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:
August 6, 2021 Recap
- Special Agent Joe Arenz testifies about shoeprints found at scene
- Day 3: Wallets, bloody shoeprints, surveillance video brought into questioning during Isaak trial
8:31 a.m.: The Chad Isaak trial has resumed, Judge David Reich presiding. Prosecution and defense attorneys are going over some trial housekeeping matters before testimony resumes in the trial.
8:43 a.m.: The jury is being brought into the courtroom.
8:44 a.m.: Witness called — Joe Arenz, Bureau of Criminal Investigation special agent. He details his training and experience. Explains BCI is an assisting agency; that is, responds to request from law enforcement agencies for help. On April 1, 2019, he was asked to help the Mandan Police Department in the RJR investigation. He was the case agent, which means he oversaw the processing of the crime scene and delegated investigative assignments as needed. On April 1, 2019, he arrived at the RJR scene between 9:00 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. When he arrived, he saw many RJR employees outside, crime scene tape around the building and police outside as well as other BCI agents. Testifies the scene appeared to have been secured for investigative purposes. Checked to make sure there were no other unnecessary people still in the building. Did a walk-through of the crime scene. Put on gloves and shoe protection for the walk-through.
Says he was told an RJR employee standing outside was asking for a lunch box on a workbench in the shop for medications he needed to take. Arenz testifies he inventories the lunch box and released it to the employee. Learned an RJR truck driven by William and Lois Cobb was located parked at Indigo Signs. He sent two BCI agents over to the pickup to inspect and process it.
When a search warrant arrived for going through the RJR building, he and others began processing the crime scene. Arenz describes the processing the crime scene: Photography, video, type of evidence to look for and more. Explains when evidence is located, it is photographed, collected and turned over to an agent assigned as the evidence custodian. That person will package it, label it and write down key information related to the evidence. Describes the procedure to avoid cross-contamination of evidence, such as handling one piece of evidence at a time, changing gloves with each piece of evidence. Describes “chain of custody,” meaning identifying each person who handles the evidence as it goes from one person to another.
Testifies 8 or 9 agents helped him process the crime scene on April 1, 2019. Describes how he preserved the integrity of the crime scene, such as limiting access to the crime scene, wearing gloves and shoe coverings, logging all pertinent information.
Reviews the evidence inventory sheet, a three-page description of all the evidence collected on April 1, 2019, along with a chain of custody list of people who handled all the items seized.
Testifies investigators do not collect and process every drop of blood at the scene. Describes the process of deciding which blood swabs to take for processing. Look for blood in locations that is not obviously from the victim or is separate or a distance from the victim. In Lois Cobb’s case, collected blood samples from door frame of bathroom, handle on the door, from the floor in the office away from Lois Cobb’s body, on the walls.
Testifies when first started processing the office shared by Robert Fakler and William Cobb, started looking for blood evidence, trace evidence (hairs, fibers), weapons, digital evidence (cellphones), identification to confirm the victim’s identity. Looking for signs of struggle. Testifies it appeared there was a struggle in the office: A fire extinguisher on the floor, a chair that was tipped over that appeared to have hit the wall and made an indentation. Says the scene suggested was a struggle between William Cobb and the assailant.
Arenz describes finding a cap in the office next to William Cobb’s head. Agents noticed a bullet hole in the side of the cap.
Arenz describes how investigators process a victim’s body at a crime scene: Photographs, evidence collection.
Arenz testifies he observed numerous stab wounds to William Cobb’s chest area, injuries to his arms and an injury to the left side of his head. At the scene, says investigators located what appeared to be bullet wounds in both forearms and the head. Says when the coroner was later moving the body, a bullet fell from an arm. That bullet was retrieved and saved as evidence and tested.
Then Arenz processed the scene around Lois Cobb’s body in the office. Says there were bloodstains inside and outside the bathroom. She had deep lacerations to the neck, stab wounds to the chest, a gunshot wound to the chest and a wound on one of her arms. Says it appeared the attack on her started outside the bathroom and ended with her partially inside the bathroom, based on bloodstains, her eyeglasses lying next to her outside the bathroom and the position of the body (upper portion of her body in the bathroom and lower portion outside the bathroom).
When the coroner later moved the body, they discovered additional stab wounds on Lois Cobb’s back.
10:09 a.m.: Judge David Reich has called a recess until 10:30 a.m.
10:32 a.m.: The Chad Isaak trial has resumed, Judge David Reich presiding.
10:33 a.m.: Continuation of direct examination of Bureau of Criminal Investigation special agent Joe Arenz continues by prosecuting attorney Karlei Nuefeld. Testifies a gun was located in Lois Cobb’s purse, a rifle behind the door of William Cobb’s office and a handgun in a holster in an office hutch. Testifies those three weapons were not weapons used in the case.
Testifies investigators next processed the area around Robert Fakler’s body in the shop. Testifies a lot of blood on him and around him. A clipboard with a cellphone belonging to Adam Fuehrer on top of the clipboard was on the floor, a pocket saw lying not far from Fakler’s body and a coffee cup with spilled coffee both on the floor, and a cap. Testifies it appeared Robert Fakler was involved in a struggle.
