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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Jury sees nine witnesses in murder trial’s first day

Quiet and orderly.
That was the scene in the historic Cottonwood County Courthouse as testimony began for the murder trial connected with the Aug. 26, 2021 death of Juan Luis Morales-Rivera. It is the county’s first murder trial in 25 years.
Only a handful of onlookers were on hand as 12 jurors — four men and eight women — filed into the third floor courtroom. Meanwhile, the man charged with second-degree murder, Ralph Leslie Apmann of Windom, sat quietly with his attorney, Philip Elbert.
Apmann was dressed in a tan plaid button-down shirt with gray slacks and dress shoes. He showed little emotion during the day, listening intently to the proceedings.
The day began with the two attorneys, Elbert and prosecutor John Gross of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, offering thoughts on the events that occurred on the night Morales-Rivera, a Worthington resident, was pronounced dead.
Gross told the jury of an alleged choke hold by Appman and that a large amount of cash Morales-Rivera had been carrying was missing. Meanwhile, Elbert pointed out that a lot of people did not see the alleged fight between Appman and Morales-Rivera, adding, “We will show Mr. Appman did use self-defense to prevent physical force.”
It was a day that featured testimony from nine prosecution witnesses — four police officers, three employees of the Phat Pheasant Pub, one registered nurse at Windom Area Health and a friend of Morales-Rivera.
Most of the day was consumed by police testimony. Jurors quickly learned that Morales-Rivera was found unresponsive and on his back, in a gravel area behind the Phat Pheasant Pub.
Jurors saw body camera footage from each of the first two officers who arrived at the scene — Officer Louis Norell and Officer Isaac Paulson of the Windom Police Department. They saw the officers each performing CPR in the minutes before the ambulance arrived.
They also heard audio of Appman’s interview with Investigator Donna Marcy of the Windom Police Department on the night Morales-Rivera was found dead. Appman told Marcy he and Morales-Rivera had played two games of pool and when the two stepped out the bar’s back door, “he (Morales-Rivera) punches me in the head.”
Appman said to Marcy that the two essentially wrestled on the gravel after that. He added that once Morales-Rivera quieted down, “I couldn’t tell if he was passed out. He was drunk as hell.”
Appman added that he was worried Morales-Rivera would “come to and get a second wind.” He added that this was why he rushed out of the bar.
“He was absolutely breathing,” Appman told Marcy. “I promise you.”
There were numerous questions from both the defense and prosecution throughout the proceedings about a large wad of cash that witnesses spotted in the hands of Morales-Rivera. Marcy told the court searches of Appman’s house turned up cash, “but not in the denominations that had been indicated (by witnesses).” No cash was taken as evidence.
There were also numerous questions from both Gross and Elbert to Phat Pheasant workers about the actions of Morales-Rivera during the day. A couple of employees indicated that he had been at the bar, drinking since about 11:30 a.m. and that he was “cut off” by a bartender at 4:30 p.m. Officers Norell and Paulson were called to the scene hours later, at 12:42 a.m.
At the end of the Wednesday’s testimony, District Court Judge Christina Wietzema told jurors that Thursday will be “a full day” at the Cottonwood County Courthouse. She said proceedings begin at 9 a.m. and noted that there may only be time for a half-hour lunch break.
Check Citizen Online at www.windomnews.com Thursday evening for an update on this trial.

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