Sandra Schmitt, the mother of Marilyn Schmitt, who was allegedly murdered by Kirk Levin, cries during her testimony at Levin’s trial in Fort Dodge.
Sandra Schmitt, the mother of Marilyn Schmitt, who was allegedly murdered by Kirk Levin, cries during her testimony at Levin’s trial in Fort Dodge.
June 4, 2013

Fort Dodge

Kirk Levin won't dispute that he woke his mother in the middle of the night on Jan. 3.

That he cut her 88 times with a kitchen knife.

That he choked her with a belt.

That he killed her.

Instead, his defense attorney Charles Kenville will argue that Levin's mental state at the time of the murder and subsequent kidnapping of another woman makes Levin innocent of the criminal charges he faces.

"Much of the evidence in this case is not going to be contested," Kenville said in his opening remarks for Levin's trial this morning. "What was the defendant's state of mind? ... He was very much confused. His memory was lacking of many of the details."

Kenville claims that when Levin told a Storm Lake woman that he was kidnapping her, "just because he says those words doesn't mean it's true."

Levin, 21, of Early, faces charges of kidnapping and first-degree murder, which is punishable by up to life in prison if a jury of 12 Webster County residents convicts him. The trial is expected to continue for the rest of the week.

Jurors, however, have the option under Iowa law to find Levin guilty of lesser, related charges. For example, they could convict the man of misdemeanor assault in lieu of felony murder.

Sac County Attorney Ben Smith, who is prosecuting the case with an assistant Iowa Attorney General, opened the trial with a brief timeline of the death of Levin's mother, Marilyn Schmitt, 45.

Smith said Schmitt was renovating her rural Early house to accommodate her son, who planned to live with her after he was released from prison on Jan. 1. Levin had been imprisoned for more than two years for a felony burglary conviction in 2010.

Schmitt was excited to have her boy in Early, Smith said. Levin had spent much of his childhood in Wisconsin with Schmitt and, later, his biological father, after his parents divorced.

"She bought him a cellphone, had arranged a job interview at her place of employment," Smith said of Schmitt. "Within 48 hours of her son's arrival, she's dead."

Smith said Schmitt returned home from work at about 2 a.m. on Jan. 3. She put on pajamas, went upstairs to her bedroom - which didn't have a door because of the ongoing renovation work - turned on an electric-heat blanket and went to sleep.

"Between 2:30 and 5 o'clock, the defendant walked into the kitchen downstairs and grabbed a knife from a knife block," Smith said. "He beat her, choked her, put a belt around her neck. He cut her 88 times, and he left her there."

Smith alleged that Levin took a spare door and put it in the bedroom doorway, went downstairs and closed the door to the stairs and put a chair in front of that door.

Sac County Sheriff Ken McClure testified this morning that he later found Schmitt on the floor next to her bed. A belt was tight around her neck, and she was covered with blood.

The back of her left leg had a very deep gash.

Levin barely moved this morning as witnesses - including the woman who says he kidnapped her - testified about his alleged crimes. Levin sat silent, emotionless and averted his eyes as Jessica Vega, 21, told jurors that she thought Levin planned to rape her.

"At first I thought he was kidding, until he went to get the rope," she said this morning.

Vega testified that Levin woke her at her apartment in Storm Lake at about 6:30 a.m., just hours after the man allegedly killed his mother. Levin told her that his car had broken down and that he needed a ride.

Vega left her 5-year-old daughter in the apartment with Vega's sister, and agreed to help Levin, who eventually directed her to his mother's rural Early house about 15 miles away.

Once there, Levin allegedly stole the keys to Vega's car from its ignition and lured Vega into a barn.

"Then he said, 'I'm kidnapping you,'" Vega said. "I laughed and said, 'I'm not a kid.' He said, 'I'm woman-napping you.'"

Levin, a slender, lanky man, grappled with the petite Vega, and the two fell to the floor of the barn. Vega eventually relented and hoped that she could convince Levin to drive her home to get her daughter. She let Levin bind her hands with rope.

Vega engineered an escape over the next 30 minutes. She saw several potential weapons - including a screwdriver she could use to poke him in the eye and a hammer she could knock him unconscious with - as Levin took her into his mom's home and later put Vega in her car.

Vega wrestled with the idea of killing him, even though "I thought ... he was going to rape me," she said.

As Levin drove away from the house with Vega in the passenger seat with hands and legs bound and her daughter's sweater covering her head, Vega decided she would grab a hammer and club Levin the next time he stopped the car.

She didn't get the chance, because Levin apparently lost control of the car on an icy gravel road and went into a ditch.

A passerby farmer and neighbor, Gary Schramm, stopped and offered to help pull the car from the ditch, he testified this morning.

Levin declined and said, "This is all (expletive) up," and fled when Vega burst from the car and shouted for help.

Witness testimony in the case continued this afternoon.