The body of Misty Coffelt — found severely beaten and her belongings strewn on the concrete beside her — was discovered by a Dacotah Foundation employee during his usual work routine the morning of April 14, 2016.
Details emerged Monday on how the 40-year-old’s body was discovered and the subsequent investigation into her death at the start of the four-day trial of Morris Brickle-Hicks, 34, who is accused of murdering Coffelt behind a farm goods store in Bismarck.
The prosecutor in the case told a 12-person jury during her opening statement about how the Dacotah Foundation employee found Coffelt's body.
The Dacotah Foundation is a local charity with an office located near Runnings, where Coffelt was found. The employee started up a work van and was filling out his morning paperwork when he saw two feet lying in the adjacent parking lot, not moving.
The employee called 911 and then went over and saw Coffelt, who had been fatally assaulted. Her ID was on the ground next to her.
"It appeared that her nose was broken. It appeared that both of her eyes were swollen shut. She was dead," said Burleigh County Assistant State's Attorney Julie Lawyer.
The 911 call was made by Tom Dillman, a mental health technician and peer support specialist for the Dacotah Foundation. The recorded 911 call was played for jurors, in which Dillmann told the dispatcher that Coffelt's face was "smashed in," and that there was a lot of blood.
Brickle-Hicks' attorney James Loraas asked the jurors to question whether Coffelt's death was intentional. In an interview with police, Brickle-Hicks apparently told them he had been jumped by three men and called a racial slur.
"We do not contest the fact that Morris Brickle-Hicks did in fact have a physical confrontation with the deceased, Misty Coffelt, on April 14, 2016, in the area of Runnings in Bismarck," Loraas said. "That fact is not an issue in this case. The issue in this case is whether or not Morris Brickle-Hicks had the intention or a culpable mind."
Loraas asked jurors to withhold any judgement until they hear evidence from both sides in the case.
Brickle-Hicks' trial has been postponed twice pending new evidence. He's been held in jail since April 2016 on a $1 million bail. An officer escorted Brickle-Hicks, who was wearing a dark-colored suit, into the courtroom on Monday.
Coffelt had been living with her boyfriend out of a car behind the Ground Round in Bismarck, according to an investigator assigned to the case.
Two Bismarck Police detectives and a Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent testified about items found at the scene of the crime, including Coffelt's ID, a bra, make-up and a backpack.
Investigators followed up with Runnings and nearby businesses to see if there was any surveillance video of the murder, but there was not.
Just hours before Coffelt's body was discovered, Brickle-Hicks went to a local emergency room, complaining of back pain and spattered with blood. In a follow up interview with police, he allegedly confessed to murdering Coffelt.
The state and defense plan to bring forth additional witnesses, including more than 70 people on the state's witness list.
Brickle-Hicks' trial is expected to last through Thursday.