Introduction

In April 2019, four people were killed in Mandan in what is considered one of North Dakota’s more notorious crimes. Several days later, Chad Isaak of Washburn was arrested and charged with the murders. After two years of court procedures and delays, Isaak’s trial finally began on August 2, 2021. Jury selection took two days and, on August 4, opening statements and testimony began. The trial ended August 20, 2021.

In addition to live streaming coverage of the trial, KX News also kept a rolling reporter’s notebook of what happened in the courtroom, tracking the events and testimony as they unfolded and updating it all online.

It is not a trial transcript reflecting every word spoken in the courtroom. It’s a series of information summaries of what was happening, transcribed as quickly as possible by the reporter. As a result, some sentence structure and other grammatical usage errors may be noticeable.

Below is the notebook from the trial coverage exactly one year ago today:

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The Trial

8:00 a.m.: Day 8 of testimony in the Chad Isaak trial, Day 10 in the trial overall, is expected to start at 8:30 a.m. The trial started Monday, August 2. Jury selection took two days. Testimony began August 4.

8:32 a.m.: The trial of Chad Isaak has resumed, Judge David Reich presiding.

8:33 a.m.: Direct examination by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld of Bureau of Criminal Investigation supervisory special agent Arnie Rummel.

Witness Arnie Rummel

Rummel testifies a knife was found in the washing machine in Chad Isaak’s home during an April 4 search. Rummel calls it a murder weapon, due to the orange handle of the knife, that it was under wet clothing and the tip was bent, indicating it hit something hard. Considered the possibility of it hitting bone while stabbing people. Also thinks while the suspect was stabbing someone, it went all the way through the body and hit concrete. Did not find blood on the knife. It didn’t surprise him because it had been washed and bleached.

Also found wire saws in Isaak’s home. Says they found a hand saw, or wire saw, on the floor near the body of Robert Fakler. Says it’s not unusual for people to leave a wire saw laying around. Says they felt there was a link between the wire saw at RJR and at Chad Isaak’s home.

Rummel says ammunition was found at Chad Isaak’s home.

Says he was on scene at Isaak’s home during the search when the orange hood sweatshirt was found in the washing machine and when the reversible mask, camouflage on one side, hunter orange on the other was also found in the dryer.

Rummel says the mask color and cutout in the mask indicated to him it was the same as the one in the April 1, 2019 surveillance videos. Also made a connection between the orange sweatshirt found in the dryer and the one worn by the suspect in the videos.

Rummel says a pair of gloves on the legs of a chair upside down inside the living room. Says he believes they were propped up to dry. Says he could smell bleach on the gloves. Says the gloves seen in the April 1, 2019 RJR surveillance videos match the gloves in Chad Isaak’s home in design and color — an orange piece of leather inside the gloves and part of an opening on the gloves from the bottom of the gloves up toward the palm. The opening attaches via velcro strips. Says he saw that orange opening in the gloves in RJR video and in the gloves at Chad Isaak’s home.

Gloves found during April 4 search of Chad Isaak’s home

Says blood pinprick impressions leading to the bathroom and door handle at the RJR scene from the gloves. Says it was the pattern he saw that drew his attention — more visible on the suspect pickup.

Says the evidence investigators found was bleached. Says that tells him Chad Isaak was trying to destroy evidence.

Testifies in many criminal investigations, they never find what the motives are. Some people just kill for fun, he says — that is hard to prove.

Says investigators did not find a motive for the killings of William Cobb, Lois Cobb, Adam Fuehrer and Robert Fakler. Also says he is confident one person did the killings — Chad Isaak.

8:55 a.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Hummel testified he reviews reports for approval and other information related to the investigation. Says his job in the RJR investigation is oversight. Heck is focusing on report writing and report writing procedures. Asks is the rule of thumb in training for police writing is, “If it isn’t in the report, it didn’t happen.” Rummel disagrees on that. Says there are times later evidence may be found and the relevant information is added to the report.

Rummel says there were well over 100 reports by BCI investigators he reviewed and approved. He also wrote one report related to the RJR case, outlining his investigation on April 1-3 plus the search warrant.

In his report, Rummel said he smelled bleach on the gun and in the freezer. Acknowledges he did not say in the report there was the smell of bleach everywhere in the home.

