May 6—KNOXVILLE — A defense attorney for a Pella woman accused of first-degree murder said Thursday their client killed an Ottumwa woman. But, they said it was manslaughter and not premeditated murder.
The trial of 56-year-old Michelle Boat, of Pella, began Thursday in front of a jury of eight women and six men at the Marion County Courthouse. Michelle Boat is charged with first-degree murder in the May 18, 2020, killing of Tracy Mondabough, in Pella.
Marion County Attorney Ed Bull focused his opening statement by painting a picture of a "scorned, obsessed, seething" woman who murdered her estranged husband's lover in a premeditated fashion.
Meanwhile, Boat's attorney Jill Eimermann attempted to focus the jury on a woman grieving a marriage falling apart that did in fact kill Mondabough that day. However, Eimermann said, the proper charge to convict Boat of is manslaughter, not first-degree murder.
"I will stand here, and I will tell you, that Michelle Boat is responsible," Eimermann said.
As the state calls roughly a dozen witnesses to the stand in the trial, they'll need to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Boat killed Mondabough with premeditation, specific intent and willfully.
The defense has signaled they'll focus their arguments that the state won't prove premeditation, arguing instead for a manslaughter conviction. Voluntary manslaughter is causing the death of another person when the act is part of a "sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation," according to Iowa Code.
A conviction of first-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence without parole. Voluntary manslaughter is a class C felony with a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.
"Michelle Boat should be held responsible for her actions," Eimermann said.
According to court records, Michelle Boat and Nicholas Boat were married for 20 years, but had separated in March 2020. Nicholas Boat was dating Mondabough, had moved out of his wife's home, and "moved on with his life," Bull said.
But Michelle Boat had not moved on with her life, Bull said. He told the jury the state will present evidence that shows Michelle Boat was following Mondabough on May 18, 2020. Mondabough had gone to Pella's Burger King to pick up lunch and then went to Vermeer to meet Nicholas Boat to eat it together.
As they did, unknown to Mondabough, Bull said Michelle Boat was following and watching. And she continued to follow Mondabough as she left to go to 21 Glenwood Street in Pella. There, Bull told the jury, she confronted Mondabough, stabbing her fatally, and then left.
The incident, Eimermann told the jury, was 69 days after Michelle Boat and Nicholas Boat had split.
"She wasn't scorned, ladies and gentlemen," Eimermann said. "She was devastated. She wasn't seething, she was heartbroken. Her husband was gone. She was suddenly alone in the midst of chaos. If you remember back to March of last year, how scary the world was. The fear, the chaos, the isolation, that we all felt in the early days of the pandemic. That's where Michelle was 69 days before May 18. That's the backdrop, that's the context, that's the big picture of what happened."
After opening statements, the state began presenting its evidence swiftly with two eyewitnesses, three police officers, Michelle Boat's estranged husband, a Marion County Sheriff's deputy and a special agent from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
The first two witnesses were neighbors to 21 Glenwood Street, and both witnessed parts of the confrontation between Michelle Boat and Mondabough.
Julie Kuiper said she was outside smoking when she heard the commotion between two people, one in the driver's seat of a truck and the other outside the driver's door.
"I could see what I thought was punches ... and I could see the person that was in the driver's seat of the truck's upper torso coming over into the passenger seat of the truck," Kuper testified.
She was trying to determine if she should call the police when she saw the person outside the truck use their hand to remove hair from their forehead. "Their hair stood up with blood, and then their face was all bloody," she testified.
The next witness, neighbor Dan Rumburg, said he heard someone say things to the effect of "He's mine" and "he doesn't belong to you" during the incident. He decided not to get involved and went inside his home, he said.
The jury also viewed body camera video from Pella Police Officer Kody Roos, who was the first on the scene. He immediately called for an ambulance when he arrived as Mondabough was bloodied and not responding or breathing. Despite life-saving efforts, Mondabough was pronounced dead on the scene.
Michelle Boat's estranged husband, Nicholas Boat, took the stand and testified that he met Mondabough over Facebook in early March. The defense labeled it as an affair during cross-examination. During his testimony, Michelle Boat was visibly emotional — so much so the court took a more than 20-minute recess before resuming.
Pella Police Lt. Shane Cox's body camera was shown as police went to Michelle Boat's home, just 17 minutes after the 911 call reporting Mondabough's murder. Michelle Boat answered the door after several minutes wearing a towel and robe and stating she had been in the shower. During a search, a washing machine was running with one change of clothes inside.
Marion County Sheriff's Office Lt. Brian Bigaouette — since retired — said it appeared the clothing was one outfit.
During testimony by Elizabeth Miller, the lead case agent from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the jury was shown several surveillance videos to establish a timeline and show that Michelle Boat was following Mondaobough that day. The last video was from Vermeer and showed Mondabough leaving at 8:09 p.m. on May 18, 2020, after eating with Nicholas Boat.
The state is expecting to present its case over about two days, meaning jurors could get the case for deliberation as early as Friday, or perhaps Monday next week if things move as expected.
Court will resume at 9 a.m. Friday.
Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Oskaloosa Herald and the Ottumwa Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.