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'I will never forget': 1986 Chisholm homicide trial opens with emotional testimony

A defense attorney acknowledged Michael Carbo had sex with Nancy Daugherty the morning of her killing, but claimed someone else killed her.

Michael Carbo
Michael Carbo
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HIBBING — Residents of Chisholm have not forgotten the night Nancy Daugherty was raped and killed in her bed in 1986, a prosecutor told jurors.

But if testimony Monday is any indication, recollection of some of the finer details may have faded over the past 36 years — even for those most closely involved in the case.

A tedious first day of testimony saw four witnesses take the stand in the trial of Michael Allan Carbo Jr., the man allegedly identified in 2020 by DNA evidence as the perpetrator of the long-unsolved cold case.

Nancy Daugherty
Nancy Daugherty

At age 54, Carbo is facing mandatory life imprisonment if convicted of the slaying that occurred when he was just 18. A defense attorney said evidence would show that Carbo had consensual sex with Daugherty, a 38-year-old mother of two, who was then killed by another person out of apparent jealousy.

A key witness, Brian Evenson, was the last known person to see Daugherty alive. He struggled to remember details of past statements he had given to law enforcement — at one point prompting the judge to impose a lengthy lunch break so Evenson could read a 103-page transcript of a 1986 interview.

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But Evenson said there were some details that are "burned in." Planning to help Daugherty to pack up some belongings for a move on July 16, 1986, Evenson was the first person to discover her body — naked but covered up by sheets, her mouth agape and arms spread wide.

"Just a horrible look," he recalled. "Something I will never forget."

'Peculiar screams' in the night

Evenson, friends with Daugherty through their mutual involvement in the local ambulance service, was visiting the Range a few years after leaving to take a job in Wisconsin. He had visited with Daugherty at her home and a local bar the night before.

Daugherty, who was in the process of getting a divorce, and whose children were living out of the area that summer, was planning to move to the Twin Cities area to study for a paramedic career.

Two other witnesses testified that they heard an apparent argument that night. Neighbor Jonathan Spector said he was awoke around 2:30 or 3 a.m. by what sounded like a crying baby, followed by a slapping noise and a muffled argument.

Terri Vajdl was sleeping over with her friend, Spector's sister. Around the same time, she heard what she described as "peculiar screams."

"They were screams but they kind of sounded like someone holding the throat kind of scream," she recalled.

Vajdl and her friend walked outside but didn't find anything. It's the type of situation that might prompt someone to call 911 in 2022 — but not 1986, Vajdl said.

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"We didn't have cellphones," she explained. "It wasn't really something people did back then. I grew up next to a couple that argued all the time. We were just being nosy. I guess it didn't even cross my mind at the time."

Numerous investigators and civilian witnesses who might normally be expected to testify at trial have died over the years, and the case has seen delays related to the recovery of decades-old materials, including audio cassette tapes.

But the victim's daughter, Gina Haggard, said the family hasn't forgotten. Daugherty — whose favorite activities included softball, skiing, camping, fishing and just generally sitting in the sun — loved her jobs at the ambulance service and a local nursing home, she said.

"She loved talking with the seniors and hearing their stories and treating them as people," said Haggard, now of Park Rapids, Minnesota, who today remembers Daugherty with a sunshine tattoo she got on Mother's Day.

Is DNA evidence enough?

In an opening statement earlier in the day, St. Louis County prosecutor Chris Florey told jurors that DNA evidence was the difference-maker in the case.

Local and state investigators recovered numerous samples from semen around Daugherty's body and other objects inside and outside the house — but DNA was still an emerging field at the time. It wasn't until a private contractor used genealogy databases in 2020 to develop a DNA profile that eventually led to Carbo.

Florey said the evidence would show that Daugherty was first attacked outside near the rear entrance — where matted-down grass and a pile of vomit was found — and then taken inside and killed.

Carbo, who lived approximately a half-mile from Daugherty, but had no known connections to her, denied any involvement in the case when he was confronted by police in 2020, the prosecutor said.

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"Like many Iron Range communities, the city of Chisholm remembers and honors the past," Florey told jurors. "The city of Chisholm never forgot the night Nancy Daugherty was raped and killed in bed in 1986."

But defense attorney J.D. Schmid cautioned against taking pieces of evidence in isolation, saying the DNA isn't as conclusive as prosecutors want them to believe.

Schmid contended that Daugherty, after parting ways with Evenson in the early morning hours of July 16, went back to a bar and picked up Carbo. He said she brought the teen home, having consensual sex in the yard before going inside. Carbo was "blackout drunk," he said, prompting him to throw up in the yard.

"The state wants you to believe this case starts and stops with DNA," Schmid told jurors. "DNA proves they had sex, and that is it."

After Carbo left, the defense attorney said, Daugherty was killed out of jealously by someone who knew her and had strong feelings for her.

Schmid did everything he could to insinuate that person was Evenson — but Judge Robert Friday ruled the defense could not introduce evidence of a specific alternative perpetrator. Friday ruled on several objections Monday, cautioning the defense against "backdoor" attempts to implicate Evenson.

At one point, outside the presence of the jury, Schmid argued that Evenson was the "prime suspect" from the time of Daugherty's death up until Carbo's arrest.

"His status as a suspect gives him a vested interest in seeing Mr. Carbo convicted, because it takes the heat off him," the attorney told the court.

But Friday stood by his previous statement, in which he wrote that evidence against Evenson amounted to "mere speculation and bare suspicion."

Carbo, wearing a dark suit and seated quietly at the defense table throughout the day, is facing two counts of first-degree murder while committing criminal sexual conduct.

The case is being heard by a jury of eight women and seven men, including three alternates. The trial is expected to continue into next week.

READ MORE STORIES ABOUT COLD CASES
With just 16 days before the statute of limitations ran out on the kidnapping of a wealthy Orono, Minn., woman in 1972, the FBI indicted two men in the crime. But the case was far from over. In fact, the roller coaster ride was just beginning. Here is Part 3 of "The Kidnapping of Virginia Piper — 50 years later."

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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