.

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