Jury finds Stark guilty of homicide
By Anthony Varriano
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
Levi Stark was found guilty by a jury of his peers of deliberate homicide, arson and tampering with evidence, Friday afternoon. It took seven hours for the jury to reach a verdict.
Stark was on trial for the murder of Matthew Wiseman on Dec. 21. 2012 at Wiseman’s home in Casitas del Rio mobile home park in Glendive.
The jury left to deliberate at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Friday.
Stark glared at witnesses Curtis Bohlke and Seth Warren as he exited the courtroom.
Special deputy county attorney Joel Thompson made a final argument before the jury deliberated, introducing blown up surveillance footage photos of Stark in Savage, smiling and even toasting someone in the bar.
“You just killed a man. Cheers … Cheers indeed,” Thompson said, gesturing to the photographs.
Defense attorney Matt Wald’s final argument featured points for the jury to consider.
“You don’t have to be convinced that the force was justified,” he said of Stark’s use of force against Matthew Wiseman. “If there is any doubt in your mind you must vote not guilty.”
Wald also condemned the testimony of many of the state’s witnesses, including Joel Grimes, who assisted Stark in burning his blood-spattered clothes, and Bohlke, who owned the white Bronco Stark used to flee Glendive and that Stark eventually burned in the police impound lot.
Wald reminded the jury that in order for Stark to be guilty of arson, what was burned must be valued at more than $1,500. He also said Bohlke gave consent to Stark to burn the vehicle when he texted, “Do what you gotta do.”
Wald also attacked Grimes’ testimony that Stark had told him he “stuck him to the wall,” despite DCI agent Marvin Dahl finding no hole in the wall on the Wiseman’s porch.
He also cited Dr. Tom Bennett’s testimony. Bennett examined Wiseman’s body.
“Dr. Bennett could not rule out that there was a struggle for that knife,” he said.
Wald asked that the jurors keep their minds open, but Thompson had a clever response.
“Don’t keep your mind so open that your brain falls out,” he said.
Stark took the stand in his defense Friday and told his side of the story, saying he went to Wiseman’s home with the hope of convincing him to stop lying to law enforcement about his pregnant girlfriend, Jessica Miller-Grossman, selling drugs.
Matthew let him into the porch, and Stark said the conversation escalated to argument very quickly. He said he made it clear he just wanted Matthew to tell the truth because he didn’t want his baby to be born in prison.
“He said he didn’t care, and I think I remember him saying, ‘Sounds like a personal problem,’” Stark explained.
Stark then said Matthew suddenly lunged out of his chair toward him, reaching for the knife on his hip.
“I was absolutely terrified when Mr. Wiseman took my knife from my sheath,” Stark explained. “I thought he was going to kill me.”
Stark said he won the struggle for the knife despite Matthew throwing an elbow into his chest and pushing him against the wall. He proceeded to stab Matthew in the neck.
Stark said it happened so fast he doesn’t recall much of the event.
“I ran out of there, out of Mr. Wiseman’s place, when I should have called the police,” Stark said. “Once you start running from something it’s hard to stop.”
Stark kept running to Savage, where he said Grimes was not hesitant to help him burn his clothes
In testimony Thursday, Stark’s girlfriend at the time of murder, Jessica Miller-Grossman, said it was Grimes’ idea to burn the Bronco to eliminate evidence. Grimes is a certified emergency medical technician and has knowledge of how DNA evidence is preserved in blood.
“(Grimes) said to burn two or three vehicles in the impound lot so it just looks like an attack on the police department,” Miller-Grossman explained.
Stark didn’t want to burn the Bronco initially, but Miller-Grossman said she talked him into it.
“I told him that I’d rather he go to jail for arson rather than murder,” she said.
Miller-Grossman said she bought the bolt cutters used to cut the lock on the gate of the impound lot the night before the arson took place, and receipts recovered by agent Dahl confirmed her testimony. Stark also did some research the day before, eyeing an escape route and a rendezvous point for Miller-Grossman to meet him after the Bronco was ablaze.
Miller-Grossman said she carried out a diversion Grimes suggested, who said she should fire a few shots into a house on the other side of town to get the cops’ attention. Afraid she might “shoot someone in the head” firing into a house, she instead fired her Pink Lady .38 caliber handgun at a Jeep near Lincoln Elementary School three times. Lincoln School surveillance footage reveals Miller-Grossman was in the area at the time shots were fired.
Bullet casings were recovered by former police officer La Juan Kope and sent to the lab. After agent Dahl recovered the Pink Lady handgun from Rosebud Police, who found it at the home of Miller-Grossman’s uncle, it was confirmed the bullets were fired by the Pink Lady handgun.
Miller-Grossman said Stark never told her about the events of Dec. 21, 2012.
“I think he thought it would cause too much stress for me,” she explained.
Stark and Miller-Grossman were expecting a child at the time of the murder.
According to Miller-Grossman, Stark was acting under extreme stress. She said on Dec. 22, the day following the murder, she held him in the tub while he cried and said “how could he have a baby girl when her father is a murderer?”
“I love him,” she added, “and I feel bad that this happened. And I feel responsible.”
Miller-Grossman, 24, has already pleaded guilty to the amended charge of mitigated deliberate homicide by accountability for providing testimony to law enforcement and the state regarding the homicide and ensuing events. She could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.
Miller-Grossman said she was very manipulative when ashe was on drugs and deserved to go to prison, but added she was afraid of going because she’s small and has been in “more fights than I can count” in the last year and a half at the county jail.
She cried uncontrollably when she spoke of her newborn daughter.
“I saw her the day she was born, and I got to hold her for three or four hours, and I haven’t seen her since,” she lamented.
Stark, 23, can be sentenced to a maximum of life in prison for the homicide charge.
Anthony Varriano can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.