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 11 of testimony in the Chad Isaak trial, Day 13 in the trial overall, is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. The prosecution, or state, rested its case on Tuesday. Today, the defense will now begin its presentation. Based on discussions Tuesday afternoon between the judge and the attorneys on both sides of the case, it is expected the defense may finish its presentation today, with closing arguments coming Thursday morning and the case going to the jury Thursday afternoon. The trial started Monday, August 2. Jury selection took two days. Testimony began August 4.
8:33 a.m.: The trial of Chad Isaak resumes, Judge David Reich presiding. The defense starts its presentation.
8:34 a.m.: Witness called — Ben Pace, an RJR employee. He does the marketing for the company. Questioning by defense attorney Jesse Walstad. Says RJR took over management of the Northview Mobile Home Park in Washburn in July 2018.
Says RJR took steps to introduce itself to the residents, sent welcome letters, knocked door to door. Says very few were apprehensive, most wanted more information. Says RJR did not have plans to raise lot rents.
Pace says rent collection was by mail, dropbox, online and by phone.
Says he met Chad Isaak while he and other RJR people were going door to door at the mobile home park to introduce themselves in person to the residents. The meeting was very normal. Isaak discussed things he did in the park for the old management company. Isaak said he helped move snow in the park. Page decided to provide that information to Robert Fakler. Says Isaak said he couldn’t make the “Meet the Managers” meeting because he had to work. Says Robert Fakler had offered to pay him to move the snow instead of doing it for free. The conversation was about five minutes. Either Fakler or Pace gave an RJR business card to Isaak.
Pace says he did not get a sense of animosity or frustration during the brief conversation with Isaak.
Says he received no complaints about Isaak. Recalls a neighbor saying Chad Isaak was “neighborly.”
Pace says he had a phone call with Chad Isaak. It was related to the RJR pet policy. Says Chad Isaak completed the RJR pet policy form and returned it to RJR.
Says RJR sent two letters to Chad Isaak. Pace says they were in Chad Isaak’s tenant file.
Pace says the first one, July 20, 2018, introduced RJR to the residents of the mobile home court saying RJR was taking over management. A questionnaire with the letter asked for basic contact information, which Isaak filled out.
The second letter, August 7, 2018, told residents how to log onto the RJR online portal.
Pace says a lease agreement with the previous property management company was also in Isaak’s tenant file.
Pace says another document shows the history of monetary transactions with the tenant account, in this case, Chad Isaak’s monthly rent payments. Says the document does not show
Pace says Isaak appeared to pay his rent over the phone by credit card. Says the report indicates Chad Isaak never paid his rent late. Does not recall Isaak ever coming to the RJR building in person to pay his rent.
Pace says he recalls law enforcement asking him about evictions. Recalls an agent asking for a copy of RJR evictions and collection actions.
Pace was going to Las Vegas on April 1, 2019, for a storage convention with Jackie Fakler.
9:05 a.m.: Cross-examination by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter. Pace says the April 1, 2019, Las Vegas convention was planned for about four, five months. Says he and Lois were supposed to leave early that morning. The plan was to meet at RJR and leave from there. When he arrived at RJR on April 1, 2019, he recalled she was crying, confused, scared. It was also his reaction. Says when he arrived, there were employees, police, ambulance crews.
Pace says he was interviewed by a BCI agent the week of April 1, 2019. He was asked if he had any ideas who could have done the killings. He tossed out several suggestions, but he really had no idea of who would do the killings.
Pace says besides the brief meeting with Chad Isaak, he knows nothing about Chad Isaak. Says the neighbor was said he was “neighborly” actually said he waved to her when he saw her.
A new pet policy was introduced that was stricter than the previous management company’s pet policy, due to insurance limitations. Isaak had brought up to Pace concerns about keeping his dog under the new pet policy.
Pace says Isaak initiated the conversation about how he moved snow in his cul de sac. Goter asks if he was aware Isaak had a verbal altercation with the previously contracted snow remover.
Pace says he doesn’t know the outcome of the snow conversation. It was more a “get hold of me and we’ll work things out.” Pace says he doesn’t know if things were worked out.
Pace says he was bitten by a dog at Northview Estates, owned by the previous managers of the mobile home park. The new pet policy was initiated by the new owners after that incident.
Problems with dogs at Northview were a lot of dogs outside not on leashes. The dog that bit Pace was not on a leash.
Pace recalls telling law enforcement that Isaak was concerned about having to possibly get rid of his dog.
9:18 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls for a one-minute stretch break.
9:19 a.m.: Re-direct by Walstad. Pace says Chad Isaak had a black lab dog.
9:19 a.m.: Witness called — Joseph Schmidt, an electrician in Washburn. Received chiropractic treatment from Chad Isaak in Washburn for two or three months. Received about a dozen treatments. Felt the treatments were of benefit to him.
