Judging the person who’s lost everything (5×8 – 2/8/13)

Making the punishment fit the crime, where trivia matters, there’s something about a horse, making water with snow angels, and for the love of love.


It’s no stretch to declare that there can be no greater loss for a person than the loss of a child, which had to have made the decision on what to do with Jonathan L. Markle, 41, a difficult one for prosecutors.

Yesterday, he was charged with criminal vehicular homicide.

Markle is the driver of the car that sank into Lake Minnetonka a few weeks ago, killing his baby daughter, Tabitha.

These are the kind of stories that the talk-show crowd can turn into an absolute. “People must be held accountable,” they say. Or “there’s nothing you can do to punish him that’s worse than losing a child.” Both of these statements are probably true.

And yet, it’s very easy to feel conflicted no matter which you’re inclined to embrace.

Markle’s wife and Markle’s two-year-old daughter also escaped. With a conviction, they lose a husband and a father. Who benefits from putting him in prison? Is a proper punishment for losing a child, not being able to watch another grow up?

And yet, people keep driving on the ice and putting their children at risk and somehow the message needs to get through. “A young child died through the recklessness of the father,” the prosecutor said yesterday. That, obviously, shouldn’t happen.

It must have been difficult for prosecutors. It’s going to be agonizing for a jury.

What would you do if you were on the jury?


They take trivia pretty seriously in St. Cloud. Like salmon returning to their spawning grounds, alumni of St. Cloud State return to join the rest of the campus — and the city — for the traditional weekend marathon of trivia. Trivia Weekend started in 1980 as a broadcast battle on KVSC Radio (disclaimer: I’m a member.) between 25 dorm teams.

Now there are dozens of teams, some are located in other parts of the country, and apparently, nobody sleeps.

This is Trivia Weekend. Here’s a great (like there’s any other kind) Boyd Huppert story from six years ago on the effort.


MPR’s Sasha Aslanian has today’s “must-read” item with her feature on the Heartland Girls’ Ranch in Benson, where horses are helping girls, including those who were forced into prostitution. Minnesota, she reports, is seeing the light and beginning to see the kids as victims, not delinquents.

What does the horse do? They’re going to be better than some people.

Girls who have difficulty trusting people will find that horses have a startling honesty. Horses respond to a rider’s body language, sometimes sparking a girl’s insight more quickly than a therapist could.

For example, Kinnel gave a girl who had run away a horse that no one could catch. She said the girl made the connection.

“We can ask them how it feels to be on the other side,” Kinnell said. “Now they’re the person having to deal with that behavior. And it gives them some empathy for the people in their lives and kind of how their behavior has affected others.”

Horses are great at healing. There are plenty of horse camps to help young people who are physically disabled. And, in Waverly, our friends at Bus 52 reported last summer, they can even help heal the female veteran.


You’re on notice, Bismarck. Your snow angel record is going down. Maybe.

Tomorrow at 11 at the University of Minnesota Duluth, organizers of a campaign to provide clean drinking water to people in Ethiopia will try to set a record for the most number of snow angels, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

The goal is 8,962 set on the North Dakota state Capitol grounds in 2007.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Clifford and Mildred Bjerke of Dilworth have been married for 76 years. Last year, President Obama sent them a letter commemorating their longevity.

“She’s a devoted wife … and she’s good-looking, too,” Clifford told the Fargo Forum in an interview for a story that was to run around Valentine’s Day next week. “And I think she likes me, too.”

Mildred died yesterday.

Bonus I: These sorts of things put the old exploding volcano science experiment to shame.

Bonus II: Did someone say “science?”


The Obama administration’s use of drones to kill terror suspects has attracted harsh criticism in recent days and contributed to the controversy around the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. Some in government are calling for more transparency and accountability – for example, by subjecting drone strikes to a legal review process, or by shifting responsibility for them from the CIA to the military. Today’s Question: Are transparency and accountability important values in the fight against terrorism?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: National Geographic photographer James Balog and polar explorer Will Steger talk about Balog’s Sundance award winning film Chasing Ice. (Rebroadcast)

Second hour: Jeanne Marie Laskas, author of “Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work.” (Rebroadcast)

Third hour: The Okee Dokee Brothers. Their album, “Can You Canoe,” is up for a Grammy Award for best children’s album. (Rebroadcast)

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Black History Month program: A “Voices of Minnesota” interview with Nellie Stone Johnson and an MPR documentary “Postcard from a Lynching” (1920 Duluth).

Science Friday (1-2 p.m.) – Your phone knows where you are. Facebook knows who your friends are, and what you had for dinner. But how much of that information do you control?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – During Fashion Week in New York, NPR considers how the life of fashion designers has changed.

  • Dave S.

