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Prosecution rests in Bismarck murder trial

Forensic scientist Emily Hoge examines a pair of men's pants that are evidence in the Morris Brickle Hicks trial in the Burleigh County Courthouse. Hoge is an employee of the North Dakota Crime Lab. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK—Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Julie Lawyer rested prosecution Wednesday afternoon in the jury trial of murder suspect Morris Brickle-Hicks who is accused of beating to death a woman behind a farm goods store in Bismarck.

The trial, set to last through Friday, concluded its third day of testimony with witnesses, including investigators and forensic examiners.

Most notable was detailed testimony from North Dakota State Forensic Examiner Dr. William Massello over the conditions of Coffelt's death.

Massello said Coffelt died from "multiple blunt impacts to the head and the face." He autopsied Coffelt the day after her death, noting patterned injury bruising on her face and the back of her head, as well as scrapes and other bruises on her arms, legs and behind.

She did have drugs in her system at the time of her death, according to Massello, who said "the injury she had would have been a lethal one even without the drugs."

After Massello's testimony of 45 minutes, Lawyer rested the prosecution. Loraas motioned to dismiss the case under Rule 29 related to insufficient prosecutorial evidence, which Lawyer opposed and Judge John Grinsteiner denied.

In earlier testimony, narcotics investigator David Stewart, of Bismarck Police, answered questions regarding the discovery of Misty Coffelt's body behind the Runnings farm goods store in Bismarck the night of April 14-15, 2016, and his related preliminary investigation.

Lawyer objected several times to defense attorney James Loraas' line of questioning over what she called hearsay in Stewart's responses.

Brickle-Hicks' ex-girlfriend also gave brief testimony regarding his residence with her for several months until late March 2016.

Emily Hoge and Kyle Splichal, of the North Dakota state crime lab, testified about their office's practices in evidence handling and DNA analysis.

Hoge spoke about processing Coffelt's clothes while Splichal answered questions about quality assurance and DNA profiles related to Brickle-Hicks' and Coffelt's samples, as unique as "one in 98 octillion."

Grinsteiner dismissed the 12-member jury and adjourned court at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday to readjourn the following morning.

Brickle-Hicks, 34, has pleaded innocent to Class AA felony murder. On Tuesday, jurors watched a 2.5-hour video in which Brickle-Hicks is seen admitting to detectives he struck Coffelt repeatedly and left her still alive but seriously injured behind Runnings.