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Stay's interrogator sits under hot lamp; coroner also questioned

Detective Michael Sholes, who twice interviewed Travis Stay in the days after Joel Lovelien was killed, found himself on the other end of interrogation Tuesday as the defense cross-examined him.

Attorney Peter Wold pressed Sholes on the police's time line of events on the night of Oct. 27, 2007, when Lovelien was found beaten in the parking lot of the Broken Drum bar. Wold focused on whether the party bus that brought his 24-year-old client to that bar left before or after Lovelien, 38, was assaulted.

It's critical because the defense contends that other men on the party bus, men who weren't friends with Stay, killed Lovelien and left on the bus without the defendant. Some, if not all, of those men are expected to testify.

Sholes, a 30-year veteran of the department, said he conducted a phone interview with the man who organized the party bus. That man was dressed as a cowboy on the night of early Halloween partying. The defense has fingered him as the ringleader of the group that killed Lovelien.

The detective told jurors that when he spoke with the man, he was operating on a time line that has the bus leaving Stay at the bar before Lovelien was assaulted -- a chronology Sholes said he had gathered from his involvement in the investigation to that point.

Sholes testified that in that interview, he learned the cowboy and his friends spoke with Stay and a man in a UND jersey outside the bar before they left to get on the party bus. Lovelien was wearing a UND jersey the night he was beaten.

Wold asked if it was just as likely that Stay was not the only person present when Lovelien died and that the cowboy and his friends may have also been present.

"I don't know," Sholes said. "That's speculation."

Sholes said he would have preferred the man to come to the station for a more thorough interview, but because he was reluctant to do so, the detective seeking information critical to the investigation allowed for a phone interview.

Prompted by Wold, Sholes said he would have sought the names of the cowboy's friends if he had thought the bus left after Lovelien was assaulted.

Sholes said that when he spoke with the cowboy, he didn't know that in an earlier conversation with an officer, the cowboy had asked if the victim was wearing a UND shirt and had blood on his face. Sholes acknowledged that had he known that information, he may have proceeded differently.

Before the defense cross-examined Sholes, the prosecution finished playing a video of the second interview Sholes and another detective did with Travis Stay in late October.

The remainder of the video showed Stay recalling that he had about 10 drinks on the night in question, including beer and cinnamon schnapps, and maintaining that the blood on the clothes he wore that night is his, not Lovelien's.

While being questioned by Assistant State's Attorney Nancy Yon, Sholes said Stay (5 feet, 9 inches tall and 160 pounds) was capable of killing Joel Lovelien (6 foot-4, 240 pounds), a notion Stay disagreed with during the videotaped interviews.

"It's not uncommon that a small person like Travis could take down a large person," Sholes said. "There's a saying: The bigger you are, the harder you fall."

Coroner testimony

Dr. Mary Ann Sens, the Grand Forks County coroner who did an autopsy on Lovelien the morning after he was killed, testified that he died choking on blood that came from multiple facial injuries caused by blunt-force trauma. Based on her findings, she ruled the death a homicide.

On examining him, she said, his face looked "flattened."

"When you actually touched his face, you could hear the bones crunching," she said.

Sens said Lovelien's injuries were limited to his head, face and upper torso. No significant injuries were found on his extremities nor were there "offensive injuries" on his hands that would have suggested he may have been fighting, she said.

It's more likely punching caused the injuries, Sens said, but a foot or a fairly broad object without well-defined edges could have been the cause as well.

She testified that she found blood pooled in Lovelien's testicles.

"I cannot prove or disprove any injury to that area," she said, adding that the degree of pooling she saw was "unusual."

Lovelien suffered a blunt-force injury to the back of his head, and it's possible that his head hit or was smashed against the ground, she said.

Sens said she found no blood on Lovelien's jeans, suggesting that he was not dripping blood when he was standing up.

As a possible explanation of why Stay was found with the victim's blood on his clothing, the defense has suggested Lovelien coughed repeatedly on the defendant.

Sens testified that had Lovelien been coughing, she would not have expected to find a piece of gum in his mouth when she examined him.

"I would expect that the gum would have been coughed out or if you were conscious, you would have spit the gum out," she said.

Though on cross-examination, Sens told jurors Lovelien certainly could have been coughing at some point during the incident.

Defense attorney Joe Friedberg suggested that a cut on Lovelien's eye appeared to have been caused by a ring.

"Isn't that completely consistent with a ring cut?" he asked.

"It's consistent with it, but it doesn't mean it proved it," explained Sens, who went on to say a bare-fisted blow can sometimes produce a similar cut.

Friedberg did not say whether Stay was wearing a ring that night. The prosecution showed jurors photos of injuries to Stay's hands, neither of which had rings.

On his left, he had a scrape on his lower palm, and on his right, he had cuts near the middle knuckles of his index and middle fingers as well as swelling on his hand between the knuckles of those fingers.

The defense maintains the cuts were caused by scraping the asphalt in the parking lot on the bar.

Sens, who did not examine Stay but was presented with the photos, said the injuries on his right hand were possibly caused by punching something. And she said the injuries on his left hand were possibly consistent with being scraped on the asphalt.

Ingersoll reports on crime and courts. Reach him at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com.

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