GOSHEN — Guilty verdicts were returned on all counts for two Elkhart men charged with killing a Columbia City woman and robbing a Michigan man nearly two years ago.
Donald Owen Jr., 22, and Mario Angulo Jr., 20, were each convicted of charges of murder, robbery and criminal confinement Thursday night at the end of their nearly two-week long trial in Elkhart County Circuit Court. Judge Michael Christofeno’s ruling aligned with the jury verdicts following nearly two hours of deliberation.
Owen is accused of giving the command to have Kimberly Dyer, 31, killed, and Angulo’s accused of carrying out the deed following an approximately two-day ordeal, over Oct. 21 and Oct. 22, 2019, at a house along Old Orchard Lane in Elkhart.
The two are also accused of robbing an alleged marijuana dealer, Robert Porter of Michigan, at the house around the same time. A third man, Matthew Murzynski, 25, of Elkhart, had previously pleaded guilty to charges in the case.
Evidence was presented at trial showing Dyer was accused by people at the house, described as a haven for methamphetamine users, having a so-called “snitch list” of names.
“This house of horrors started over a piece of paper,” Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Doyle told jurors during her closing arguments. “This single paper sent Matthew Murzynski and Mario Angulo into an irate tirade, a fit of rage which ultimately resulted in Kim Dyer’s death.”
Doyle argued Angulo and Murzynski led the initial abuse, with Dyer beaten, bound, tortured and burned in order to force her to talk about the list. Porter was also beaten, bound and humiliated as part of an alleged plan to rob him.
Owen was allegedly called in to help oversee the interrogation as well as the robbery while other people were at the house at the same time. The three were linked to each other through a gang affiliation.
According to his testimony in the trial’s opening days, Porter alleged he was compelled by the defendants to help strangle Dyer with a garden hose in the home’s basement. He was eventually allowed to leave, under threats to stay quiet.
Doyle said Owen gave the decision for Dyer to be “put to sleep.” Angulo, she said, then killed Dyer by slicing her throat with the glass of a broken bottle. Doyle called it the 83rd and final injury inflicted on Dyer when she died.
Owen, Angulo and another woman were then said to have driven Dyer’s body, stuffed in a trash bin, and dumped and covered it in a marshy area along Mintdale Road near Constantine, Mich.
“They’re just cowards, and they’re murderers. So find them guilty,” Doyle said.
The closing arguments ran more than six hours.
Owen and Angulo’s defense attorneys both questioned the credibility of the witnesses who testified for the prosecution, including Porter.
Both sides indicated the situation involved conspiracies and scapegoating. The prosecution painted a scenario where Porter was apparently set up to take the fall for Dyer’s death. Angulo’s attorney, Thomas Dixon, theorized Porter and Murzynski were the true suspects, and Angulo was set up to take the blame.
“Nobody puts somebody under duress and says, ‘You’ve gotta do one other thing, and then we’re gonna let you go – but here, let’s make sure there’s no evidence that’ll implicate you,” Dixon said of the evidence presented that showed Porter was given gloves to wear while helping strangle Dyer.
Owen’s attorney, Jefferey Majerek, argued Owen went to the house to confront Porter over allegations he’d raped Dyer. He alleged the beating Porter took wasn’t a robbery so much as vigilantism.
“Donald Owen whooped his butt, he whipped Robert’s butt,” Majerek said. “In his mind it wasn’t robbery, it was justice.”
Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker countered the argument saying there was no evidence showing any male DNA in Dyer.
Becker accused the defense of poking at incidental issues in the case and passing blame for the murder.
“All they want to do is point the finger at everybody else,” Becker said. “That’s all you heard in those arguments.”
The verdicts against Owen and Angulo were separate verdicts. Though they were tried together, the jury was instructed to consider them separately. And though verdicts were reached, the case now moves into a second phase.
Becker intends to seek sentences of life in prison without parole against Owen and Angulo based on their affiliation through alleged gang activity. Since life exceeds the maximum of 65 years in prison on a murder charge, separate arguments have to be made to seek the enhanced sentence.
Judge Christofeno ordered the jury to reconvene to hear those arguments beginning Monday, May 17.
Murzynski, meanwhile, had pleaded guilty to counts of aiding, inducing or causing robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, as well as aiding, inducing or causing criminal confinement for his role in the case. He’s scheduled to be sentenced May 6.