Amy Mullis desperately wanted to get away from her family’s hog farm in northeast Iowa.
It wasn’t life in rural Earlville that was getting to her. The 39-year-old loved hunting, fishing and spending time outdoors and had left her job as a registered nurse so that she could help out in the barn, her brother testified in court Tuesday.
But her husband, Todd Mullis, was allegedly so controlling that Amy’s friends called her “POT,” short for “Prisoner of Todd.” As soon as all their crops were out of the field, she told her brother in August 2018, she planned on leaving him and filing for divorce. Todd, she predicted, was going to “flip out.”
She never got the chance. That November, as the fall harvest came to an end, Amy’s 13-year-old son found her slumped over in a small red shed on the family’s property. A pitchfork-like corn rake was sticking out of her back.
At first, Todd blamed his wife’s death on a freak accident. “He hoped people would feel sorry for him and not ask any more questions,” State Prosecutor Marie Hughes said Tuesday.
But his explanation — that Amy had fallen and landed on the corn rake — quickly fell apart under scrutiny, police said. This week, the 43-year-old went on trial for first-degree murder, and he faces a potential life sentence in prison if convicted.
During opening statements Tuesday, Todd’s attorney, Jake Feuerhelm, argued that while there was no doubt Amy had been “viciously and deliberately murdered,” there was plenty of reason to question whether his client was the person who killed her. But prosecutors contend that the hog and soybean farmer had an obvious motive: Not only was he angry that his wife was having an affair and wanted to end their 14-year marriage, he also feared losing half his land and potentially millions of dollars if she filed for divorce.
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“Being a farmer means everything to him. He has put his life into that farm,” Hughes told the jury. “The defendant had to find a way to keep his farm.”
Testimony at the trial resumed Wednesday.
The couple’s marriage had been on the rocks since at least 2013, when Todd discovered that Amy was cheating on him. Her friends later told police that he became paranoid, requiring her to keep him apprised of her movements when she left the farm to shop at Walmart or meet a friend for lunch. Then, several months before her death, Amy started flirting with a man who serviced hog operations in the area and regularly stopped by their farm. At first, the two mostly talked about animal feed and the livestock business, but their relationship eventually turned sexual.
The man told police that Amy said she wanted to leave Todd, but she feared what would happen if he learned about the affair, explaining, “If he catches me, he might make me disappear.” According to court records obtained by WOI-DT, she had expressed similar fears to several close friends, at one point predicting that Todd would kill her and “throw her to the pigs” if he learned about her infidelity.
In August 2018, the same month she told her brother, Jeff Fuller, that she planned on leaving her marriage, Amy told a friend that she and Todd had recently purchased a plot of wooded land. If she ever disappeared, she said, police should look for her body there.
“You’ll know Todd did something to me,” she said.
Though Todd told police after her death that the couple had a good relationship and never fought, detectives learned that the two hadn’t shared a bed for five months. During that same period, Amy had texted a friend to say things were “still very tense around here.” In October 2018, she called up another friend crying and screaming because Todd had gotten wind of her affair.
Nov. 10, 2018, started out like any other day on the farm. After a light breakfast, Todd and his 13-year-old son went out to ready the hog barn for a delivery of small pigs. Amy, who was recovering from a recent surgery, joined them but soon started feeling dizzy. Todd repeatedly urged her to go back to the house and rest, but she insisted that she wanted to help out. Finally, he suggested a less taxing chore: She could get their old pet carrier out of the shed for a litter of orphaned kittens that had taken up residence in the workshop.
Later in the morning, Todd asked his son to check on Amy. He told police that he had stepped out for a drink of water, noticed that the pet carrier wasn’t there and wondered what was going on.
The 13-year-old testified Tuesday that his father had left the barn for a brief period before sending him to check on his mother, but he couldn’t say how long he’d been gone. Prosecutors contend that Todd wanted the boy to discover his mother’s body so that her death would look like an accident.
If that was the plan, it didn’t work for long. Coroners took just two days to rule her death a homicide. The corn rake had four tines, but there were six puncture wounds in Amy’s back, which meant that she couldn’t have fallen and landed on it like Todd had suggested. Someone had repeatedly impaled her, on purpose.
On Tuesday, Feuerhelm said that the story about an accident hadn’t been a lie, but an “honest, legitimate on-the-spot explanation” based on the facts available at the time.
But the inconsistency wasn’t the only thing that prompted authorities to charge Todd with first-degree murder in February. According to a police affidavit, he had used his iPad to search the Internet for terms such as “organs in the body,” “killing unfaithful women,” “what happens to cheaters in history” and “what happened to cheating spouses in historic Aztec tribes.”
Court records show that Amy told a friend that if she and her husband split up, she stood to gain $2 million from the farm trust, as well as half the couple’s valuable land holdings. Prosecutors argue that Todd was hellbent on making sure that didn’t happen. When Amy’s stepmother testified in court Tuesday, she recalled that back in 2013, Todd told her that he knew about his wife’s infidelity. But he wasn’t willing to let it end their marriage.
The stepmother recalled in court what he said: “I’m not going to lose my farm and what I worked for.”
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