Says investigators identified a bloody shoe or boot print around Robert Fakler’s body. Another shoe or boot print was found not far from Fakler’s body and near the shop door. Other shoe or boot impressions were also found.
Testifies invesatigators found a piece of lead that appeared to be a bullet fragment near Robert Fakler’s body. Also found a lead fragment from a bullet and a fragment of a copper jacket from a bullet on a band saw in the shop.
Also found a bullet in a box labeled “burner” on the west wall of the shop near Adam Fuehrer’s body. Found maroon fibers attached to the bullet, which appeared to match the same color of the clothing worn by RJR employees.
Testifies investigators were potentially looking for a revolver as the weapon used in the killings, based on the bullets found and the lack of shell casings. Shells casings in a revolver stay within the weapon.
Says investigators found a wire saw. A wire saw is often used outdoors by people for cutting smaller type branches. No other wire saws found in the RJR building. Testifies investigators felt it was used by the assailant.
Testifies Robert Fakler’s body had numerous stab wounds to the chest, deep lacerations to his face and a wristwatch in his hand, not on his wrist. Says he may have had cuts to his hands, suggesting there may have been a physical altercation.
Next processed the scene around Adam Fuehrer’s body. Says found blood drip stains between Fuehrer’s body and Fakler’s body. Felt the blood drip stains could have come from the assailant. Also found blood beneath a wooden bench. Believes the bench was moved there after the bloodstains were made. Says the wooden bench appeared to obstruct the view of Fuehrer’s body. Fuehrer’s wallet was left in the middle of the shop. Cards from his wallet were laying separate from the wallet. Arenz says investigators believed the assailant may have taken the wallet from Fruehert’s body and gone through the wallet. Investigators believed the suspect may have been trying to identify Adam Fuehrer as well as Lois Cobb.
Fuehrer had stab wounds around the neck and bullet wounds to the back. Investigators believe Fuehrer had at one point had his back to the assailant and had been facing the assailant.
Says investigators reviewed RJR surveillance video and investigated areas of the shop where the video showed the assailant had been.
Describes what happened to the physical evidence after the crime scene was processed. The evidence was turned over to the Mandan Police Department. The bodies were removed to be autopsied.
After reviewing the video, Arenz testifies investigators developed an initial suspect profile: A subject wearing an orange mask, an orange jacket, dark-colored pants, shoes and gloves. Says they were looking for one suspect based on the surveillance video.
Based on the evidence at the scene, Arenz says investigators were initially looking for a handgun, possibly a revolver.
On April 2, 2019, BCI agents processed the RJR pickup found at Indigo Signs.
11:29 a.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Bruce Quick. Asks about the number of BCI agents at the scene on April 1, 2019. Asks about the crime scene outside as well and at Indigo Signs. Arenz testifies the crime scene log was started around 9:47 a.m., by Mandan Police Department personnel that morning. The crime log documents who came and left the crime scene.
Quick questions Arenz about his investigation of the areas where William Cobb and Lois Cobb were killed. Arenz testifies there was nothing on the phones that furthered their investigation after the phones were examined. testifies the pistol in the office was believed to be a 9mm handgun. Lois Cobb’s handgun in her purse was not seized and analyzed. Arenz testifies a number of other guns belonging to RJR employees were never seized or tested.
Testifies the actual killings are not on the video. Says it could have been advisable to test Adam Fuehrer’s wallet and driver’s license, found outside Fuehrer’s body on the floor, for prints. Arenz could not say if the assailant took off his gloves at points in the video where the assailant is not seen. Arenz testified they didn’t test the wallet and ID because the assailant was seen wearing gloves and felt it was not necessary.
11:52 a.m.: Redirect by prosecuting attorney Karlei Neufeld. Testifies first responders don’t create a crime scene log when they arrive on the scene because they are initially busy trying to deal with the call. Testifies the additional handguns found at the scene were considered and excluded from being relevant to the crime scene. Testifies every time he saw the suspect on the surveillance video, the suspect was wearing gloves.
Based on the video, he believes it was possible for one suspect to commit the crimes at the scene.
11:59 a.m.: Re-cross-examination by defense attorney Bruce Quick. Questioning centers around the large number of shoe prints at the crime scene.
12:00 p.m.: Judge David Reich recesses the trial for noon lunch. The trial will resume at 1:15 p.m.
1:16 p.m.: Chad Isaak trial back in session, Judge David Reich presiding.
1:19 p.m.: Witness called – Andrew Tryhus, Morton County Sheriff’s Office deputy. Direct examination by prosecuting attorney Austin Gunderson. Dispatched to RJR around 7:40 a.m., April 1, 2019. Tryhus was tasked with identifying the people standing outside the building and see if any of them were in the building over the weekend. He was told a white RJR vehicle was missing from the scene. He passed that information on to other law enforcement people present. Then helped with setting up an outside perimeter for the RJR building. An Indigo Sign worker approached Tryhus that an RJR vehicle was parked at the business. He kept watch on the vehicle until other investigators arrived.