Rummel acknowledges the numerous agents who were present during the search of Chad Isaak’s home wrote reports on the search. Defense attorney Heck presents Rummel with reports written by agents who searched the Chad Isaak home. Asks Rummel to review the reports. In BCI agent Joe Arenz’ report, Arenz reports the smell of bleach in the back bathroom of the Isaak home. In BCI agent Pat Lenertz’ report, it mentions the smell of bleach in the bathroom in the Isaak home. In BCI agent Matt Hiatt’s report, Hiatt does not mention the smell of bleach in the Isaak home. Another BCI agent report on the search does not mention the smell of bleach in the Chad Isaak home. A report by BCI agent Pat Helfrich doesn’t mention the smell of bleach in the Chad Isaak home. A report by BCI agent Smith did not mention the smell of bleach in the Isaak home.

9:19 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls for a one-minute stretch break.

9:20 a.m.: The trial resumes.

9:20 a.m.: The trial resumes, continuing with testimony by Arnie Rummel under cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Heck is asking Rummel to review reports submitted by investigators concerning the April 4 search of Chad Isaak’s home in Washburn. The focus is on how many agents mentioned in their reports the smell of bleach in the Isaak home. Rummel has testified earlier that he detected the smell of bleach everywhere in Chad Isaak’s home during the search. Another agent report on the search did not mention the smell of bleach in the Chad Isaak home.

Rummel acknowledges he did not put in any of his reports that he measured the back fence height behind Big O Tires. Also didn’t note what he called Chad Isaak’s smirk in his report. Says investigators did not test the gun for bleach. Didn’t test the gloves for bleach.

Rummel says he and others met with lab techs in September 2019. Discussed the lab analyses of evidence submitted for evaluation.

Investigators determined before the searches that a 38 caliber, 357 caliber, 9-millimeter gun may have been involved in the killings. Heck identifies weapons found in William Cobb’s vehicle, Lois Cobb’s purse, a gun in an RJR office cabinet, and four handguns being found near the crime scene.

Rummel says a number of firearms — guns and rifles — were seized during the Chad Isaak search of his home in addition to the gun found in the freezer. Says they also seized other knives from Isaak’s home in addition to the orange knife found in the washer. Says no photo was taken of the freezer before he opened the freezer and found the gun parts.

Says he doesn’t know if all the items that were seized were sent to labs for testing and analysis. He is aware of some of the items that were sent for testing that had specific connections to the crime and investigation.

Says some items were sent out of state for testing, although he is not sure which items were sent.

Says he’s not sure if any ligature marks were found on the bodies.

9:40 a.m.: Re-direct by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld. Says he does not recall every detail of the investigation. Says one reason for having several agents investigating. Says many of the weapons confiscated during the Isaak home search were excluded as relevant evidence to the crime. Of all the weapons found at the Isaak home, says investigators are confident that they found the specific murder weapons at the home: The orange knife and the parts of guns found in the freezer.

Testifies he reviews reports but he does not edit or alter them on his own. Says it’s up to the specific case agent to determine what is in his or her report. Says some of the agents referenced bleach and some did not. Says just because some agents did not reference the odor of bleach, that doesn’t mean there was not the odor of bleach in the Isaak home. Says he personally noticed the odor of bleach in the Isaak home.

Rummel testifies, based on the evidence he’s seen and helped collect, he believes Chad Isaak killed the four people at RJR.

9:48 a.m.: Re-cross-examination. Rummel says he doesn’t know where everything was sent for testing. Heck asks, “You’re formulating opinions but you haven’t seen all the evidence.” Rummel replies he’s seen enough of the relevant evidence to draw his conclusions. Says he’s not sure if there is a report on the measurement of the Big O Tires fence. Says he did the fence measurement with Mandan Police. Acknowledges his observation about the odor of bleach being everywhere at Isaak’s home didn’t make it into his own report.

9:50 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls a 20-minute morning recess. The trial will resume at 10:10 a.m.

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10:12 a.m.: The Chad Isaak trial resumes, Judge David Reich presiding.

10:13 a.m.: Witness called — Pat Helfrich, Bureau of Criminal Investigation special agent. Details experience and training in law enforcement. He is a member of the BCI cybercrime unit.

Witness Pat Helfrich

Helfrich assisted in the search of Chad Isaak’s home on April 4, 2019. Says they were looking for a revolver and clothing. He says he searched the out buildings and, inside the home, an office/storage area. Says he found evidence in the closet of the room. He saw a sock and something with a distinct shape in the sock. When he pulled the object from the sock, it was a ziplock bag containing empty shell casings and a box containing live cartridges with 12 empty spaces for bullets.

Box of live cartridges contained in a sock found during the April 4 search of Chad Isaak’s home

Box of live cartridges (bottom) and a bag of empty shell casings (top) found in the April 4 search of Chad Isaak’s home. Both items were found in a sock in a bedroom closet.

