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:
8:00 a.m.: Day 10 of testimony in the Chad Isaak trial, Day 12 in the trial overall, is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. The trial started Monday, August 2. Jury selection took two days. Testimony began August 4. The prosecution is nearing the end of its presentation, with a handful of witnesses left on its list call.
8:32 a.m.: The Chad Isaak trial is in session, Judge David Reich presiding.
8:33 a.m.: Continuation of cross-examination of Kyle Splichal, forensic biologist, Defense Forensic Science Center, US Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory. Splichal formerly worked at the North Dakota State Crime lab. Cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck.
Splichal outlines how evidence is handled, how the chain of custody of evidence is maintained and where evidence is stored at the ND State Crime Lab. Attorney Heck is emphasizing the importance of keeping DNA evidence from potential cross-contamination.
Splichal says DNA can easily transfer from one piece to another, especially if it is liquid form. That’s why analysts wear protective coverings and are particularly cautious in handling DNA evidence.
Splichal says proper labeling of evidence is crucial. Also says it’s important to constantly change gloves after handling crime scene evidence.
Says the crime lab has protocols to ensure the integrity of the evidence when it arrives at and is handled by the state crime lab.
Splichal says the swab of the south door at RJR, swabs from the shop, a swab from the driver’s door armrest from the RJR vehicle, the RJR gear selector swab, a swab of the rings attached to a wire on the RJR shop floor, a swab of a wire attached to the rings all showed Chad Isaak’s DNA was excluded from the profiles. There was no DNA on the copper bullet jacket from RJR.
Two fingernail clippings of Chad Isaak showed no other DNA than his.
On a swab tested for item 17, Splichal says Robert Fakler cannot be excluded from the DNA sampled and for item 16, Robert Fakler and Lois Cobb could not be excluded as minor contributors to the DNA sample.
Splichal testifies it would not be uncommon to find Chad Isaak’s DNA on his vehicle.
Says to call a DNA sample a match to a known profile, you would need half or more of the genetic material matching that profile.
On the front of Splichal’s lab report is a list of who handled the evidence tested.
Says the known samples were submitted to the crime lab on April 15th. They were submitted after the Chad Isaak truck samples were submitted.
9:00 a.m.: Re-direct by Gabrielle Joy Goter. Splichal says all evidence coming into the state crime lab is checked to make sure it is properly intact and matches the documentation on the items. Says the RJR evidence was properly in order and there were no issues.
Splichal says they change gloves often when handling DNA evidence to avoid potential DNA transfer from the lab worker.
Says he cannot speak to evidence not submitted for DNA testing.
As to the item 14 test, says Robert Fakler cannot be excluded from the major DNA profile in the swab results. The chances it would be someone else was 1 in 482 billion.
On the item 16a test results from evidence from Chad Isaak’s truck, the major result was for Chad Issak and the minor DNA profile could not exclude Robert Fakler or Lois Cobb.
Says analysts can only say a piece of DNA got onto an item of evidence tested, they can’t say how it got there or when it got there.
During the lab’s working hours, there is always someone there to sign for and accept evidence. Hand-to-hand delivery of the evidence is secure, meaning it has gone from one specific person to another, and not left at the door where anyone could access the package.
Says there’s nothing strange about unknown samples being submitted to the lab before known samples are submitted to the lab.
Says the lab usually processes the unknown samples first before the known samples are processed. Then the known sample is compared to the unknown sample.
Says he stands by the results of the DNA analysis.
9:14 a.m.: Re-cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Discusses if the statistics are conditional on the DNA contributors being at the same place at the same time.
Heck asks, hypothetically, if proper protocol was not followed before the evidence was sent to the lab, would it change his view on the handling of the evidence. Splichal says it would cause him to question the person or persons that submitted the evidence to learn more about the situation.
9:19 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls for a one-minute stretch break.
9:21 a.m.: The trial resumes.
9:21 a.m.: Witness called — Arnold Esposito, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives department firearms and toolmark examiner. Questioning by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter.
Esposito outlines what he does and his experience and training.