Says his wife also went to Chad Isaak for treatment.
Says he had an appointment on April 1, 2019 for 4:30 p.m., his usual appointment time. It was not moved or rescheduled. When he arrived, Chad Isaak was in the office and greeted him. Nothing stood out to him at that appointment from any other appointment he had.
Doesn’t recall any cuts or such on Isaak’s hand during the appointment.
He scheduled an appointment for the following week. Says he had just regular conversation with Isaak.
9:25 a.m.: Cross-examination by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld. Schmidt says he didn’t have a relationship with Isaak outside of work. No personal relationship. Says he didn’t know him very well outside of what was talked about and seen during the appointments. Says something did stand out as odd during his April 1, 2019 appointment. Says Isaak was going to adjust his neck and then Isaak walked into the back of the office and came back and didn’t do the neck adjustment.
9:28 a.m.: Re-direct by Jesse Walstad. Schmidt recalls Chad Isaak drinking orange soda. Says it is possible Isaak could have walked away to get a drink from his soda.
9:29 a.m.: Witness called — Dora Sorenson, a Beulah resident since 1977. Had chiropractic treatment from Chad Isaak for about 10 years. She saw him when he practiced in Beulah and when he moved to Washburn.
Says she had appointments once a month, always on Mondays at noon. Says she was satisfied with the treatments she received from Chad Isaak. Conversation between her and Isaak was always small talk.
Says Chad Isaak called her over the weekend prior to April 1 to cancel the Monday, April 1 appointment. Says Isaak would always call her ahead of her appointments to remind her of her appointment. Says she had treatments rescheduled before, occasionally.
Says her appointment was moved to 4:00 p.m. on the afternoon of April 1, 2019. It was scheduled for noon that day. Says Isaak told her he had a dentist appointment and was going to have to reschedule her noon appointment.
During her rescheduled April 1, 2019, treatment, Sorenson says it was normal like other treatments. Says nothing stood out to her as being usual during the appointment. Says Isaak was polite. Says nothing was out of the ordinary. Says she doesn’t recall seeing any injuries on his hands. Scheduled her next appointment for May.
9:38 a.m.: Cross-examination by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld. Sorenson says she doesn’t know Isaak very well outside the patient-doctor relationship. Never got together with him outside of work. Wouldn’t consider herself a friend of his. Had no idea what Isaak’s hobbies were, what he did in his spare time.
During the rescheduled 4:00 p.m. appointment on April 1, 2019, Sorenson she says Isaak didn’t mention his dentist appointment or how it went. He didn’t mention anything about his mouth. Outside of Isaak telling her he had a dentist appointment, she says has no knowledge if he was at the dentist.
9:42 a.m.: Witness called — Jody Murschel, West River Telecommunications network manager. Says he received from law enforcement a search warrant for information related to Chad Isaak’s account with them.
Murschel says the records included received and outgoing calls. He then wrote a letter with the documents and e-mailed them to the Mandan Police Department. Says the log shows a call was received at 8:51 a.m. on April 1, 2019.
9:51 a.m.: Murschel testifies if a person had call forwarding, it would be possible to have a person with the cellphone to receive a call on another phone. On the West River call log for Chad Isaak, Murschel says on April 1, 2019, the first phone call made from the chiropractic phone was 5:59 p.m. On March 25, the first outgoing call was at 3:56 p.m. Says calls could indicate someone receiving a call on an answering machine and not a person physically answering the call.
9:53 a.m.: Judge David Reich calls for a 20-minute morning break. The trial will resume at 10:15 a.m.
10:15 a.m.: The Chad Isaak trial resumes, Judge David Reich presiding.
10:16 a.m.: Witness called — Jennifer Blumhagen, North Dakota Department of Transportation, director of the Motor Vehicle Division. NDDOT has data on the make and model of registered vehicles, who owns the vehicles and other pertinent data.
A report was requested to be run on April 3, 2019, containing a list of vehicles registered with NDDOT that meet the criteria of a 2004-2008 white Ford F-150 vehicles in North Dakota. The report is 53 pages in length.
Says there were 63 vehicles per page, or about 3,000 records or more in the report.
On page 23 of 53, There is a Mitchell Kessel listed as a white Ford F-150 vehicle.
Another document produced by an information request was of the vehicle belonging to Mitchell Maurice Kessel, containing the model year, license plate and other registration information. The registration expiration for the vehicle was May 21, 2019.
10:26 a.m.: Cross-examination by prosecuting attorney Austin Gunderson. Blumhagen says the list of all vehicles in the database is for Ford F-150s with expired registration and currently registered.
Says she doesn’t know if Mitchell Kessel’s vehicle was two-door, four-door, two-wheel drive, if they have any bed liners, length of truck bed. The registration database just indicates a list of Ford F-150. No sub details. No information about the types of rims.
