HIBBING, Minn. — Witness Brian Evenson's mouth hung open and he spread his arms wide, a visual representation of how his friend Nancy Daugherty looked when he and local police officers found her dead in her Chisholm, Minn., home on the morning of July 16, 1986.
"It was a horrible look — that's something I'll never forget," Evenson recalled from the witness stand.
The jury trial for a long-unsolved Iron Range murder case started here Monday morning with opening statements and included testimony from Evenson, who was among the last people to see Daugherty alive and among the first to see her dead.
Michael Carbo Jr. was indicted by a grand jury in April on two counts of first-degree murder in the case that took a turn in 2020 when modern genealogy databases brought forth a DNA match.
Carbo, 54, faces a mandatory life sentence if found guilty. On Monday, he was in court wearing a black suit and black glasses with a long gray beard.
The state's case is based on DNA matches found at the crime scene and later samples taken from trash that Carbo tossed into his garage can. Defense attorney JD Schmid attributed the 36-year-old DNA to consensual sex between the victim and the accused in the yard. He said in his opening statement that Carbo used her bathroom and left.
But someone else killed her, Schmid said.
Evenson, visiting from Appleton, Wis., and Daugherty went out for drinks at a local pizza place on July 15, 1986. He brought her home after midnight, he testified. They had plans to meet up the next morning to help her move belongings into a storage unit before she moved to the Twin Cities to go to school to become a paramedic.
Evenson testified that he went back to Daugherty's house the next morning, but she did not respond to his knocks. As a regular visitor to her home, he found details amiss — her doors uncharacteristically locked, shades that were usually open had been drawn.
Evenson and neighbors called the police department in the afternoon and found matted grass from a struggle in the yard and Daugherty's keys on the lawn. They broke into the house and found her dead in her bedroom.
Terri Vajdl was at a sleepover at Daugherty's neighbor's house and, lying in bed near an open window in the middle of the night, heard cries for help and "peculiar screams."
"They were screams, but they kind of sounded like someone was holding the throat," she testified.
Vijdl and her friend crept out into the night to investigate but went back to bed when everything got quiet. It didn't cross her mind to call the police, she said.
"I grew up next to a couple who fought all the time," she said. "We were just being nosy."
The memory of the night has stuck with her for the past 36 years.
"It's always been on my mind since it happened," she said.
The state's first witness was Gina Haggard, Daugherty's daughter, who spoke about her late mother's willingness to help strangers who had been in a car accident on a remote road in Alaska. One of Daugherty's favorite places was a lawn chair in her yard where she liked to sit in the sun. Haggard showed the jury a sunburst tattoo on her right upper arm with the words "Love, Mom" written in Daugherty's handwriting.
When attorney Christopher Florey showed the jury a photograph of Daugherty, Haggard teared up.
"I just miss her," she said.
Carbo did not have a significant criminal history and was never a suspect. In 2020, authorities submitted DNA evidence from Daugherty's fingernails and bodily fluids from her bed to Parabon NanoLabs, a company that uses genealogy databases to make matches with suspects. Results led to Carbo, and authorities secured his DNA samples from a bag of garbage they watched him throw into a dumpster.
It was the first case in Minnesota that used this technology to arrest a suspect, though the high-profile case of the Golden State Killer was solved in a similar way.
He was arrested in July 2020 and has been in St. Louis County Jail on $1 million bail since then.
Carbo would have been 18 at the time of the murder. He lived less than a mile from Daugherty's home and went to school with her children.