Joel Lovelien's fiancee stepped into the witness box Thursday armed with a bottle of water and a pack of tissues.

Heather Eastling took jurors back to the night of Oct. 27, 2007, when she came upon Lovelien lying unconscious, his head in a puddle of blood in the parking lot of the Broken Drum bar in Grand Forks.

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"I was screaming his name at him. He didn't say anything. He didn't do anything," she said, sobbing. "And I tried to sort of shake him awake and shake him back."

She and friends, as well as first responders, tried to resuscitate him, but they were unsuccessful, and the 38-year-old father was pronounced dead that night.

Prosecutors say the man responsible is Travis Stay, a former UND nursing student who ended the night with Lovelien's blood on his clothing.

But defense attorneys contend Lovelien was killed by a group of men who rode the same party bus that brought Stay to the Broken Drum. They assert Lovelien lost his life intervening in a fight between Stay and those other bus riders.

Opening statements

In a courtroom full of supporters of both the victim and the defendant, prosecutor Nancy Yon told jurors that Stay was involved in two assaults that night. The first was an altercation with James Wavra, a man who struck Stay outside the Broken Drum after the defendant took a swing at him and missed. The second, she said, was the assault of Lovelien in the bar's parking lot.

"The evidence will show that (Lovelien) was beaten. He choked on his own blood, and he was left to die," she said. "The facts point to one person being responsible."

But defense attorney Peter Wold asserted that the prosecution's account was incorrect and deficient.

"All the evidence will show that the version just presented by the prosecution is an incomplete, shallow part of that whole story," he said.

Wold argued that 5-foot-9-inch, 160-pound Stay couldn't have killed Lovelien, who had sought to lend a hand to the defendant that night.

"The whole truth is that the beaten, drunken, small, stumbling Travis Stay was not capable of inflicting the multiple brutal injuries to his only friend in the parking lot of the Broken Drum on Halloween night 2007 -- that friend, his good Samaritan -- Joel Lovelien," Wold said.

He then offered the defense's alternative version of events: "Mr. Lovelien's severe injuries were likely caused by a cowardly mob of alcohol-fortified tough guys."

Wold said one of those men told officers, "I guess things got a little out of hand," referring to an altercation he'd had on the night in question.

Pre-empting the defense's theory, Yon had told jurors no blood was found inside the party bus. "There was nothing on that bus which led law enforcement to believe that the person responsible for Joel Lovelien's death left on that bus," she said.

Wold brushed aside evidence that Stay had Lovelien's blood spattered on his clothes, saying it only proves his client was near the victim when he was beaten, not that he was the culprit.

He acknowledged Stay was likely "blackout drunk" that night and now has no memory of what happened.

Getting on the bus

Broken Drum patrons who first found Lovelien, his friends who were with him at the bar and police officers who were first on the scene all took the stand Thursday.

In much of the questioning and cross-examination, a critical point of contention emerged over what time the bus left, particularly whether it left before or after Lovelien was killed.

As Joe Friedberg, another defense attorney, questioned Lovelien's friend Randi Wippler on this topic, he took a few steps away from the witness stand, spun around and pointed at her, asking, "Do you understand why this is important?"

The bit of courtroom drama left her speechless. But he had her review a statement she gave police in which she said Lovelien told their group he was going to help someone who had missed his bus, been hurt in a fight or both. She told police she couldn't remember exactly what Lovelien said.

On the same issue, Wold went back and forth with Chris Hoffman, the bar's bouncer. Wold maintained Hoffman had made a statement that people were getting on the bus as he helped Eastling look for Lovelien. But the bouncer also told Yon the bus left before he was approached by Eastling.

Lt. Michael Ferguson, the last witness called Thursday, was the third officer at the crime scene and took charge on arrival.

In the course of the night, he said he spoke on the phone with one of the, as Wold described them, "alcohol-fortified tough guys."

"There really was no cooperation," Ferguson said. "He sounded intoxicated."

The lieutenant said when he told the man about what happened he sounded "dismayed" and would not say where he or the other partiers were.

Witness testimony resumes at 8:30 a.m. today.

Reach Ingersoll at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com.