1:24 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Jesse Walstad.
1:29 p.m.: Witness called — Don Eliason, RJR Maintenance and Management employee. Arrived at RJR at 8:06 a.m., April 1, 2019. Says he saw employees standing in the parking lot and saw an ambulance in the parking lot. Noticed William Cobb’s vehicle was missing from the parking lot.
1:35 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Testified he told police about an employee who left work at RJR a week ago. Testified told law enforcement there was a tenant who was upset that an RJR employee came to a dwelling and that the tenant pulled a gun on the RJR employee. The tenant was later evicted. Testified he would collect payments from dropbox at Washburn’s Northview trailer court.
1:42 p.m.: Redirect by Austin Gunderson. Eliason testifies any issues/problems with tenants he was made aware of would always be redirected to the RJR office or to Robert Fakler.
1:45 p.m.: Witness called – Bruce Dintleman, former Indigo Signs employee. Went to work on April 1, 2019 around 7:00 a.m. A few minutes later, went back out to his vehicle to get his reading glasses.
1:50 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Dintleman testifies he told law enforcement he saw nothing unusual that morning.
1:51 p.m.: Witness called — Nathan Helm, Indigo Signs employee. Testifies he was working on the morning of April 1, 2019, arriving around 7:15 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. Parked next to an RJR truck in the Indigo Signs parking lot. In the store, noticed a lot of sirens and a lot of people and police at RJR across Memorial Highway from Indigo Signs. Later was told police were wrapping crime scene tape around his vehicle and the RJR vehicle.
1:56 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Helm testifies told police he saw no one around the vehicle or anything about the vehicle that caught his eye.
1:57 p.m.: Witness called — Dan Poppe, Mandan Police Department sergeant. Was called in to help crime scene support at RJR on April 1, 2019. Arrived around 9:45 a.m. He was then assigned to go to Indigo Signs to assist officers on that scene. He was asked to guard the RJR vehicle in the Indigo Signs parking lot until he was relieved. Testified no one came up to the vehicle or try to touch the vehicle while he was there. testified he watched the vehicle for about an hour and half until he was relieved by a BCI agent. Says it was a 2012 Dodge pickup registered to RJR.
2:06 p.m.: Cross-examination by defense attorney Luke Heck. Poppe testified he did not touch the pickup himself. Says he could not testify to what happened prior to his arrival at Indigo Signs.
2:09 p.m.: Witness called — Troy Kelly, Bureau of Criminal Investigation special agent. Highlights experience and training. Was assigned to assist with the crime scene at RJR on April 1, 2019. Arrived shortly before 9:30 a.m. Tasked with taking outside photos at the RJR building. Also tasked with processing the RJR pickup parked at Indigo Signs. Says he took photos of the vehicle. Testifies he saw and collected possible fiber evidence on the front passenger door handle. Outlines how he collected the sample and how it was packaged and processed.
Details the process of processing the RJR pickup. He put seals on the doors to preserve the integrity of the vehicle (so no one would go inside and could prove no one went inside). Later on April 1, the vehicle was transferred to a BCI garage. On April 2, 2019, Kelly continued processing the vehicle. “Wet-swabbed” the outside of the vehicle doors to collect apparent bloodstains. Also processed for fingerprints using fingerprint powder. Found a palmprint on the front passenger side door. Describes how the blood and fingerprint evidence is preserved as evidence.
Discussing series of photos Kelly took of the RJR vehicle on April 1 and April 2, 2019.
2:45 p.m.: Judge David Reich calls an afternoon recess for 20 minutes.
3:07 p.m.: The Chad Isaak trial resumes, Judge David Reich presiding.
3:09 p.m.: Continuation of direct examination of BCI special agent Troy Kelly by prosecuting attorney Austin Gunderson. Continues reviewing photos Kelly took of the RJR vehicle found parked in the Indigo Signs parking lot, some photos which appear to show blood evidence and possible fingerprints.
Kelly is explaining how investigators processed the vehicle for evidence of blood, fingerprints and fibers. Testifies all the apparent bloodstains appeared more as transfer stains. Testifies each time they collected a sample, they did so with a new pair of gloves to avoid cross-contamination of the evidence.
3:35 p.m.: Cross-examination of Troy Kelly by defense attorney Bruce Quick. Kelly testifies a gun was found in the driver’s side door pocket of the RJR vehicle parked at Indigo Signs. Reviews places where swabs were taken from the vehicle and the process for securing the samples. Testifies one fiber sample from the ones seen on the vehicle blew away while attempting to recover it.
3:41 p.m.: Redirect examination by prosecuting attorney Austin Gunderson. Kelly testifies lift tape used to collect the fibers could grab other evidence that might not have been seen.
3:42 p.m.: Witness called — Pat Lenertz, Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Lenertz also testified on August 5. Lenertz helped process the RJR pickup found at Indigo Signs on April 2, 2019, for trace evidence. Talks about the process for collecting evidence from the truck.
3:50 p.m.: Judge David Reich recesses the trial for the day. The trial will resume on Monday, August 9, at 8:30 a.m.
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