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Suspect takes witness stand in 1984 murder case

UPDATED 5:15 p.m.: Murder suspect Martin Priest took the stand Wednesday, saying he never harmed Tammy Rothganger.

Priest, on trial for 15-year-old Rothganger’s murder 30 years ago, said he picked her up from outside her school on and dropped her off at the park.

He denied ever coming in contact with his nephews Michael and David Nicholas.

David Nicholas testified he saw Priest rape and kill Rothganger.

Priest is being tried in Laclede County on a change of venue from Miller County. His trial will continue Thursday.

UPDATED 2:20 p.m.: The woman who was married to Martin Priest’s brother at the time said Priest came by their home asking for a shovel to “go fishing and dig some worms” on the day of Rothganger’s disappearance.

She said it was odd for Priest to ever visit her home.

Michael Nicholas, the older brother of David Nicholas, testified and said he saw Tammy Rothganger’s dead body.

He was about 14-years-old at the time, Michael Nicholas said he remembers Priest hiding Rothganger’s body inside his mother’s house.

Both Michael Nicholas and David Nicholas said they are willingly testifying and are receiving no gifts or payments.

ORIGINAL: The nephew of a man on trial for capital murder said he saw his uncle murder 15-year-old Rothganger more than 30 years ago during his testimony on Wednesday.

David Nicholas, Martin Priest’s nephew and Rothganger’s friend, said he saw Priest murderthe young girl.

“It was one of the most horrific things that has ever happened to me,” David Nicholas said.

David Nicholas, who was 13 years old at the time, said he remembers Priest hitting Rothganger in the head with a wrench before he raped her and choke her to death.

The state asked David Nicholas about the day Tammy disappeared on May 16, 1984. David Nicholas said he was asked to get into a car with Priest that morning, and they drove to Eldon High School.

According to David Nicholas, Rothganger was standing outside when Priest asked David Nicholas to have her get into the car. David Nicholas remembers Rothganger acting afraid as they began driving on a rock road in a remote area.

David Nicholas said he and Priest both sexually assaulted Rothganger. He then saw Priest strangle her to death.

Rothganger’s body was taken to his mother’s house, David Nicholas said, and his brother, Michael Nicholas, saw her body taken into the house.

Later that night, David Nicholas said Priest made him help bury her body and threatened to kill him if he spoke about it.

“I could end up in that hole if I ever said anything,” he said. “If it could happen to her, it could happen to me.”

The state asked David Nicholas if he has struggled through his adult life with these memories

“I suffer from nightmares every day of my life,” David Nicholas said.

Priests’ trial was moved to Laclede County from Miller County in August.

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