A Halloween Murder That Took Place in Grand Forks Remains Cold a Decade Later
The Saturday before Halloween in 2007, a man from Grand Forks was murdered. A decade later, the case still has yet to be solved… and apparently, it never will be.
You may know the story of Joel Lovelien who was killed in Grand Forks on Oct. 27, 2007.
The story, from NBC News, goes like this:
Lovelion was in a bar in Grand Forks wearing a North Dakota Fighting Sioux jersey. At around 11:30pm on the night of Oct. 27, Lovelien received a phone call on his cell phone and he went outside to take the call.
Lovelien then walked back inside. A party bus was outside ready to take riders to the next bar. Lovelien said that someone was left behind by the bus and that he was going to go back outside to check on that person.
Before going back outside Lovelien kissed his fiancee Eastling. A few minutes later someone came inside screaming for someone to call 9-1-1. Eastling quickly realized the injured man was her fiancee Joel.
Joel was beaten to death. His head was lying bloodied in the cement. Apparently, according to doctors, Joel’s face was broken so badly he ended up choking on his own blood.
In addition to potential witnesses, the only physical evidence found was something yellow that resembled a paw that may have come from a Lion costume. Witnesses said that in addition to the lion other costumed individuals at the scene included a penguin, a clown, a gangster and a construction worker.
Police eventually caught up with the cowboy and the clown but after questioning did not think they were guilty of the crime.
Witnesses from the party bus also said that they saw a hunter and a lion interacting with Joel.
Days later, a man named Travis Stay showed up to the police station. He had heard who police were looking for and Stay was the individual dressed in a yellow sweatshirt that was outfitted to look like a lion.
Stay told police that someone dressed like a hunter punched him in the parking lot. Stay also said he threw away his yellow sweatshirt because it had blood on it.
Stay allowed police to recover the sweatshirt from the trash and test the DNA on the sweatshirt. It matched the DNA of Joel Lovelien. Stay was charged with murder.
A plea deal was offered where if Stay plead guilty to mansalughter, he would get less than 10 years in prison. Stay refused the deal because although he didn’t remember everything that happened at the bar, he was adamant about the fact that he had nothing to do with the murder.
At trial, the defense was able to cast doubt with the jury that Stay committed the crime. First off, Stay was six inches and 80 pounds lighter than Lovelien. A blood splatter expert also revealed that Lovelien’s blood could have ended up on Stay’s sweatshirt a variety of ways. It’s possible that Stay was trying to aid an already wounded Lovelien.
Additionally, an ER doctor said the injuries that Lovelien sustained did not match that of someone who would have beaten a man to death.
The timeline of events seemed inconsistent to jurors as well casting further doubt that Stay committed the murder.
After a nine day trial, Stay was acquitted. The Detective in the investigation, Mike Sholes still believes Stay is the guilty party.
Sholes, who is now retired told NBC News in 2013, “There’s not one stitch of physical evidence to suggest anybody else was involved.”
The NBC News article from 2013 also states that the Grand Forks Police Department considers the case closed and prosecutors have allowed for the evidence to be destroyed.
Stay went on to go to law school and has apologized to Lovelien’s family for “being part of the equation” on the night Lovelien was killed. But Stay says that he did not commit the murder and that Lovelien was his only friend that night.
Unfortunately because the case has been closed and physical evidence was destroyed, it seems unlikely that we’ll ever know the true identity of Lovelien’s killer.
Lovelien’s case is being featured on a podcast called Trail Went Cold.