Explains how evidence is handled at the ATF labs. Also, more than one examiner goes over the evidence to make sure the conclusions drawn are sound. Esposito says when he receives evidence, he inventories the evidence and photographs the evidence to document its condition and compares the evidence to the evidence documentation. Then he starts the examination process.
When firearms are manufactured, they are exposed to certain random markings from the tools making them. When a firearm is fired, unique markings in the firearm can be transferred to the cartridge fired from the firearm. Based on those unique markings, this makes it possible to trace a cartridge to a specific firearm.
A revolver has a rotating cylinder where the cartridges are held. Once a revolver is fired, the fired cartridges remain in the cylinder until removed by the shooter. A semi-automatic ejects the shell casings when fired.
Esposito explains “class characteristics” are characteristics of a unique group of firearms, such as make, model and rifling. “Individual characteristics” are the unique, random markings made during the manufacturing process.
Uses a comparison microscope which allows him to look at bullets under high magnification to identify markings on one bullet to markings on another bullet or cartridge case and see how they compare.
If the class characteristics match, he then looks at the individual characteristics of the items being compared — the distinct, random markings produced during the manufacturing process.
Esposito says he performed the analysis of evidence in the RJR investigation. His report was then reviewed by another examiner. The review agreed with Esposito’s conclusions. He prepared two reports on the RJR evidence he examined.
9:58 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls a 20-minute morning recess. The trial will resume at 10:20 a.m.
10:25 a.m.: The Chad Isaak trial resumes, Judge David Reich presiding
10:26 a.m.: Continuation of direct examination of Arnold Esposito, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives department firearms and toolmark examiner by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter.
Esposito says he examined 8 fired bullets in the RJR case. Says he completed a bullet worksheet for each bullet. Weighed each bullet, measured the diameter and noted the class characteristics of the bullet and the rifling impressions.
Class characteristics were in the 38 caliber family.
Esposito noted in his examination that all the bullets were hollow point design bullets. Two of the projectiles had some maroon-colored fibers in the hollow points.
He also compared the bullets to each other. He noted they all share the same class features, meaning the dimensions of the rifling impressions. This suggests they could have all been fired from the same firearm, but added there were insufficient marks to let him says conclusively all the bullets came from the same firearm.
Esposito measured the rifling impressions of the bullets. Matched that against an FBI database on rifling impressions of firearms around the world. This gave him a list of firearms that could have possibly fired the bullets: 38 caliber, 9 millimeter and 357 magnum could have fired those bullets. Types of firearms include are revolvers, derringers, some lever-action rifles and semiautomatic firearms.
Esposito recaps he examined the 8 fired bullets, they were in the 38 caliber class, that they could have been fired from the same weapon.
Esposito also examined 9 expended cartridge casings submitted to him for examination. The shell casings came from the Chad Isaak home seized during a search of the home.
Says he noted that they all shared the same caliber — 38 special — and they had the same manufacturer stamp. Looked at the firing pin impressions and other marks left on the casings by a firearm when it was fired. Says all the shell casings shared the same class characteristics.
Can’t conclusively say they were all fired from the same weapon. Says the fired bullets could have come from the same casings but couldn’t say definitively.
Says he also examined a box of commercial ammunition that contained 13 live cartridges. Says the bullets shared the same class, or design characteristics, of the fired bullets. He also noted the head stamp on the unfired bullets were the same as those on the shell casings he examined.
Says he also took one of the cartridges and safety removed the bottom of the bullet. All the characteristics of the unfired bullets had similar characteristics to the fired bullet.
A cannelure is a marking pressed into the diameter of the cartridge. Says the cannelure markings on the fired and unfired bullets shared the same class characteristics.
Also examined gun parts submitted to him for examination — a fire control housing and some firearm component parts. He tried to identify the manufacturer of the firearm frame. He noticed the grip had a Ruger firearm logo. He attended a recent Ruger firearm course recently and worked on a 38 caliber LCR Luger 28 special firearm, a revolver type firearm. He said the weapon he worked on in the course was similar to the weapons submitted to him for testing.
