Night vision goggles help nab homicide suspect in N.D. wheat field

By Jim Adams
Minneapolis Star-Tribune 

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — On the run for months from what could be three murders and an attempted murder, the fugitive from Louisiana was hungry and cold when law enforcement officers found him in a North Dakota wheat field just before sunrise Thursday.

Jeremy D. Brooks, 27, who has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of a Wright County, Minn., woman, wasn't hard to spot, said Jeff White, chief agent for North Dakota's Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Brooks' size - he stands 6 foot 5 - combined with a suspicious fire at a shed in nearby Drake, N.D., helped about 30 state and federal officers locate and then surround the former heavyweight boxer.

Authorities in at least three states, including Minnesota, had been looking for Brooks.

His alleged accomplice, Coty Martinez, was arrested Tuesday in Velva, N.D.

The two could also be responsible for two murders in Louisville, Ky. Police there suspect Martinez and Brooks in two unrelated slayings this summer, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported Thursday.

The newspaper quoted Lt. Barry Wilkerson as saying that police will ask prosecutors to seek indictments against the pair in the murder of Hugh O'Dea, 69, who died of head injuries and was found Aug. 4 in some woods. He disappeared in July, and his car was stolen.

Brooks and Martinez are also suspects in the asphyxiation of an unidentified man found in a park Aug. 6, the newspaper said.

They are also wanted in Slidell, La., for allegedly beating and robbing a man June 2.

A fiery clue

Their trail from Louisiana to North Dakota had at least one other suspicious fire, possibly set as a distraction. So when a machine shed blaze was reported about 4:30 a.m. Thursday in Drake, officers equipped with night-vision goggles spread out for about a mile around the burned shed, White said.

If the shed fire was to be a distraction, the tactic backfired. Officers watched from hills and other high points, White said. When the big, unarmed man made his move through the golden 3-foot-high wheat about 6:30 a.m., he was nabbed, White said.

"He was cold, hungry and tired," White said, who noted Brooks had no coat against the early frost. Officers gave him a sandwich and something to drink.

Investigators are collecting evidence to see whether Brooks may have started the shed fire and a barn fire the night before as distractions to cover his flight, said McHenry County Sheriff Marvin Sola. A Minnesota state agent told Sola that Brooks has apparently used that tactic before to distract officers while he stole a vehicle.

Brooks was hospitalized for malnourishment most of Thursday before arriving at the regional jail in Rugby, said Joey Cotton, jail security chief. He said Brooks looked as if he had lost about 30 pounds from his normal 225. As Brooks walked to a cell he asked for food, Cotton said. Brooks is being held pending extradition. Coty Martinez, 28, waived extradition and was driven back to Minnesota, Cotton said.

Minnesota case

Minnesota authorities began searching for the pair after Ruth Ouverson's son found her dead in her bedroom closet in her Marysville Township home Aug. 4. Surveillance cameras recorded a man resembling Brooks using her ATM card in the Minnesota cities of Buffalo and Monticello, and showed him driving her blue Jeep Cherokee. The search intensified when the Jeep was found Sunday outside a Fargo Wal-Mart, where surveillance tapes showed Brooks making a purchase.

Wright County Sheriff Gary Miller said Martinez, of Cut Off, La., is wanted as "a person of interest" in Ouverson's homicide. Brooks is charged with second-degree murder in the death.

They are also suspected in a home burglary about a mile from Ouverson's home in which rifles and knifes were taken Aug. 1. Two days before that burglary, Miller said there was a barn fire near Montrose that he thinks could be linked to Brooks.

Brooks' mother, Kathy Wells, followed the search on Internet news sites at her home in Robert, La.

"All I can say is my condolences go out to the Ouverson family," she said Thursday. For everyone's sake, "I am very glad that he is in custody."

Martinez's mother, Brenda Billiot, said from Cut Off, that she doubted her daughter would hurt anyone. Martinez dropped out of school after ninth grade, waited tables and got a medical assistant certificate, Billiot said. She said her daughter had broken up with Brooks after he beat her. But she went back to him, and he got her involved in drugs.

Her daughter called from the jail in Rugby and left a tearful message, she said.

"If she messed up, she is going to have to pay," Billiot said. "I want her to know I know she is not bad like it is sounding ... I just hope she cooperates with the police ... and please apologize to these people that she and Jeremy hurt."

Ruth Ouverson's husband, Greg, could not be reached Thursday. But Sheriff Miller said Ouverson told him that he is focusing on his grieving family. "He said he would not let hate consume him."

Ruth Ouverson "was everyone's role model, very engaged in the community," Miller said.

The sheriff said that many residents have commented about how well Ruth Ouverson connected with children and that they were glad the two fugitives have been caught. Ouverson worked for many years in the Rockford School District, where she headed the early childhood programs.

"This one hit home, the randomness and the lady home alone," Miller said. "You never restore that sense of security, but at least we know these two people aren't going to hurt anybody else."

Copyright 2007 Star Tribune

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