POCATELLO — A Pocatello Police Department detective choked back tears Tuesday as he described the autopsy of an 87-year-old Pocatello woman who endured more than 20 stab wounds in her final moments alive.
The detective’s testimony occurred during the first day of a two-day preliminary hearing at the Bannock County Courthouse for Dustin Garrett Alfaro, 18, of Marysville, Calif.
Alfaro is one of two teenagers facing a principal to first-degree murder charge and one count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, both felonies, for allegedly stabbing Arlyne Koehler to death March 19 inside her McKinley Avenue home in Pocatello.
Michael Ballard, who has been a Pocatello police detective for 12 years, testified Tuesday that Koehler was stabbed approximately 13 times around her neck, three times in the face, five times on her left arm from the shoulder to the wrist and many times on both of her hands.
Ballard also said that Mrs. Koehler was stabbed in her heart through both sides of the organ and once in her torso, which struck her spleen.
Bannock County Coroner Ely Taysom testified that he declared the cause of Koehler’s death as multiple stab wounds to several vital organs and major arteries causing lethal blood loss.
One of several members of law enforcement to testify Tuesday, Ballard fought back tears as he described the severity of Koehler’s wounds.
Alfaro appeared well-groomed in court Tuesday. He showed little emotion, other than the occasional smile when talking with his attorneys.
Ballard also testified that he observed three holes consistent with stab marks on Koehler’s shirt near her chest and three similar holes in the comforter and top sheet on her bed. Ballard said there were no holes on the fitted sheet or the mattress, which indicates that Mrs. Koehler was lying in her bed when she was attacked. Koehler’s necklace and jewelry were not removed from her body, Ballard added.
Ballard also testified that there was a significant amount of blood evidence located in Koehler’s home.
There was a substantial amount of blood in the kitchen and small specks of blood throughout the living room area, said Ballard, adding that he observed a trail of blood spatter leading to a rear window in the home, which was open when authorities arrived. The trail of blood continued out of the window, along the rear and left side of the home and down McKinley Avenue before coming to an end on West Eldredge Street.
Ballard also said the exterior front door of the home was locked when authorities arrived.
Aida Carrillo, a six-year evidence technician with the police department, testified after Ballard and said she observed several footprints in a large pool of blood inside the home.
During Carrillo’s testimony, Bannock County prosecutors introduced several photographs into evidence that depict the amount of blood inside the home.
In addition to local authorities, several deputies with the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office in California also testified Tuesday.
Deputy Justin Young of the Yuba County Sheriff’s Office said he was one of several officers who arrested Alfaro in California. Young said that he was familiar with Alfaro and the other teenager accused of killing Koehler, Isaac Angel Rodriguez-Romero, 17, of Marysville, Calif., based on previous encounters with them.
Young said that during the teenagers’ arrest, he observed a large cut on Rodriguez-Romero’s hand. Rodriguez-Romero complained that the cut was bothering him, so deputies transferred him to the hospital for treatment before booking him into a juvenile detention facility.
Young also testified that he took a photograph of Rodriguez-Romero’s hand, which was also accepted into evidence during the hearing.
Another Yuba County Sheriff’s deputy, Sgt. Brandt Lowe, provided testimony regarding the seizure of the vehicle Alfaro and Rodriguez-Romero were located in when police arrested them. The vehicle was a blue Ford Explorer. Inside the SUV, Lowe testified that he observed a large amount of blood throughout the passenger side of the car where Rodriguez-Romero was sitting. Alfaro was removed from the driver’s seat, he said.
Bannock County Prosecutors also entered into evidence an audio recording between Alfaro and authorities in Yuba County, during which Alfaro admits to breaking into Koehler’s home through a back window, though he blames Rodriguez-Romero for the stabbing.
The purpose of Tuesday’s hearing and the subsequent hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Bannock County Courthouse is for state prosecutors to provide enough evidence to 6th District Judge Aaron N. Thompson for him to determine if Alfaro’s case should go to trial.
Thompson is expected to make that ruling at the conclusion of testimony Wednesday. Then, Rodriguez-Romero’s two-day preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday and Friday in the Bannock County Courthouse.
Alfaro and Rodriguez-Romero are each incarcerated on $1 million bonds. Alfaro is being held at the Bannock County Jail and Rodriguez-Romero is being held at the 6th District Juvenile Detention Center, both in Pocatello.
Authorities have not yet commented on what caused them to believe Alfaro and Rodriguez-Romero allegedly murdered Koehler, who lived alone. Family members found her dead inside her Pocatello home on March 19.
Many of the documents that could shed light on what may have happened inside Koehler’s home, such as police reports and probable cause affidavits, remain under seal by judicial order.
Both teens were arrested on March 20 in California, less than 48 hours after Pocatello police held a press conference alerting the public about Koehler’s murder.
The teens were extradited to Idaho to face charges for allegedly murdering Koehler after authorities arrested them in California.
Alfaro faces a maximum punishment of up to life in prison or the death penalty if convicted of felony first-degree murder. Prosecutors have not yet commented on whether they will pursue the death penalty against him.
Because Rodriguez-Romero was a juvenile at the time of the murder, U.S. Supreme Court case law says it is unconstitutional for him to face the death penalty. He still faces a maximum punishment of life in prison if convicted.