County attorney files second-degree murder chargesIn a courtroom populated by mostly media and court personnel, Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler filed charges Thursday against four people related to the slaying of a 25-year-old Floodwood woman. Although one of the alleged killers is a juvenile, the county intends to prosecute him as an adult.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
CARLTON – In a courtroom populated by mostly media and court personnel, Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler filed charges Thursday against four people related to the slaying of a 25-year-old Floodwood woman. Although one of the alleged killers is a juvenile, the county intends to prosecute him as an adult.
Michael William Siewert, 22, and Joseph Allen Yellow Jr., 17, both of Duluth, each were charged Thursday in Carlton County with intentional second-degree murder in the death of Cristyna Leah Watson, whose body was discovered Oct. 4 outside a home on Reservation Road in Cloquet.
Alyssa Rae Peterson, 24, and Clifford James Thompson, 56, both of Cloquet, were charged with aiding an offender-accomplice after the fact.
According to the criminal complaint charging Siewert:
Siewert – who authorities have identified as a gang member of the Native Mob – and Peterson were in a romantic relationship. Cloquet police were investigating drug trafficking on Oct. 2 when Peterson said she had information regarding Native Mob gang activity and serious crimes in connection with Watson’s disappearance and disposal of her body at 213 Reservation Road, where defendant Thompson lives.
According to the juvenile delinquency petition charging Yellow with murder, the teenager told investigators that he was with Siewert and the victim when Siewert pulled the vehicle he was driving to the side of the road and they exited the vehicle.
Yellow said he saw Siewert strike Watson in the head with a hammer and he assisted with the killing by manually strangling her before the two concealed her body.
Siewert is accused of taking Watson’s cell phone and her 2005 gray Pontiac Grand Prix, which he drove to the Twin Cities and sold to another party in exchange for controlled substances, the complaint alleges. A search warrant filed in the case states that Peterson told investigators that Siewert traded Watson’s car to a woman in the Twin Cities for two ounces of methamphetamine.
Siewert and Yellow are accused of planning the crime before assaulting and killing the victim. Numerous items of physical evidence and statements from other witnesses corroborate the timeline and circumstances surrounding the murder and Yellow’s role in the slaying, authorities said.
After receiving information from Peterson and other witnesses, law enforcement executed numerous search warrants. Using cadaver dogs, the victim’s body was found at Thompson’s residence, where Siewert had been staying temporarily. Preliminary autopsy results indicated that Watson died as a result of homicidal violence by manual strangulation, and also indicated blunt force trauma to the head, which was not fatal.
Although Yellow is a juvenile, Assistant Carlton County Attorney Michael Boese said the county intends to certify and prosecute Yellow as an adult. Boese argued that Yellow should remain at the Arrowhead Juvenile Detention Center rather than being released into the custody of his parents, who were not at the hearing
“This is an incredibly serious charge,” said Brian Stevenson, Carlton County Court and Field Supervisor, noting that Yellow’s criminal history includes assault charges and failure to appear. “He has a history of absconding. … We don’t see any other option for the public safety as well as his own safety.”
Defense attorney Sonia Sturdevant said Yellow’s mother had gone to the Duluth courthouse by mistake.
“The fact that she went to the wrong courthouse, you can’t hold that against her,” Sturdevant said. “It indicated he does have family involved with his life. He lives with both parents.”
After consulting for several minutes with attorneys for both the defense and prosecution behind a wall in the courtroom, Judge Robert Macaulay directed that Yellow continue to be detained at the juvenile center pending his next hearing, set for Tuesday, Oct. 23, when the court will rule whether he will be tried as an adult.
Bail for Siewert was set at $350,000 – on top of $150,000 for previous charges of second-degree assault in a crime committed for the benefit of a gang and two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon – with no 10 percent cash option. The previous charges were for allegedly shooting a man in the foot on the Fond du Lac Reservation in August as punishment for “certain gang-related activity.”
“This is a person who is alleged to have killed someone after shooting someone else,” Pertler said, adding that the second-degree homicide charge “may change as we get further into the process,” leaving open the possibility that he could convene a grand jury to consider first-degree homicide charges.
Siewert has been held in the Carlton County Jail since Oct. 4. His next hearings (on both sets of charges) are set for Oct. 29.
Aiding and abetting
The criminal complaint against Clifford Thompson alleges that he allowed Siewert to store and conceal controlled substances in a detached garage at his address. Investigators also learned that Thompson went to a neighbor’s house on the evening of Sept. 30 and borrowed a shovel.
Witnesses told investigators that Thompson used the shovel and also started a fire to conceal and destroy evidence that were allegedly connected to the homicide and may have connected the victim and defendants Siewert and Thompson.
According to the complaint, Thompson admitted that he allowed Siewert and others to use his property in an unlawful manner and that – on repeated occasions – he observed Siewert and a potential accomplice outside his residence in the woods where the victim’s body was eventually discovered.
During the investigation, according to the complaint, Allyssa Peterson also informed investigators of the actions that she took to assist Siewert in concealing evidence of the crime and assisting him from being apprehended by law enforcement officials for killing Watson. Peterson confirmed she had been in Watson’s vehicle and possession of Watson’s cell phone after she was killed. By her testimony, the complaint alleges that Peterson knew Watson had been killed by Siewert and potentially another accomplice.
Judge Robert Macaulay set bail at $100,000 each for Peterson and Thompson. Neither was allowed the 10 percent cash option. Both have hearings set for Monday, Oct. 22.
Police said the investigation is ongoing and some evidence has not yet been processed. Pertler said he was confident in the current charges but didn’t rule out an expanded case.
“There are still a certain number of unknowns at this point because of the evidence that’s coming in or hasn’t come in yet,” Pertler said. “When we receive additional information, it certainly may point us in additional directions, or strengthen what we have, or it could point to new