Holland murder trial: Detectives turned up heat as they interviewed husband
Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.
In the first two interviews police conducted with Roger Holland after his wife's death, investigators assured him they were just doing due diligence in checking up on the couple and the events leading up to the incident.
Each time, he told the same story. He had gone to get breakfast and came home to find her collapsed at the foot of the stairs in their Apple Valley townhome.
In the third interview, investigators dropped the hammer: The story didn't make sense, they said, and they believed he had killed her.
"If it sounds like I'm pointing fingers at you," Apple Valley police detective Michael Backus told Holland, "it is."
Backus and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Michael Wold conducted the videotaped interview March 8, the day after Margorie Holland died.
Roger Holland, 37, is on trial in Dakota County District Court for her murder and the murder of the 15-week-old fetus she was carrying. An autopsy determined the 37-year-old woman had been strangled.
The three interviews with Holland were conducted March 7 and 8 -- the first at the hospital, and the latter two at the police station. The March 8 interview included a Miranda warning of his rights, and he was arrested the same day.
Tapes of all three interviews were played in the Hastings courtroom Tuesday, with Backus on the witness stand
In the third interview, Backus told Holland his timeline didn't match the condition of his wife's body.
He said scratches on Holland's neck didn't look like they occurred by accident during a bout of the expectant mother's cramping, as Holland claimed. Other evidence such as text messages suggested Holland had misled police about marital problems, Backus said.
In addition to the neck scratches, Backus took photos of a series of other scratches on Holland's arms. Some appeared to have been made in parallel pairs and scabbed over.
He and Wold told Holland there were few other explanations for what happened to his wife in such a short time frame.
"A magic person didn't just fly in there and cause these injuries to Margorie, OK?" Wold said.
The interviewers laid out a number of possibilities in an attempt to elicit a confession.
Did a fight about money escalate into something more serious? Did Margorie Holland, described during the trial as sometimes emotionally volatile, say something to push him too far -- or even attack him physically?
Did he fight her and leave thinking she was OK, not realizing the seriousness of her injuries? Did he carry psychological trauma from his time in the military that was triggered that morning?
None of those things happened, Holland said. By the count of his defense attorneys, he said more than 40 times that he didn't hurt his wife.
"I know you guys don't know me, but I loved her," he told Backus and Wold. "I still love her like no one's ever loved anything before."
Backus said he believed him.
"I understand that sometimes we do terrible things to the people we care about the most," he said.
"I didn't do this," Holland replied. He later added: "I get that it doesn't look good."
Backus and Wold confronted Holland with Internet searches made from his phone and computer about whether a person's neck could be fatally broken by a fall down the stairs or if it was possible to break a neck with bare hands.
He said those searches were made because Margorie, who had a dream about falling and damaging her neck, fretted about such things. He and his wife both searched the topic because they wanted to learn what would actually happen, he said.
If police examined her computer, he said, they would likely find the same searches.
The interviewers tried to win Holland's cooperation with empathy. They understood that marital problems sometimes erupted into physical altercations, they said. They saw it all the time and weren't there to judge him.
The investigators respected military servicemen, they told the Texas National Guardsman, and wanted to get him the help he needed if he were suffering from trauma. People made mistakes, they said, and the only recourse was to do the right thing going forward.
"You made a big mistake," Backus suggested, "and you're looking for a way to cover it."
At one point, they seemed to surprise Holland with a revelation: About 8 a.m. March 7, Margorie Holland's phone was used to look up how late in a pregnancy an abortion could be performed.
After a long pause, Holland replied: "I didn't know she looked that up."
Backus and Wold suggested she pushed him over the edge by telling him she was leaving him and getting an abortion.
"A comment like that would cause any husband to fly off the handle," Wold said.
Margorie didn't say that, Holland said, and any talk of her leaving him was par for the course of her sometimes dramatic mood swings, which cooled down as quickly as they flared up.
"That was how she was," he said.
Prosecutor Phil Prokopowicz asked Backus, a longtime detective, whether he had heard similar consistent denials from other suspects who later turned out to be guilty.
Backus said he had.
Defense attorney Marsh Halberg asked: "Another reason why someone would deny a crime is because they didn't do it, correct?"
Correct, Backus said.