What stood out for him was the ammunition, 38 special rounds, which matched what they were looking for in the search warrant. The fact that the empty cartridges and ammo box were hidden in a sock in a closet also stood out to him.

Helfrich says nine shell casings were in the sock. says the number was significant because, through the investigation, nine rounds were fired at the RJR scene.

10:28 a.m.: Cross-examination by Bruce Quick. Asks if Helfrich would be surprised to learn the autopsy reports suggest different numbers than nine shots. Helfrich says he would not be surprised. Says he helped dump the data from the Robert Fakler phone which indicated the affair with Lisa Olson. Helped download data from another phone in Robert Fakler’s vehicle. A small computer that downloads driving info, where the vehicle has started in its travels and other information was also checked.

10:31 a.m.: Re-direct by Neufeld. Helfrich says he did not find a firearm in Isaak’s residence that could have fired the 38 special bullets. Says he did learn that parts of a gun were found in the freezer that were thought to have been used in the RJR killings.

10:33 a.m.: Re-cross-examination by Quick. Helfrich says other handguns and a rifle were found in Isaak’s home as well.

10:34 a.m.: Witness called — Scott Voeltz, BCI special agent. Direct examination by Austin Gunderson. Voeltz details his experience and training in law enforcement.

Witness Scott Voeltz

Voeltz says he was involved in the search of Chad Isaak’s chiropractic office on April 4, 2019.

Found 3 boxes of live ammunition in a microwave oven in Isaak’s office. The live ammunition was 357 ammunition. Voeltz says it was an odd place to store ammunition.

Ammunition boxes stored in a microwave found during the search of Chad Isaak’s office

Found about 16 pairs of shoes of the same kind. Noticed the suspect in the RJR video was wearing shoes similar to the shoes found in Chad Isaak’s office.

Storage container in Chad Isaak’s office containing 16 pairs of shoes, all the same kind, and similar, according to investigators, to the shoes seen in surveillance videos on April 1 and March 25, 2019,

Says the appointment book found in the office was notable for the lack of appointments for the mornings of April 1, 2019 and March 25, 2019.

Says he found a March 29, 2019, entry in the appointment book with are the words, “stay RJR me,” written around the 4:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. appointment times printed in the book.

Desk in Chad Isaak’s office with an appointment book and computer. Photo is from the April 4 search of the office.

10:54 a.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Bruce Quick. Voeltz acknowledges there aren’t many or any morning appointments throughout the appointment book and not just on March 25 and April 1, 2019. . Quick asks couldn’t the notation on March 29 be a reminder note to Isaak to pay his rent? Voeltz says yes, it is possible.

Voeltz says the April 4 search warrant says “footwear” was what they were looking for. Quick says it didn’t specify “shoes” or “boots.”

11:01 a.m.: Re-direct by prosecuting attorney Austin Gunderson. Voeltz says he saw the April 1, 2019 video surveillance of the suspect. Says he saw the shoes in that video and those shoes matched the ones he found in the chiropractic clinic. Says the “stay RJR me” note in the appointment book, 3 days before the killings.

11:03 a.m.: Re-cross-examination by Quick. Says he recalls the “Be On The Lookout” or BOLO bulletin, but doesn’t recall it referencing number 95 on the bottom of the shoes to be on the lookout for.

11:05 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls a one-minute stretch break.

11:06 a.m.: The trial resumes.

11:06 a.m.: Witness called — Tim Helmer, BCI special agent. Direct examination by Gabrielle Joy Goter. Details his training and experience in law enforcement. Stationed in Dickinson.

Witness Tim Helmer

He helped execute search warrants April 4, 2019 on Chad Isaak’s vehicle, business and home. Says Chad Isaak’s vehicle was a white Ford F-150.

Helmer photographed Isaak’s vehicle during the April 4 search. Took photos around the vehicle to show its condition prior to the search, document that seals are on the vehicle showing it has not been entered since being sealed and to document significant characteristics. Describes the significant items, such as rust in the rear wheel wells and mud on the front bumper that are consistent with the characteristics in the April 1, 2019 and March 25, 2019 surveillance videos of the suspect vehicle.

Helmer says in the front passenger seat, covered by a comforter, was a green Menard’s bucket, containing sticky notes, a black tank top, some socks, a navy blue stocking hat and a tri-fold wallet. The wallet included Chad Isaak’s driver’s license, other cards and an RJR business card, with the name “Robert” written on the back.

