By Managing Editor Teri L. Hansen
Despite the adamant claims of innocence by the defense, Judge John Klenda ruled that Travis Belt will go to trial. After three days of preliminary proceedings, Klenda ruled that there was enough evidence to move forward, and so Belt will face five felony charges including first-degree premeditated murder of 58-year-old McPherson resident Steven Carlson who was found dead in his home at 548 Eshelman in April 2017. The original charges were filed in 2017.
A jury trial was scheduled for April 23, 2019. However, the State dismissed the case without prejudice, stating that they wanted time to allow for further testing of DNA found at the scene. On June 19, 2019, the State refiled the case with the complaints being the same as the original filing.
On April 14, 2017 McPherson Police Department officers entered Carlson’s residence upon seeing signs of a break-in. Carlson was found deceased with lacerations to his neck.
Randall Fisher, Belt’s attorney argued passionately to his client’s innocent. Contesting that the state had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Belt committed the crimes for which he accused.
“There are all kinds of evidence to indicate that probable cause does not exist in this case,” Fisher said. “There is nothing except conjecture to support that.”
Despite producing a theory in which Craig Shelton, who allegedly found the body, was to blame for the death of Carlson, an arraignment was scheduled for 1 p.m. on Dec. 20.
“I think it’s clear from the evidence that Mr. Shelton has never been truthful in this case,” Fisher said. “He didn’t find that body, he knew that body was there.”
Prior to making this determination, Klenda heard from numerous witnesses called to the stand by the defense and one called by the prosecution.
A lifelong resident of McPherson, Sarah Koehn was living with Carlson at the time of his death and described him as “very violent.” She also testified that she had heard Tamica Sanchez, who she had known for 14 years, say that she “would like to get high and stab someone.” Koehn testified that it was known to be a fantasy of Sanchez.
Previously a resident of Galva, Sarah Reeves testified that she knew Belt, Carlson and Shelton. She stated that after the murder of Carlson, Shelton had been to her home during a gathering. He was acting erratic, though that was not uncommon for him.
“What caught my attention was he said, ‘If I told you that I killed Steve, would you tell on me?’” Reeves explained during her testimony.
She also testified that he gave her a knife that he said he used to kill Carlson, though she couldn’t remember what it looked like.
“He told me to take care of it and don’t let anyone have it,” she said.
Reeves kept the knife and during that time showed it to Paige White who testified yesterday. She eventually spoke with police and gave it to law enforcement. Reeves also testified that following her interview with police, Shelton was around her often, but never threatened her.
“For the next week or so he kept a pretty close eye on me,” she said.
Once again McPherson Police Department’s Ryan Bauer was called to the stand, this time by the defense rather than the prosecution. Bauer took the stand on the first day of the proceedings as a witness for the state.
Bauer testified that he was present for the autopsy to take photographs and fingerprints. He did state that in his experience it was a particularly gruesome homicide in which the victim’s throat was cut with multiple veins severed and “there were multiple sharp force injuries.”
He also corroborated Reeves previous testimony when he described his interview with her during which she told him that she had met with Shelton the day after the murder and that he gave her a knife. She told Bauer that she was afraid of Shelton, who had said he had killed Carlson. She also turned over the knife, a box cutter, which was placed in evidence. He could not recall if it had ever been tested for evidence.
Bauer also spoke about his interview Kevin Rubio. Rubio testified yesterday that he couldn’t recall anything from that time due to drug use. Bauer however, stated that during his interview Rubio told him that he had been at the house the night Carlson was murdered. Shelton told Rubio that Carlson was dead in the other room, to which Rubio responded that he “didn’t want anything to do with it” and left the residence.
Upon cross examination, Assistant District Attorney Amanda Voth brought up multiple versions that Rubio had given police about what happened to Carlson. In one version, Rubio claimed that “the cartel” had killed him and that the cartel was all over McPherson. In another interview, Rubio stated that he had nothing to do with the death of Carlson and knew nothing about it. Rubio also had another story in which he saw Belt after the murder with a bloody, white tank top on and had to change clothing though he was not present during the death in this case.
Dr. Ronald G. Morford
Retired Coroner for the 9th Judicial District Dr. Ronald G. Morford, responded to Carlson’s home when the body was found.
Yesterday, the defense entered a report into evidence. The report was a provisional anatomic diagnosis and report of death from the coroner’s office. On these documents, the time of death is listed as approximately 1 p.m.
Carlson was last seen alive at 2 a.m. and his body was found at around 7 p.m. at which time rigor mortis had set in.
“There’s no hard and fast evidence on when rigor mortis sets in,” Morford said.
However, he stated that based on the variables at play he estimated that Carlson likely died between 2 a.m. to 3 p.m. He again reiterated that 1 p.m. is an “arbitrary number” because time of death is not easy to determine without a witness of the death. He did also state that when this paperwork is completed, whoever fills it out “Intends to be as accurate as possible with the information that he has at the time.”