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Jeremiah Peacemaker On Trial
After spending over three years in jail, Jeremiah Peacemaker was found not guilty in the murder of Kendra Owen. (Photo Sioux Falls Live)

Man jailed over 3 years for murder is found not guilty

WATERTOWN, S.D.–Jeremiah Peacemaker spent 1,279 days in the Codington County jail awaiting trial for a murder he said he didn’t commit.

Late Tuesday night, a 12 person jury agreed with him.

The jury of 10 men and two women found Peacemaker not guilty on all three counts–First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder and First Degree Manslaughter.

Peacemaker was charged with the August 2020 death of 28 year-old Kendra Owen, a Native American woman whose decapitated, decomposing body was found in her small apartment at 307 North Broadway in Watertown.

During closing arguments Tuesday, Attorney General Marty Jackley asked the jury to, “follow the evidence.”

His co-counsel, Brent Kempema told the jury, “science doesn’t lie, and science points its finger at Jeremiah Peacemaker.”

But the prosecution did not have a murder weapon to show the jury because none was ever found. Their strongest piece of evidence was Peacemaker’s right thumbprint found on a tube of toothpaste in Owen’s bathroom. The two sides disagreed on whether the substance found on the tube was blood.

Peacemaker was arrested in the early morning hours of September 3, 2020 following an eight hour long interview conducted primarily by former Watertown Police Detective Sergeant Chad Stahl and Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Agent Cam Corey.

Peacemaker never confessed. He told them he met Owen for the first time at his neighbor’s apartment the night of August 23, 2020, and at some point during that night, they walked to Doc’s Lounge to buy beer.

Peacemaker said he left Doc’s and walked home alone, but later reconnected with Owen at Doc’s around 2:30 a.m. on August 24th.

He told investigators he walked Owen home to her apartment, where he spent about 20 minutes listening to music with Owen and talking to her. He says she was, “good company,.” He said he used Owen’s bathroom, and then left.

Defense attorneys made light of the evidence, or lack thereof, in their closing statement.

Attorney Kate Benson called it a case, “with a lot of holes, no weapon and no motive.” She went on to criticize the South Dakota Crime Lab for writing what she said were misleading reports on the case, the DCI for failing to test many items of evidence found at the scene, including blankets, eyeglasses and a stocking cap, and called the Watertown Police Department’s investigation, “terrible.”

Third Circuit Judge Carmen Means read the verdict to the court at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Members of Owen’s family began screaming expletives in the court, and were escorted out.

Defense attorneys were escorted out of the courthouse flanked by Sheriff Brad Howell and deputies who were there to provide security for them.

“The state had hoped for a different verdict but we respect what the jury said,” said Jackley. “The evidence was presented to them and while there was some challenges to the case, we felt it was the right case to go to a jury. The evidence came to that jury and they made its decision.”

He shared his comments with members of the Owen family. “When I talked to Kendra’s Grandmother, the message was I was so sorry, that I know it has been a challenging event to go through all of this again – to relive it, and to just stay strong and keep your faith.”

Three and a half years after her brutal death, the person who killed Kendra Owen is once again a mystery.

KELO reporters reached out to Peacemakers’s attorneys for comment. Kate Benson and Scott Bratland sent a statement that reads, “This investigation was shockingly flawed on every level. A serious internal review of the policies and procedures must happen immediately. This can never happen again. The family of Kendra Owen is still waiting for justice and we pray that they get it.”

Prosecutors had no weapon, no confession and no eyewitnesses to the homicide, and ultimately, the jury set Peacemaker free with a full acquittal of all charges against him. Peacemaker was released from custody shortly after the verdict was read.

 

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