Green Menard’s bucket found in Chad Isaak’s vehicle during April 4 search
Contents of Chad Isaak’s wallet found in the green Menard’s bucket during the April 4 search of his vehicle. The contents included an RJR business card (bottom right). On the back of the card was written “Robert”

Also found a Carhart jacket on the floorboard of the passenger side with cards inside. A flip phone belonging to Chad Isaak was also found in a pocket. Says it was notable for the lack of any call information from March 20 to April 4. Says it was significant because of the activities found on surveillance video on March 25 and April 1, 2019. Says it appears a person had wiped any call data from the phone for that period.

Flip phone found during the April 4 search of Chad Isaak’s vehicle.

Black and brown boots were found on the passenger side floorboard, along with a dark hat stuffed in a boot. The hat was containing orange fibers. An orange fiber was also found in the interior of the boot.

Also found a dark ski mask in the rear pocket of the passenger seat.

Found reddish-brown stains on the inside door jamb on the driver’s side. Says they tested it for DNA because the person who committed the killings at RJR may have had blood on his person and that could have transferred blood to the vehicle. Also found a white sock in the pocket of the driver’s door with reddish-brown stains.

Found reddish-brown stains on the doorjamb of the passenger side rear door on the driver’s side. Swabs were taken for to identify the blood and DNA. Also found reddish-brown stains on the rear passenger door on the driver’s side.

12:00 pm.: Judge David Reich calls a lunch recess. The trial will resume at 1:15 p.m.

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1:18 p.m.: The Chad Isaak trial has resumed, Judge David Reich presiding.

Defendant Chad Isaak

1:19 p.m.: Continuation of direct examination of BCI agent Tim Helmer by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter. Helmer is testifying about photos he took during the April 4, 2019, search of Chad Isaak’s vehicle.

Witness Tim Helmer

During the search, investigators found three particular cards and tags that focused specifically on weapons and ammunition. In relation to the RJR killings where a gun was used, these items drew heightened interest. Says, during the search of the vehicle, numerous areas resembling blood marks — areas of reddish-brown — were found in various locations in the vehicle. Swabs were taken of each of those areas, to test for blood and DNA.

Helmer says after the search and photos, the vehicle was resealed to preserve the integrity of evidence in and on the vehicle.

Helmer says after searching the vehicle, he went over to Chad Isaak’s office to execute a search warrant.

Says he interviewed numerous RJR employees April 2 and April 3, 2019, to develop information and leads. Nothing came from those interviews of relevance to the killings.

1:36 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Bruce Quick. Says on April 2 or 3, 2019, he canvassed the area around RJR and he took 82 photos. Took images of time impressions, shoe impressions. Found in a dumpster at Midway Lane Brown boots with a reddish stain. Did some casting of a boot imprint. The casting process melted the boot print, making it useless to investigators.

Says he and other agents did the search of the Isaak vehicle in the McLean County Sheriff’s Office garage. Says there were several people involved in the Isaak vehicle search. Says the evidence sheet shows who found evidence in the vehicle, not who actually collected the evidence from the vehicle.

Helmer says he was not wearing booties or a Tyvek suit.

Says flip phones tend to have a lot less user information than a smartphone. Says could see a call log for the phone and noticed a gap in call log from March 20 to April 4; that is, there was no information on calls during that period.

1:46 p.m.: Re-direct by Gabrielle Job Goter. Says during the canvas around the RJR area, they were looking not just for boots, but shoes and any kind of footwear or biological evidence.

1:51 p.m.: Re-cross-examination by Quick. Says he does not know who opened the doors to Chad Isaak’s vehicle during the traffic stop on April 4th. Says he was not present for the traffic stop.

1:52 p.m.: Judge David Reich calls for a one-minute stretch break.

1:53 p.m.: The trial has resumed.

1:53 p.m.: Witness called — Allison Rees, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives fingerprint specialist, imprint/impression analyst. Details her experience and training. Goes over testing, process of evidence in ATF labs., quality assurance procedures, how chain of evidence and evidence integrity is handled.

Witness Allison Rees

Rees says the proper chain of custody and security of the evidence was maintained for RJR evidence sent for testing. Says her work is also reviewed by her superiors to ensure all processes and procedures were followed and that the analytic conclusions are soundly based on the evidence provided.

Rees conducted footwear impression analysis on evidence in the RJR killings.

She received two pairs of Avia size 12 shoes and a CD with photos. There are two folders on the CD, one labeled “Isaak Shoes From Dryer” and the other, “Impressions From Scene.”

Prosecuting attorney Gabrielle joy Goter is introducing several items into evidence that Allison Rees worked with during her analysis work on the RJR case.

Rees testifies to how she analyzed the shoeprint photos collected from the crime scene and then provided to her on the CD and in the physical shoes.