He said the bottom part of the submitted gun was missing the upper component which held the barrel and the revolving cylinder and the serial number. He said those are the parts he would use to match a fired bullet to the weapon.
Says the bullets and cartridges could be fired in a 39 special Ruger revolver.
Says he examined a second firearm submitted in the RJR case. Says it was a Taurus semiautomatic pistol, 9 millimeter caliber. This firearm was on the list of possible firearms matching the type of bullets that could be fired from the firearm.
Fired two test bullets from the gun and, under examination, concluded the bullet and cartridge case fired from the submitted gun were excluded from matching the RJR bullets and casings.
11:04 a.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Jesse Walstad. Reviews Arnold Esposito’s reports.
Esposito restates he could not conclude the 8 RJR investigation bullets submitted to him for examination were fired from the same gun. Says the bullets could have been fired from more than one gun.
The FBI database search suggested numerous types of firearms that could handle the 38 caliber class of bullets he identified.
Says the database suggested 76 different firearms could have fired the victim bullets.
Says the 9 shell casings were consistent with the 38 caliber class. Says, after examination, the 9 shell casings could neither be included nor excluded as having been fired from the same firearm.
Esposito says he is aware Ruger produces many weapons that use a common fire control like the one used in the LCR Ruger.
Says after examining the RJR gun frame, he could not conclusively state the weapon fired the RJR victim bullets.
Says he cannot say all the bullets were fired from the same gun, that the casings were from the same gun, that the bullets came from the casings, and that multiple weapons could have fired the 38 class of bullets he examined.
Says later he received a Taurus 9 millimeter Luger, the RJR bullets and shell casings for comparison testing. He did a test firing of the gun to collect two test bullets. Excluded the Taurus as the gun that could have fired the RJR bullets and casings.
Says he did not receive for testing additional firearms beyond the two he received.
11:39 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls for a one-minute stretch break.
11:40 a.m.: The trial resumes.
11:40 a.m.: Re-direct by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter. Esposito says, when he searched the FBI database, he could only search on the 38 caliber class of bullets, he couldn’t narrow it down based on the class.
Esposito says, based on his examinations, he can’t exclude that the bullets were fired from the weapon he examined.
Says a 38 special bullet fired in a 357 weapon is a common scenario.
11:48 a.m.: Re-cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Says, in reviewing a Luger manual, a specific fire control housing can be used in all LCR models. There are six LCR models.
11:50 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls a noon recess. The trial will resume at 1:10 p.m.
1:13 p.m.: The trial of Chad Isaak has resumed, Judge David Reich presiding.
1:14 p.m.: Witness called — Amy Michaud, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) forensic chemist/trace evidence examiner. Direct examination by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter. Michaud outlines her experience and training.
Michaud says she analyzes small or microscopic evidence, including fiber analysis. In the RJR case, she examined the orange fibers collected and submitted by RJR investigators.
Explains how evidence submitted for trace analysis is secured and processed at the ATF lab. Michaud says her work is independently reviewed by another examiner. If both agree on the examination process and results, the report is released.
Michaud put together a PowerPoint presentation outlining how the examine fiber evidence, along with her conclusions from her analysis of RJR fiber evidence.
Says small fibers are easily transferrable from one source to another. For example, two people hugging will transfer fibers from their sweaters to each other. Those fibers can be extracted through a tape lift. She then looks for fibers under a high-powered stereo microscope, looking for “fibers that appear in abundance” that don’t appear to belong the garment from which they were collected. She examines known and unknown, or “question,” fibers in a split-screen format to make side-by-side comparisons. Uses polarized light to compare the optical properties of the fibers to help classify them as acrylic, nylon, polyester and so on.
Michaud also examines fibers for fluorescence and views the fibers under spectral analysis. Also views fibers under infrared light, which helps further classify the fiber and its underlying composition.
She can conclude inclusion (the known and unknown fibers match), exclusion (the known and unknown fibers don’t match) or inconclusive (not enough information to draw a strong conclusion).
Michaud says she analyzed two different sets of submitted fibers from the RJR case.
1:54 p.m.: The defense has objected to Michaud’s lab reports being entered into evidence. The prosecuting and defense attorneys are having a sidebar with the judge right now.
