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Autopsy: Downwind died of strangulation, not stairs fall

A Bemidji man now faces an amended murder charge in the death of Rose Downwind after an autopsy report stated the Redby woman died of strangulation and not from being pushed down a flight of stairs.

     Marchello Anthony Cimmarusti, 40, was charged with second-degree murder in December after leading authorities to Downwind’s burned body in a shallow grave northeast of Bemidji. He told investigators Downwind died Oct. 20 after the two had an argument and he inadvertently pushed her down the stairs at his residence in south Bemidji.

     However, an amended complaint filed Monday in 9th District Court altered the count against Cimmarusti from second-degree murder without intent to second-degree intentional murder.

     Downwind, 31, was reported missing by family members Oct. 25. Her body was not discovered until Dec. 9 after Cimmarusti led authorities to a wooded area northeast of the city.

     According to court documents, after turning himself in on Dec. 7, Cimmarusti told police he and Downwind, his ex-girlfriend, had an argument at the entryway of his home at 101 Stoner Ave. The situation had “spun out of control,” Cimmarusti told investigators, and Downwind was trying to use her cellphone to document his violation of a domestic abuse, no-contact order.

     Cimmarusti told police that in an attempt to take the phone from her hand, he pushed his shoulder into her and Downwind fell down the cement basement stairs, landing at the bottom. Upon checking her body, Cimmarusti told law enforcement Downwind was bleeding from her mouth and did not have a pulse.

     However, the amended complaint includes information from an Dec. 11 autopsy by Dr. Butch Huston with the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office. Along with a spinal fracture and damage to the skull, Huston found a ligature wire around Downwind’s neck. Huston noted the wire around her neck had been charred because of the burning, yet was still noticeable, according to the complaint. Huston concluded the most likely cause of death was homicidal violence from ligature strangulation.

Beltrami County Attorney Annie Claesson-Huseby would not comment on the case when reached Tuesday.

Others involved

     According to court documents, Cimmarusti reportedly confessed Dec. 9 that after Downwind’s death, he contacted his cousin, Christopher John Davis, 27, of St. Paul, for help. Davis agreed and drove to Bemidji. After observing Downwind’s body, Cimmarusti told police Davis left and returned with Brandon Rossbach, 31, of Bemidji. Cimmarusti told law enforcement he and Davis removed Downwind’s body from his residence and placed her in the back of his 2002 GMC Yukon. Inside the Yukon were also Styrofoam materials, a gas can with gasoline and the wooden board from the bottom of the stairs, according to court documents.

     The three men traveled north on state Highway 89 for a short distance before going down a trail. Cimmarusti and Davis then dug a hole where they placed Downwind’s body, the Styrofoam cups and the board before lighting a fire, court documents said.

     Cimmarusti told investigators the three stayed and monitored the fire for about two hours before covering up the hole. Cimmarusti also told police he and Davis gave Rossbach a ride to his residence at an area resort before returning to his residence at about 5:30 a.m.

On Dec. 9, Cimmarusti led authorities to the area where Downwind’s body was burned and buried. The amended complaint filed Monday states that Cimmarusti, in his confession to police, never mentioned the ligature wire around Downwind’s neck.

An omnibus hearing for Cimmarusti has been scheduled for Feb. 18. If convicted, Cimmarusti faces a maximum of 40 years in prison. Cimmarusti is being held in the Hubbard County Jail as of Monday.

     Rossbach was arrested Dec. 9 and charged with aiding an offender and remains in the Beltrami County Jail. Under Minnesota law, he could face up to 20 years in prison. Rossbach’s next court date is scheduled for Feb. 10. Davis remains at large and a Beltrami County warrant has been issued for his arrest for aiding an offender.

     Initially, Cimmrusti faced the charge under Minnesota Statute 609.19.2(2), which states that a person causes the death of another without the intent to kill and without premeditation. The amended charge Cimmarusti faces, Minnesota Statute 609.19.1(1) is described as “causes the death of a human being with intent to effect the death of that person or another, but without premeditation.”