Witness Allison Rees

Explains how she compared the physical shoes to the shoe prints on the photo CD. She worked to create transparencies of the physical shoe prints to use to compare the actual shoe and the images of shoe prints to look for where they matched and didn’t match.

2:52 p.m.: Judge David Reich calls for a 20-minute afternoon recess. The trial will resume at 3:10 p.m.

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3:12 p.m.: The trial of Chad Isaak resumes, Judge Dave Reich presiding.

3:13 pm.: Direct examination of ATF specialist/analyst Allison Rees continues by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter. Rees analyzed photos of shoe prints taken at the scene of the RJR killings April 1, 2019, with a pair of size 12 Avia shoes later collected as evidence from the dryer in Chad Isaak’s home. Essentially, she enlarged the shoe print photos to match the actual size of the shoes and then compared the bottoms of the physical shoes with the photos. She made a transparency of the photo shoe prints and laid them over images of the physical shoes to compare what matched and didn’t match.

Rees says, based on her comparisons, the physical left shoe and the photos of left shoe prints from the scene of the RJR killings shared the same class characteristics in the physical size, tread patterns, voids and the shape of the heel of the shoe.

She can’t conclusively say the physical shoe she analyzed is the specific shoe that made the impression at the crime scene, only that there are similar class characteristics between the left shoe and the photos of the shoe prints at the crime scene.

Her ultimate conclusion: There is an association of class characteristics in size and tread patterns between the physical left shoe and the photos of shoe imprints at the crime scene.

3:22 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Rees says shoes can have unique characteristics, called “randomly acquired characteristics.” These are markings acquired over time that distinctively modify the shoe’s characteristics.

Could not identify any ‘randomly acquired characteristics” in the shoe print she analyzed.

Says there were some characteristics in a photo of the shoe print that differ from the physical shoe when the two were compared.

3:36 p.m.: Re-direct by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter. Says a wet or sticky surface can cause shoes to slide, making the shoe print more difficult to see. A sliding shoe print could cause randomly acquired characteristics to not show up in the shoe prints.

Rees says the two size 12 shoes provided to her to analyze match the general characteristics of the left shoe print photo from the crime scene.

Says the “peak” referred to in the shoe print photo could be caused by sliding.

3:41 p.m.: Re-cross-examination by Luke Heck. Says she does not recall observing any liquids on the shoes at the time.

3:42 p.m.: Witness called — Craig Sandusky, BCI special agent. Details his training and experience in law enforcement.

Witness Craig Sandusky

Arrived on April 3, 2019, to assist with the RJR investigation. He and other investigators canvassed the area between McDonald’s and RJR. Says they were looking for anything that might stand out or appear out of the ordinary.

Says he also sat in on interviews of RJR employees, seeking any connections to anybody or find information that stands out. Says nothing significant came out of the interviews.

Sandusky was involved in the searches of Chad Isaak’s truck and his chiropractic business. The search of Chad Isaak’s vehicle took place on April 4, 2019.

Says investigators were looking for orange apparel, dark shoes, firearms, knives, anything that could cut, potential DNA evidence. He was assigned to collect swabs of potential evidence from the vehicle, so he put on a Tyvek suit and gloves taped to the suit.

Says he and two other investigators were looking for and found evidence in the vehicle. Another agent was responsible for collecting and bagging the evidence found.

Testifies he took 9 DNA swabs from the vehicle. He also cut out three pieces of upholstery from the back seat because they had stains that could be potential evidence.. Also did tape lifts of potential evidence and removed the driver’s side seatbelt and seatbelt cover so the area beneath the cover could be examined and possibly tested.

All the other agents processing the truck were wearing gloves.

4:05 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Bruce Quick. Sandusky says he did employee interviews on April 3 and April 4. Sandusky says nothing came of the interviews for evidentiary purposes. Quick says one report indicates employee Ben Pace identifies several possible suspects: Someone just paroled from prison that issued a threat, some angry employees who had been terminated, some people in lawsuits against RJR who were not happy, a person who claimed people who occasionally pointed guns at RJR employees.

4:15 p.m.: Re-direct by Gabrielle Joy Goter. Says he conducted two interviews with Ben Pace. Says he interviewed Karen Bjerke, who indicated a number of instances that stood out to her about people who got mad with management. Says she said she heard reports of employees having guns pointed at them, so she didn’t have any direct knowledge of those incidents.

4:19 p.m.: Judge David Reich recesses the trial for the day. The trial will resume Monday, August 16, 2021 at 8:30 a.m.

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