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Bemidji man pleads guilty in Downwind murder

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Marchello Cimmarusti pleaded guilty Monday in the October death of Rose Downwind and now will serve 35 years in prison.

The Bemidji man was facing a charge of second-degree intentional murder in the death of the 31-year-old Downwind, a mother of five from Redby.

But during a plea hearing Monday at the Beltrami County Courthouse, Cimmarusti, 40, signed and initialed a petition to plead guilty on the single count. Before doing so, Steven Bergeson, Cimmarusti's attorney, reviewed the document and informed him what terms were included. Cimmarusti also addressed the court Monday, taking questions about Downwind's death from defense and prosecuting attorneys.

By pleading guilty, Cimmarusti will face a sentence of 420 months, or 35 years in prison. Based on his criminal history, Cimmarusti would have been sentenced to 306 months, or 25 years in prison. Additional time was added because of aggravating factors.

One of those was the fact Cimmarusti denied knowing about the events of Downwind's death from Oct. 21 until Dec. 9, when he turned himself in to law enforcement.

After the court accepted the guilty plea, presiding Judge John Melbye set sentencing for Oct. 28, as two other cases related to the murder remain unresolved. Cimmarusti is being held in the Hubbard County Jail.

In response to Monday's news, Downwind's family spokesperson Dwa Weston posted a statement on the Facebook page "Justice for Rose Downwind."

"Some will hold hatred for many years. One day, I pray we can let that go. He hung his head. I know he could feel all the pain he has brought everyone," Weston said. "Creator, bless the memory, the children, the family and friends of Rose Downwind. "


'Lost it and snapped'

As part of Monday's hearing, in a full courtroom with many Downwind family members, Cimmarusti was questioned about the events that led to her death on Oct. 20.

While on the stand, Cimmarusti said he had been working that day and received a phone call from Downwind around the time of his lunch break. Cimmarusti said Downwind had told him that one of their three children had broken their arm.

Cimmarusti went on to say that Downwind had lied about the injury in an attempt to get him to come home to his house at 101 Stoner Ave. in south Bemidji. After learning this, he claimed he decided to go back to work. Cimmarusti said he had planned to take his GMC Yukon, but the keys weren't in the vehicle at the time.

Cimmarusti said he found Downwind's purse in the garage while searching for the keys. After taking a box of cigarettes from the purse, Cimmarusti said he entered the house and saw Downwind coming up the basement stairs with a tub of Halloween decorations.

Continuing his search for the keys, Cimmarusti said he then checked in another room of the house and noticed money that had been set aside for utilities wasn't there. Cimmarusti said he and Downwind started arguing, with Downwind telling him to give the cigarettes back and Cimmarusti arguing about the money and accusing her of doing drugs.

Cimmarusti said Downwind was holding a string of lights and began whipping and hitting him. He then told the court that he planned to go back to work and saw Downwind had the keys to the vehicle. While trying to get them, Cimmarusti said Downwind started biting him.

At that point, Cimmarusti said he "lost control and snapped." He told the court how he put his hands around her neck and pushed her up against the basement door. Through sobs, Cimmarusti then said the next thing he remembered was standing at the top of the stairs and Downwind on the basement floor at the bottom.

After walking down the stairs, Cimmarusti said he checked Downwind and she had no pulse. This was between 2 to 3 in the afternoon, he said, and he next left the house with his children and took them to a local department store before stopping at a liquor store and buying alcohol.

Cimmarusti said he returned home and contacted his friend, Christopher John Davis, 27, St. Paul, who he's known for about 16 years. Initially, it was reported that Davis was Cimmarusti's cousin, but he said Monday that there is no family relation. Through instant messaging, Cimmarusti said he asked Davis for help and Davis agreed to drive up from his home in the Twin Cities.

At the time, Cimmarusti said he was "scared to go to the police."

Before Davis arrived at his home that night, Cimmarusti said he made a makeshift noose from the string of lights and put it around Downwind's neck to make it appear as if she had committed suicide.

Davis arrived at Cimmarusti's residence at about 11:30 p.m., he said, and went down to the basement. Davis then left and returned about two hours later with Brandon Rossbach, 31, Bemidji, who Cimmarusti said he's known for about nine years.

When Davis first returned with Rossbach, Cimmarusti said he "thought we were just going to go to the police."

Cimmarusti said he then learned from the two that all three were going to bury the body. Cimmarusti and Davis brought Downwind's body from the basement to the Yukon. He added that Davis then brought Styrofoam materials and a 10-gallon gas can from his vehicle and also put it in the truck.

Both Davis and Rossbach face an aiding an offender charge and face 20 years in prison.

The three then traveled northwest of Bemidji to an area just off of State Highway 89, Cimmarusti said. After parking the Yukon, Cimmarusti began digging a grave to bury Downwind's body, but said he soon became nauseous and as a result, Davis finished digging the hole.

Davis then placed Downwind's body in the grave and placed the Styrofoam in the hole. This was at about 2 a.m., he said, and Davis next poured gasoline on the body and lit a fire that burned for about two hours. While this was happening, Cimmarusti added that he was watching from the truck.

Once the fire was out, Cimmarusti said they put dirt and branches over the site to cover Downwind's body. Next, Cimmarusti said he was told by Rossbach that "no matter what, the evidence would be circumstantial, so deny everything."

Cimmarusti also said Rossbach offered to give him a medication called diazepam to take before talking to detectives to appear calm.

After the murder

Downwind was reported missing by family members on Oct. 25. When first speaking with Bemidji police investigators, Cimmarusti said she had stayed at his home on Oct. 20 and he had seen her voluntarily getting into a blue vehicle the next day. Over the next several weeks, law enforcement and volunteer searches were held looking for Downwind or clues to her disappearance.

Cimmarusti turned himself in a little over a month later, on Dec. 7, and led law enforcement officers to Downwind's body on Dec. 9. At that time, Cimmarusti told investigators the story that during an argument, he was trying to reach for Downwind's phone and in the process shoved his shoulder into her and unintentionally pushed her down the stairs.

Rossbach was arrested Dec. 9 and charged with aiding an offender while Cimmarusti was charged with second-degree murder without intent.

The charge against Cimmarusti was changed, however, when an amended criminal complaint was filed Feb. 1. The amended complaint included an autopsy report stating that Downwind had died because of homicidal violence from ligature strangulation.

The autopsy also found a spinal fracture, damage to the skull as well as the wire that was around her neck. Cimmarusti then was charged with second-degree intentional murder.

A few weeks later, Davis was arrested in Waller County, Texas. Like Rossbach, Davis was charged with aiding an offender. Davis is scheduled to appear in court April 26 and Rossbach's next hearing is May 24.