    Regarding #1, I don’t see any point in charging him in this. Yes, losing a child is punishment enought, but also no “official” punishment will keep other fools from doing the same thing. No one is going to say “I won’t drive on the ice with my family because if we fall through and some one dies, I might get put in jail or fined.” They either won’t do it because of the danger, or they’ll do it regardless. Jail time will do absolutely no good in this situation (won’t “rehabilitate” him, won’t remove a menace to society, won’t punish him in a meaningful way) and, as you pointed out, may do harm to the remaining family.

  • andy

    @Dave S.

    I agree.

  • Tim

    I’ve been participating in Trivia Weekend for the last four years ever since some friends who grew up in the St. Cloud area and have been playing since high school drafted me onto their team.

    I do sleep, but I still try to put about 30 hours in (out of the 50 that it runs).Our team is spread out a bit geographically — our HQ is near St. Cloud, but many of us play remotely, as am I this year.

  • Robert Moffitt

    This isn’t about keeping other prople from driving on the ice (while drunk, no less) putting themselves and their passengers at risk.Nor is it about rehabilitation.

    It is about Tabitha, who died as a direct result of her father’s actions. Her father is being charged to provide some justice for the needless death of this child.

    It is on Tabitha’s behalf the prosecuter felt he must act. The death of a child under these circumstances can not be just ignored, no matter how much sympathy we feel for the family involved.

  • As Bob said, it’s the same with the case of Kao Xiong, when that dad’s 4-year-old used his unsecured gun to kill his 2-year-old brother. Our justice system is part rehabilitation, party deterrence, and part retribution. This is the retribution part.

    I’m also conflicted.

  • Sara

    #1..My mom had a saying, “if you are going to be dumb, don’t be stupid.” I think it applies here. Being dumb was driving his family (kids strapped in carseats) onto unsafe ice. His “stupid” was being drunk. I’m ok prosecuting stupid.

  • Kassie

    From the article:

    “Jonathan Markle’s blood-alcohol level was 0.13 two hours after the accident, the charges say.”

    That’s why he is being charged. And he should be. And I question if the wife shouldn’t be charged with child endangerment for letting her children get into a car with a drunk driver.

  • Noelle

    I agree with Robert regarding #1. Would we question whether he should be charged/convicted if the child in that car seat wasn’t related to him? Especially considering his blood alcohol level was .13 two hours after the accident? I think if he had caused the death of anyone besides his family, it would be a no-brainer.

    The fact that he made the choice to drive as intoxicated as he was with his entire family in the car (and that his wife didn’t prevent him from doing so in the first place) is troubling enough to me , but the fact that he also felt the need to drive on the ice just baffles me.

  • Matt

    Markle’s case – he drove the car into Lake Minnetonka and killed his daughter – should be looked at through the same lens as instances were children are harmed or killed because they were left in a hot car in the summer. In those cases, often you will see the prosecutor present the case to a grand jury who will then determine whether there is probable cause to indict the defendant. In Minnesota, all crimes can be presented to a grand jury, but only premeditated first-degree murder is required to (this is why in murder cases the initial charges do not charge this count, and the complaint or indictment is amended after the case is presented to the grand jury).

    By putting the case before the grand jury, the prosecutor can say that they presented the case and evidence to the grand jury and the jury took their action. If no indictment is handed down, the prosecutor saves face with the public if public opinion wanted charges.

    While the phrase that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich is probably true, the grand jury is one area where my educated guess is that you’re likely to see what is called jury nullification. Essentially, the jury decides that the defendant, despite the evidence and law against him or her, should not be charged or convicted of the offense. Because grand jury proceedings are secret, you’ll never know.

    Contrast that with jurors at a trial. After the trial is completed, jurors are free to speak about their deliberations, the reason for their or the jury’s decision, and what was or was not effective for them, evidence wise. They are not required to speak with attorneys post-trial, and attorneys are required to terminate and not re-initiate communication with an juror who indicates that they do now want to speak to them. Hence, if jury nullification occurs after a trial, it’s likely someone will find out. Not so much with a grand jury.

    I’m not going to question the prosecutor’s power to charge the man, whether that was HC Attorney Freeman or an assistant. They certainly have the ability to do so. What you’re asking is whether they properly exercised that discretion in filing the charges. And that is a tough question.

    Finally, this case would be entirely different if Markle hadn’t been over the legal limit. I doubt you’d see charges if that were the case.

  • Tyler

    “Trivia” really doesn’t describe what the weekend is about. I’ve seen some of the stuff you need to look up, and it’s enough to make a reference librarian’s head spin. For example, one year there was a quote to identify – I think with a small picture.

    What was it from? A 1950’s Hoover owner’s manual.

    It’s the kind of stuff Google doesn’t actually find.

  • Bob Collins

    // to provide some justice for the needless death of this child.

    Sure, I get that. But that gets back to the original point. Wouldn’t spending the rest of your life looking in the mirror and seeing the person who killed your baby provide that?

    But, yeah, it probably gets back to WHAT is it that is being accomplished here. If it’s to make the person suffer — and that seems to be one view — then wouldn’t the degree to which they are be part of that equation?

