Trial begins for Cottage Grove man accused of murdering his wife
STILLWATER — Washington County prosecutors allege a Cottage Grove man spent months plotting his wife's murder rather than divorce her and jeopardize his esteemed role with a local church, but his defense attorney said the state's evidence has been fraught with "distractions" and "red herrings."
Opening arguments in the trial of Stephen Allwine began Jan. 23.
A 15-member jury will determine whether Allwine is guilty of of first-degree premeditated murder.
PREVIOUSLY: Allwine jury selection begins
Allwine was originally charged with second-degree murder in January 2017. That charge was raised to first-degree after a grand jury indicted Allwine in March.
Cottage Grove police arrested Allwine, 43, after a two-month investigation into the death of wife Amy Allwine.
Authorities responding to a 911 call from Stephen Allwine found Amy Allwine dead in her Cottage Grove home in November 2016. She had sustained a gunshot wound to the head.
A medical examination later revealed excessive doses of scopolamine, a drug used to treat nausea, in her body. Amy Allwine did not have a prescription for that drug.
Prosecutors allege Stephen Allwine accessed the Dark Web, a hidden portion of the internet associated with crime, to hire a hitman to kill his wife. After several plans fell through, prosecutors say, Stephen poisoned Amy and shot her with the family's 9mm gun.
Defense attorney Kevin Devore said the timeline leading up to Amy Allwine's death would have made it impossible for Stephen Allwine to have killed her.
The state, Devore said, built a case on "theories with gaps" and used speculation to "bridge those gaps."
Washington County Attorney Jamie Krueser described Amy Allwine as a loving mother, dog lover, business owner and a woman of faith — not the type of person who would die by suicide.
"Who would want to do this?" Kreuser said of the woman's alleged murder. "Someone who didn't want to be married to her anymore."
Stephen Allwine wrote sermons and counseled married couples at a Newport Church where he served as a deacon and later a church elder.
Through those capacities, Krueser said, Stephen learned about Ashley Madison, a dating website catering to married people seeking affairs.
Investigators, according to the criminal complaint, identified at least two women Stephen Allwine met through the website.
Devore acknowledged Stephen Allwine's relationships with other women, but said having affairs doesn't mean he killed his wife "or even didn't love his wife."
Krueser said Stephen Allwine's role as an elder and longtime congregant at the church could have kept him from divorcing his wife, despite wishes to end the marriage.
Officials with the FBI had been in contact with the family since regarding anonymous emails Amy Allwine received in July 2016 graphically threatening to harm her family if she did not commit suicide.
Investigators who searched Stephen Allwine's computer, according to the complaint, found searches for the names of his wife's family members.
The emails were sent through a Tor, or an anonymous router used to access the Dark Web.
FBI officials contacted Cottage Grove police in early 2016 about someone accessing the Dark Web and soliciting Amy Allwine's murder under the username "dogdaygod" on "Besa Mafia," a website associated with hired murders and assaults.
The user, prosecutors say, provided Besa Mafia with Amy Allwine's description and whereabouts.
The user discussed two possible attempts to kill Amy Allwine, neither of which transpired.
Several months later, the same user inquired on a different Dark Web site about purchasing scopolamine, the drug found in Amy Allwines's body, using a virtual currency called bitcoin.
In the search of the Allwine home following Amy Allwine's death, detectives found a document back up on Stephen Allwine's computer from his phone containing a bitcoin code, a sequence Krueser said would have been "virtually impossible to replicate."
Investigators found the same code posted to the Besa Mafia website by user "dogdaygod."
Devore questioned the credibility of the computer analyst who performed forensic examinations on Stephen Allwines's computers and said the investigation of the home had been "contaminated."
Police officers, Devore said, removed the gun found near Amy Allwine's body to remove bullets and take photos before returning it to its original position.
Devore pointed to at least three neighbors who reported seeing Amy Allwine outside her home the night of her death and reported hearing two vehicles "racing" out of the neighborhood around then.
He also said authorities failed to follow-up on an unknown user who remotely accessed Stephen Allwine's computer the day of Amy Allwine's death.
"It sounds like an amazing story," Devore said, but he said the narrative was more akin to a movie.
Stephen Allwine's trial will continue the rest of the week in a Washington County courtroom.