1:56 p.m.: The testimony resumes. The judge has allowed the introduction of the reports into evidence.
1:57 p.m.: Michaud says she received for examination a reversible face mask and an orange sweatshirt, both collected from Chad Isaak’s residence. The second submission included all the known garments from the victims, gloves from Chad Isaak’s residence and carpet fibers from the RJR building. She also received tape lifts from Chad Isaak’s clothing.
She says she received tape lifts of the clothing Chad Isaak was wearing at the time of his arrest, tape lifts from the RJR vehicle and the Chad Isaak vehicle.
Her conclusion from analyzing the reversible ski mask: Michaud says fibers in the reversible face mask matched fibers found on Chad Isaak’s black shirt, his orange sweatshirt, Chad Isaak’s truck, the RJR truck and on each of the victims’ clothing.
From the orange sweatshirt: Similar fibers found on the victims and in Chad Isaak’s vehicle and his clothing.
Also found blue fibers in the RJR vehicle and on Chad Isaak’s clothing.
She looked for other trace evidence that came off the submitted items. She found hairs found on the victim’s clothing and suspect’s clothing, so she requested but did not receive hair samples from investigators.
2:13 p.m.: Judge David Reich calls for a one-minute stretch break.
2:14 p.m.: The trial resumes.
2:14 p.m.: Cross-examination of Amy Michaud by defense attorney Luke Heck.
Michaud says she prepared detailed lab notes of her work for preparing her reports and for later testifying in court. She writes in her notes while she examined Chad Isaak’s clothing, noticed numerous maroon and medium blue fibers, carpet type fibers in addition to orange fibers. Acknowledges she didn’t mount on slides all the fibers she found, saying she’d still be doing that right now.
Acknowledges she did not receive known hair samples she requested to compare to unknown hairs. Says she did find dog hairs among the other hairs she found.
She asks for clarification on samples from an “RJR vehicle” and a “Ford F-150.” She wanted to clarify if the evidence was from the same vehicle or separate vehicles.
Attorney Heck tries to suggest investigators were directing her on what evidence was to use to formulate her opinions. Michaud says that is not the case — many times, you need some of the story for context when deciding what and what not to analyze or what to look for.
Has nothing in her notes regarding bleach. Can’t tell directly looking at a garment if it had been bleached at some point.
Says she found “thousands of fibers” that were dissimilar to the garments she evaluated.
Says she found some orange fibers in evidence from Chad Isaak’s vehicle that were unlike other orange fibers.
Says she encountered hundreds of fibers on a tape lift, so she pulled a representative sample and mounted them on a slide. With orange fibers being founds in other clothing, she went back to grab more orange fibers from the tape lift to make sure the sample was more representative.
Her report says the light-orange polyester fibers found in trucks or on the victims’ clothing could have originated from the submitted sweatshirt or from clothing with similar fibers.
In her notes, she said a bag containing Robert Fakler’s clothing tore when she removed his jacket. Says she couldn’t get it back into the bag, so she put it in another bag. Says it wasn’t torn when she received it.
She tested carpet samples from RJR. Write in notes the carpet fibers were not like carpet fibers on the suspect’s clothing.
The known fibers tested from William Cobb’s red shirt, Lois XCobb’s black blouse and pants, the Robert Fakler jacket were compared to fibers on Chad Isaak’s clothing that were consistent with any of the known samples.
2:46 p.m.: Judge Reich calls a 20-minute afternoon break. The trial will resume at 3:10 p.m.
3:08 p.m.: The trial of Chad Isaak resumes, Judge David Reich presiding.
3:10 p.m.: Continued cross-examination of Amy Michaud, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) forensic chemist/trace evidence examiner by defense attorney Luke Heck. Michaud has testified her examinations of orange fibers found on clothing taken from Chad Isaak’s home — clothing that matches that worn by the suspect in surveillance videos — matches orange fibers found on the victims’ clothing, the RJR truck found at Indigo Signs, in Chad Isaak’s truck and on other clothing worn by Chad Isaak. Defense attorney Heck is trying to show there were all kinds of fibers analyzed by Michaud that, she noted, did not connect Chad Isaak to anything. He also notes Michaud had written in her notes there were orange fibers found in Chad Isaak’s vehicle that were unlike other orange fibers.
