MANDAN, N.D. — The trial of a man accused of slaying four people in Mandan more than two years ago has already been delayed four times, and now COVID-19 looms over the proceedings ahead of the trial's start next month.
In a pretrial conference over Zoom in the case of Chad Trolon Isaak, who faces four murder charges for allegedly shooting and stabbing the co-owner and employees of Mandan's RJR Maintenance & Management, South Central District Judge David Reich said people will need to be cautious of COVID-19, as an outbreak among jurors could result in a mistrial.
“There’s been an uptick in cases. It’s still well below the threshold level that the state was concerned about before, but it’s still something we need to be mindful of,” Reich said during the conference on Friday, July 16.
Isaak, 47, who operated a chiropractic clinic in Washburn, is accused of killing RJR Maintenance co-owner Robert Fakler, 52, as well as employees Adam Fuehrer, 42, and William Cobb, 50, and Lois Cobb, 45.
Isaak has pleaded not guilty, but if convicted, he could face up to life in prison. He's currently held at the Burleigh Morton County Detention Center.
The trial is set to last three weeks beginning Monday, Aug. 2. It will be held in the Morton County Courthouse in Mandan. The judge considered moving the venue to the House chambers of the North Dakota Capitol to allow for more social distancing, but Reich said it’s “more conductive” to hold the trial at the courthouse.
Jurors will sit with empty chairs in between them for more distancing, and people not vaccinated against the coronavirus will be asked to wear a mask, though no one will need to show proof of vaccination, Reich said. Twelve people will sit on the jury, along with two alternates.
The trial was already once delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reasons for the other delays include the retirement of the previous judge and Isaak’s lead attorney withdrawing from the case.
At Friday's conference, the court ironed out logistics for the trial and addressed any remaining motions from the prosecution and defense.
Because the trial has been delayed four times and news coverage has drawn attention to the high-profile case, the defense asked the court to sequester witnesses. The judge granted the request, forbidding witnesses from talking to each other and reading or viewing news coverage of the trial.
On April 1, 2019, law enforcement officers were called to RJR Maintenance where a caller said a person, later identified as Fakler, needed medical help, according to a police affidavit. Emergency responders could not revive him, and officers searched the building and found the three other victims, who were deceased.
Investigators later combed through surveillance footage that showed an attacker wearing a bright-colored top and head gear and dark-colored pants.
A white truck was also seen on surveillance video leaving RJR Maintenance and departing Mandan on U.S. Highway 200. Neighboring police departments were notified of the attacker’s vehicle and a McLean County sheriff’s deputy recognized the vehicle as Isaak’s, as the deputy was a patient of Isaak’s chiropractic clinic, according to the affidavit.
The deputy told investigators where Isaak lived in Washburn. Upon searching his home, investigators smelled bleach and found clothing consistent with the attacker’s as well as guns and ammunition consistent with the bullets used on the victims, the affidavit states, noting that law enforcement also found what was later confirmed to be human blood in his vehicle.
RJR Maintenance managed and collected rent on the lot where Isaak’s mobile home was located, according to the affidavit.
Along with the four murder charges, Isaak faces felony charges of burglary and concealment within a vehicle, and a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized use of a vehicle.
Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.