Prosecution begins case against former ISU student

A DCI investigator surveys the scene where Michael Odikro’s body was found in the early morning of Dec. 6, 2008. Former ISU student, Atiba Spellman, has plead not guilty for two first-degree murder charges. Photo: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

A DCI investigator surveys the scene where Michael Odikro’s body was found in the early morning of Dec. 6, 2008. Former ISU student, Atiba Spellman, has plead not guilty for two first-degree murder charges. Photo: Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

Sarah Haas and Jessica Opoien — S

NEVADA — “Don’t do nothing stupid” were Alonte Lopez’s last words to Atiba Spellman, the former ISU student who is currently facing two counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Shakena “Amy” Varnell, who is Alonte’s mother, and Michael Odikro.

The prosecution presented a total of 19 witnesses Thursday, beginning with 13-year-old Alonte. Witnesses testified about the details of the night of Dec. 5, 2008 and the early morning hours of Dec. 6.

Alonte testified that the night before his mother’s death, he was dropped off and picked up from the North Grand 5 movie theater by Spellman. He said the movie ended around 9 p.m., and when he was picked up, Spellman “was acting a little weird.” He said Spellman drove quickly, and instead of driving home, the two arrived at Odikro’s apartment, 1103 Pinon Drive #2.

“I’m going to tell you how sneaky your mom is,” Spellman told Alonte.

Upon arriving, Alonte was told to look in the garage “to show me my mom’s car,” which he saw after peering under the garage door that was left slightly open. Alonte said Spellman then instructed him to knock on the door, but no one answered. He said the pair spent the next three hours sitting outside Odikro’s house while Spellman watched the apartment and made several phone calls in an attempt to locate Varnell. He also told Alonte he wanted to hurt Odikro.

“Do you know where Amy’s at?” Alonte said Spellman asked repeatedly.

The defense attorney, Paul Rounds, asked Alonte about his mother’s relationship with Spellman. Alonte admitted he had never seen Spellman hurt his mother and said that his mother had previously lied about her whereabouts to Spellman.

Detective David Konopa of the Ames Police Department was the lead investigator of the homicides and interviewed both Alonte and Miracle, Varnell’s daughter, the morning of Dec. 6. An Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent was present during both the hour-long interviews, in accordance with standard operating procedure. The interviews were taped, and Konopa wrote a police report from his notes. However, approximately 30 minutes into Alonte’s interview, the captured audio ends, leaving nearly half of his statements unrecorded. Miracle’s interview directly followed Alonte’s on the tape, which means that the audio of her interview is completely lost.

Urgano Lopez, Alonte’s father, said he spoke to both Spellman and Varnell on the night of her death, and Spellman asked him where she was. In regard to his relationship with Varnell, Urgano said he told Spellman to move on and Spellman said he was, “but he needed to talk to her.” However, Urgano said he didn’t believe Spellman because of his negative demeanor.

During cross examination, Urgano said Spellman “was acting crazy” and he didn’t believe Spellman was actually moving on because it was normal for Varnell and Spellman to break up and get back together. Urgano testified that he told Varnell to at least talk to Spellman that night.

David Byrn, distribution manager for the Ames Tribune and Spellman’s boss, said he knew Spellman for about a year. Around 12:30 a.m. Dec. 6, Byrn said, he received a call from Spellman, who said he was having car problems and didn’t know if he could make it to work for his early morning shift that began at 4:15 a.m. Byrn told Spellman that he could pick him up and do the route together. Yet, minutes later, Byrn said, he received a call from Spellman saying he forgot to mention that he was in Waterloo, not Ames.

Alonte testified that Spellman dropped him off at home around midnight, at which point, he said, nothing appeared to be wrong with Spellman’s car.

Shameka Veasey, 25, a friend of Varnell, testified that she also spoke to Spellman and Varnell on the night of her death. Childhood friends, Veasey said she and Varnell were like sisters, speaking more than five times a day. On the night of Varnell’s death, she asked Veasey to take care of Miracle while she went out to eat and went to a movie, Veasey testified.

Around 11:35 p.m., Veasey said, she began receiving phone calls from Spellman, who continued to call her around nine times looking for Varnell and asking if Varnell was “coming back to get Miracle” from Veasey’s house.

Over time, Veasey said, Spellman got more anxious and frustrated. She said Spellman said, “When I find her it’s not going to be pretty.” He told her that he knew where Varnell was, but it was not where she was supposed to be. At about 1:20 a.m., Veasey said Spellman told her he was fed up and tired, and said if Varnell wasn’t home in three hours, he knew where to find her. She said she thought Varnell was in danger and felt compelled to warn her of Spellman.

“I said, ‘Amy, he’s going to hurt you. He’s psychotic, please go home,’” she said.

Veasey also said she saw Spellman’s car outside her house on two occasions, as if he were checking on Miracle. Veasey’s house at that time was only one mile away from Odikro.

In cross examination, however, Rounds asked Veasey if she changed her testimony from her affidavit in order to help convict Spellman, by changing her phrasing of Spellman’s emotions. Rounds accused Veasey of using words that would better suit the prosecution’s case, such as “frustrated,” instead of using the words like “crazy” and “Atiba had snapped,”

Later when Veasey was recalled to the stand, she clarified that she had used the words “crazy” and “psychotic” and had not deliberately left them out of her testimony.

Twelve law enforcement officials testified about the details of the crime scene after witnesses described their interactions with Spellman and the victims.

Justin Graboski, 25, a former ISU student, was first to discover the body on the side of Pinon Drive as he left a friend’s apartment. He called 911 and said he noticed a large puddle of blood trailing to the body of a naked male.

Soon after, at about 2:15 a.m., Travis Sayre, manager of Butch’s Amoco, was patrolling the lots on Pinon Drive looking for improperly parked cars when he drove past a man who was standing outside of his car door looking at something. He turned around in the cul-de-sac and pulled over. Sayre said he realized what he saw was a body.

In the mean time, Adam McPherson of the Ames Police Department was patrolling the southern area of Ames, when he was dispatched to an unresponsive male along the road at about 2:15 a.m. Upon arriving, he said he checked the body for a pulse and said the body was “still warm to the touch.” At that time multiple officers arrived on the scene. Nearly 30 minutes passed before McPherson and Steven Spoon, another officer, began following a trail of blood from the body that led to Odikro’s apartment.

As the pair approached, they noticed that the front door was open with lights on and a there was “large pool of blood on the front door step,” McPherson said. They then noticed the second victim, Varnell, laying in the living room. McPherson notified dispatch and the supervising officer and waited for instructions.

The deadbolt was still sticking out of the door, indicating that it had been locked and kicked down. Konopa said pieces of the door littered the entrance, where Varnell’s body was discovered. Blood was splattered across the door frame and the house’s siding. Konopa said “It was obvious a violent struggle had taken place.”

Describing the position of Varnell’s body, Konopa said, “Her legs were spread apart … It looked as if someone had purposely displayed her like that.”

Lieutenant Geoff Huff said officers saw a female victim, nude, lying on her back among pillows and blankets on the floor, with an “obvious cut to her neck.”