Michaud explains there’s a variation in some of the photographs she took of the evidence because she took photos over different days where the background lighting can be different.
The orange fibers from the victim’s clothing and Chad Isaak’s gloves could have originated from the suspect’s mask or another item with similar fiber characteristics.
Michaud’s report states Chad Isaak’s clothing and vehicle and gloves and known fibers from the victims’ clothing were examined for fibers that might match the RJR carpet. No textile transfer fibers were detected.
She says she usually decides what things to examine for fibers. Says, in this case, police were asking for an unusual analysis — comparisons of fibers from Chad Isaak’s clothing to other of his clothing — so she asked for clarification from investigators as to why they wanted these comparisons.
3:20 p.m.: Re-direct by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter. Michaud says there is still a face mask and jacket that is consistent with fibers found on the victims and the RJR vehicle.
While she found maroon cotton fibers on everything — all the victims had maroon garments and Chad Isaak had a maroon sweatshirt — she couldn’t make a comparison.
Says labels on evidence don’t affect her process outside of informing her where the fibers were found so she can make a correct comparison and analysis.
3:23 p.m.: Re-cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Says you would need the known samples to tell the maroon fibers apart from those that are confident from one to the other. Without knowing that, it would be difficult to do a valid comparison.
3:26 p.m.: Witness called — Joe Arenz, BCI special agent. Arenz has testified many times throughout the trial. Direct examination by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld.
Arenz testifies while law enforcement was watching Chad Isaak’s vehicle, Isaak was the only person going to and from the vehicle. No one else went into the vehicle when they seized it except law enforcement officials.
Arenz says they found a Taurus 9 millimeter at Chad Isaak’s home. Arnie Espsito says he couldn’t rule out a 9 millimeter handgun as matching the bullets (in addition to a 357 and a 38), so they sent that one in to be tested as well as the firearm pieces found in Chad Isaak’s freezer.
Arenz testifies they did not collect hair samples and, thus, no hair samples were sent to the ATF lab for testing.
Arenz says lab test may prompt follow up requests for testing or retersting.
3:31 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Jesse Walstad. Arenz says on the morning of April 4 surveillance started on the vehicle and was uninterrupted. Arenz says both doors of his truck were open when Chad Isaak was stopped. Acknowledges at least two officers entered the vehicle at the stop and he can’t say they were wearing gloves. He can’t say who closed the doors and whether they were wearing gloves.
Arenz can’t say how many people entered the truck between the time Isaak left the vehicle and the time the truck was brought to the BCI garage.
Arenz says a second gun found at Chad Isaak’s home was sent for testing to eliminate it as a possible weapon — “for thoroughness,” said Arenz. Walstad says a 9 millimeter was found in the William Cobb vehicle, a 38 caliber weapon belonging to Jackie Falker, a 9 millimeter Walther found in the RJR office — Walstad asks were any of those sent in for testing for thoroughness. Arenz says no.
3:43 p.m.: Re-direct by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld. Arenz says the blood samples connecting Chad Isaak to the victims were found inside Isaak’s vehicle. Says no one from law enforcement entered the vehicle.
Why was the 9 millimeter found inside the William Cobb vehicle not sent to the lab? Arenz says there was nothing to indicate the firearm had been shot recently.
On Lois Cobb’s weapon, there was nothing indicating the weapon had been recently fired.
3:45 p.m.: Re-cross-examination by defense attorney Jesse Walstad. Arenz says no field tests for gunpowder residue were conducted on the William or Lois Cobb guns.
3:47 p.m. The state rests, meaning it has completed the presentation of its case. The judge calls a break of 10 or 15 minutes for the jury while he and the attorneys discuss some matters that need to be heard outside the jury.
3:55 p.m.: Judge David Reich has recessed the trial until 8:30 a.m., August 18. At that time, the defense will begin its presentation.
- August 4, 2021
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