10:30 a.m.: Re-direct by defense attorney Luke Heck. Blumhagen says the report indicates when a vehicle registration expires. The report does not indicate where vehicles were on any given day or any given location. Says she it would be her impression that finding that information would be the function of law enforcement.
10:32 a.m.: Witness called — Amy Gebhard, North Dakota State Crime Lab DNA analyst. Questioning by defense attorney Luke Heck.
Says she is familiar with a contamination log maintained by the ND State Crime Lab. She reviewed a log from 2016-2020.
Says there are no records in the contamination log related to the RJR investigation.
Says there are entries from 2019 for the months of February, April, August and October.
Says a contamination event means evidence has been contaminated.
10:38 a.m.: Cross-examination by prosecuting attorney Gabrielle Joy Goter. Gebhard says there were no contamination events related to the RJR analyses. Says the log shows they are reviewing for contamination, documenting the event and taking action based on the information.
10:41 a.m.: Re-direct by defense attorney Luke Heck. Says RJR evidence was submitted in April and that there was a contamination event in April. Says there was also a contamination event in August and another in October.
10:43 a.m.: Re-cross-examination by Gabrielle Joy Goter. The April co contamination event was a case involving semen. No contamination events related to the RJR case.
10:44 a.m.: The judge and the attorneys are discussing the introduction by the defense of a particular document, a domestic violence protection order for Lisa Nelson. The defense said it was relevant to the defense case. The state argued it was impermissible character evidence given there had been no testimony about her ex-husband or foundation laid for the document. The judge was concerned about introducing a piece of evidence without a witness and that it could be confusing to the jury. After the discussion, the defense withdrew its request to introduce the evidence.
10:48 a.m.: The defense rests, meaning they have finished their presentation of the case.
10:49 a.m.: Judge David Reich recesses the trial for the noon break. The trial will resume at 1:00 p.m.
1:02 p.m.: The Chad Isaak trial resumes, Judge David Reich presiding. The state, or prosecution, can now call rebuttal witnesses or evidence.
1:06 p.m.: Rebuttal witness called — BCI special agent Matt Hiatt. Direct examination by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld. Since he was based out of the Washburn office, he conducted interviews with Chad Isaak’s clients. Said two appointments with Chad Isaak had been rescheduled due to Isaak saying he had a dentist appointment by Chad Isaak. Says when they searched Isaak’s home, they located a business card for Beulah Dental. Says he contacted Beulah Dental to see if Chad Isaak had a dentist appointment on the m morning of April 1, 2019.
1:09 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Keck. Heck asks if he knows of dental offices in Washburn Center, Turtle Lake, Hazen. Mandan, Bismarck. The only location he called was Beulah Dental.
1:10 p.m.: Re-direct. The only evidence in the Chad Isaak home for dentists was for just Beulah Dental.
1:11 p.m.: Re-cross by Heck. Says if there’s only one dental card in a home that doesn’t that mean that’s the only dental office the suspect could visit.
1:12 p.m.: Rebuttal witness called — Lisa Johansen. Works at Beulah Dental as the office manager. Has worked there 17 years. Worked there in 2019. Says she was contacted by a BCI agent asking if Chad Isaak had an appointment on April 1, 2019. Says Chad Isaak is a patient of Beulah Dental. Says Isaak did not have an appointment for April 1, 2019.
1:15 p.m.: Cross exam by defense attorney Luke Heck. Johansen says the last time Isaak was at Beulah Dental was in May 2017. Says Isaak was a regular patient prior to May 2017. He was a regular patient every six months prior to May 2017.
1:16 p.m.: Re-direct by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld. Johansen says how often a patient comes to the dentist office is up to the patient. Says if a patient goes elsewhere, they usually get a request from the new dentist for dental records. Says she never received a request from another dental place for Chad Isaak’s dental records.
1:17 p.m.: Says Chad Isaak took his records with him each time he left from an appointment.
1:18 p.m.: The state re-rests. That concludes the evidentiary portion of the trial.
1:19 p.m.: Judge David Reich excuses the jury for the rest of the day. The trial will resume with closing arguments starting at 8:30 a.m., Thursday, August 19.
1:20 p.m.: At this point, the judge and the attorneys for both sides are discussing what information should go into the jury instructions.
1:26 p.m.: Both sides have agreed on the jury instructions and the verdict form to be used. Both sides are discussing how long the closing arguments will run (defense, state and rebuttal arguments). Judge Reich anticipates a jury break between each argument presented, then a lunch break, followed by instructions to the jury and then the jury will begin deliberations. He says if the jury is still deliberating late Thursday, he will likely send them home around 5:00 p.m., and then have them resume on Friday morning. If they are close to a verdict late Thursday afternoon, he may let them continue for a few more hours into the evening. He is also considering having the jury deliberate on Saturday if they still have not yet reached a verdict, but he would play that by ear.
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