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Murderer faces life in prison

Sheila Gardner

Convicted murderer Monte Meier faces life in prison when he is sentenced June 10 for the death of his wife, Julie, whose body was found a year ago buried in the backyard of the couple’s Stateline home.

After three weeks of testimony on such complicated subjects as anatomy and histology from a parade of medical experts, a Douglas County District Court jury deliberated less than five hours Monday before finding the 57-year-old Meier guilty of second degree murder and forgery.

“I think it’s a fair verdict,” said Deputy District Attorney Tom Perkins who prosecuted Meier.

Meier’s court-appointed attorney, Terri Steik Roeser, declined to comment.

The jury of eight men and four women heard closing arguments Monday from Perkins and Roeser, who argued over Meier’s role in the death of his wife, the veracity of their witnesses and how the investigation was handled by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.

“We never wanted this trial to turn into the battle of the experts,” Perkins said. “What we really wanted to talk about was what happened to Julie Meier.”

Perkins rejected the defense’s attempt to paint Julie Meier as an alcoholic who died as a result of excessive drinking.

“Words like ‘falling down drunk,’ ‘raging alcoholic,’ or ‘creatures’ are meant to appeal to our prejudice, to dehumanize the victim of this crime, to somehow make her responsible for what happened,” he said. “She had her faults … there is no need to sanctify her or put her on a pedestal, but let’s don’t use these words to take away her humanity.”

Roeser told the jury that the prosecution had failed to show how Julie Meier died or if Meier made specific, premeditated plans to kill her.

Julie Meier, 50, was last seen in the winter of 1994. Deputies found her body buried in the backyard of the couple’s Stateline home on May 16, 1996. Meier claimed he found her dead on the floor in 1994 and buried her because he was afraid he would be blamed for her death.

“The state wants you to believe that Monte Meier was a mean, violent drunk who was abusive to his wife,” Roeser said.

She told the jury there was no evidence from witnesses, police reports or medical records to support the allegation.

“A better, more plausible explanation is that she was a falling down drunk, she was a chronic klutz,” Roeser said.

Roeser accused the prosecution of attempting to keep the jury from hearing Meier’s interrogation by Douglas County sheriff’s deputies on the day officers found her body buried in the backyard of the couple’s Stateline home.

“They didn’t want you to hear how Monte Meier broke down and cried … he buried her because that was the only thing he could do. She was the only thing he had,” Roeser said.

“What we found inside of her body was the signature of a killer, the signature of someone who used force to shut her up,” Perkins said. “We know why he buried her in the backyard, why he lied to his best friend that he woke up and found her dead on the floor. Why didn’t he call the paramedics? Why didn’t he call the police? He knew her body told the secret of what he’d done.”

The attorneys also tangled over the testimony of their two medical experts – New York medical examiner Dr. Michael Baden who testified that Julie Meier died of liver failure brought on by alcoholism and the prosecution’s witnesses, Dr. Ellen Clark and Dr. Phillip Walker who said that the woman’s hyoid bone was fractured, an injury consistent with strangulation.

“The state’s own pathologist was unable to determine how Julie Meier died,” Roeser said. “Those findings create a reasonable doubt. If you don’t know how she died, you must find Monte Meier not guilty.”

Perkins referred to Baden as a “clown who came from New York … with utter contempt for you (the jury), the people of Douglas County and this court.”

Perkins said Baden’s testimony vilified the victim.

“I admit, she was dying of alcoholism,” Perkins said, “but that made her all the more vulnerable. Don’t you think she was entitled to a little love and respect instead of the cruelty visited upon her by Monte Meier the night she died?”

Meier was charged with forgery after investigators found his wife’s name signed to documents relating to the sale of the house.

Meier, who remains in Douglas County Jail, faces life in prison for the murder conviction, with a minimum of five years before he is eligible for parole. The forgery conviction carries a five-year sentence.

Before he dismissed the jury Monday night, Judge Dave Gamble thanked them.

“This has been a long trial for Douglas County,” Gamble said. “It’s not been an easy trial for you to sit through. If it weren’t for people like you who are willing to serve, the system simply would cease to exist.”

The guilty verdict was praised by the Douglas County Family Support Council.

“We are very pleased with the verdict,” said Becky Smokey, co-coordinator of the Council’s domestic violence-sexual assault program.

“It’s our opinion that it shows the jury’s understanding how spousal abuse can, and often does, end with the death of the victim. We’d like to commend Tom Perkins on doing an excellent job conveying that message to the jury. Without conveying that message or giving them the insight, they probably wouldn’t have come to that conclusions,” Smokey said Tuesday.

“We feel justice has prevailed and that the judges and the district attorneys have better understanding about cycle of violence and the effects of domestic violence that led to the verdict in the case,” she said.

Smokey said that Family Support Council offers free, confidential programs to help all family members.

“We don’t try to single anyone out,” she said. “We have programs available for men and women’s support groups. We will be having educational classes for children. We’re trying to aim at the whole family. We also have a lot of materials such as videos, books, tapes and one-on-one counseling. We have trained volunteers staffing our telephone hotline to handle crisis situations or just to be there to let people vent.”

Smokey said the Family Support Council is also reaching out to residents in outlying areas with programs available at Lake Tahoe and the Topaz area.

“What happens in a domestic violence situation is the only time a woman reaches out for help is when she feels like she has absolutely no more alternatives. Her number one priority has been keeping the family together, making the marriage work, giving it her all,” she said. “Some women won’t do anything, no matter how many people tell her she needs help.”

Smokey said the Family Support Council can offer victims of physical and emotional violence financial and legal support.

“The most difficult time for a woman is when she leaves the relationship,” Smokey said. “People can come into our programs at any time and create their own recovery process. There are a lot services available right now. People are becoming better educated and have better awareness.”

For information, Smokey and co-coordinator Barbara Ancina can be reached at 782-8692, which also is the Family Support Council’s 24-hour crisis line.