  • Bob Collins

    // His “stupid” was being drunk

    this is the part of the story that confuses me. According to the charges, he had two beers at the restaurant and still had a .13 BAC.

    Is that even possible?

  • Noelle

    Bob, I see your point. Trying to put myself in his shoes, I don’t know which would be worse – spending time in jail, or having to face my family for the rest of my life. I still stand by my opinion that he should be charged. I have no tolerance for drunk drivers.

  • bob

    We can’t give the guy a pass just because his heart is broken and may always be. I like the child in the hot car analogy. If you’re dumb enough to forget your kid’s in the car, and he or she dies as a result, you deserve a major dope slap for it. Same here.

    It would of course be much easier to have a higher bac if the beers were growler-size and he speed-gulped them. Otherwise, science would dictate that he obviously had more than just a couple of beers, absent some kind of biological quirk that would make him that intoxed on 24 oz of brew.

  • Tim

    Tyler, yeah, some of the questions are impossibly obscure. Not all of them are that hard, but my understanding is that, since any resources can be used, over time they have had to make the questions more and more arcane in order to maintain the challenge. It’s really more like a research contest now, as opposed to something like bar trivia, where you go in just with what’s in your head.

  • I think the first comment really sums it up well. Who is really being served by this prosecution?

    It seems to me there is a bigger issue going on in the family. The father might need treatment and the family might need counseling. Is the prosecutor trying to get this family help by forcing treatment at the sentencing, as in probation and treatment?

    If not, then what does society gain from putting this man in prison except paying the prison bill and possibly subsidizing his wife and child?

    Unless we’re going to start prosecuting all the parents whose negligence kills their children, I can’t see why this father is more worthy of prison than any of the others.

  • Bob Collins

    Nobody has yet answered the question asked, though. What would you do if you were on the jury?

    The “hot car” analogy is an interesting one. Here’s a fascinating story on how sentences vary on convictions for those sorts of things.

    Also, that moms are 26x more likely to be found guilty is pretty interesting.

    also, it’s interesting that the number of cases of kids being left in hot cars soared after laws mandated they be put in car seats in the back seat.

  • Kassie

    //this is the part of the story that confuses me. According to the charges, he had two beers at the restaurant and still had a .13 BAC.

    Sure. There are some big beers out there. 22oz beers. And there are now some real high alcohol beers, like 10% alcohol. If he was a small man, that could totally happen.

    Or more likely, he had drank before or after he left the restaurant.

  • Noelle

    In the article Bob shared, it sounds like the courts look closely at intention in these cases, and punishments were generally more lenient in cases where the parent clearly didn’t intend to cause harm to the child.

    I’m not sure lack of intention can really be argued in the Markle case, since he and his wife put their kids in a car with a drunk driver – who also happens to have a previous charge regarding intoxication while operating a watercraft.

  • @ Bob Collins-

    If I was on the jury, I would listen to the evidence and follow my instructions from the judge. I couldn’t say if I’d find him guilty or not guilty until the case was in my hands. Even then, I don’t think Minnesota juries get to decide the sentence. If so, then I’d push for my previously mentioned probation and rehab.

  • Robert Moffitt

    “Wouldn’t spending the rest of your life looking in the mirror and seeing the person who killed your baby provide that?”

    That presumes that the accused would have similar feelings and reactions to the child’s death as you might. You’re a father, and from the way you talk of your grown children, you sound like a great dad. They certainly seem to have turned out well.

    But that’s not always the case.

    Consider the case of the two parents found seriously drunk in a “garbage house” with an unattended toddler? Or the homeless mom who shared heroin with her 12-year-old daughter?

    Extreme cases, I’ll admit, but they make my point that not all parents can be expected to “punish themselves” when they harm their children. Sometimes the law must step in. I think this is one of those times.

    If on his jury, I would try to be fair, but would not flinch from a “guilty” judgement, if I felt it was right.

    Then I would go home and break down in tears.

  • Bob Collins

    There’s a case up in Beltrami County (I think) just two weeks ago in which a mother left her kid in a hot car while she went into Target. She got 24 days jail time and two years probation.

    Fortunately, the child lived.

  • steve

    Let me get this straight: The prosecutors want to pile a tragedy onto a tragedy in the interests of ‘justice’?!?

    This is more about a prosecutor making a name for themselves.

  • @ Bob Collins –

    It is interesting that mothers are found guilty more often than fathers. It might be the expectations society has for mothers – that we sacrifice everything for our kids, so that when we fail our children, we face a heavier retribution. In this light, it’s a bit sexist in that men are every bit as capable of being good, devoted parents as women. But society seems to place higher expectations on mothers than fathers, and therein lies the higher rate of conviction. Or that’s my theory anyways.

  • Jeff

    //this is the part of the story that confuses me. According to the charges, he had two beers at the restaurant and still had a .13 BAC.

    According to the article he told the police he had two beers. I believe that as much as someone who tells the police they had a “sip” of beer.

    I, too, am conflicted. I lean more toward giving him some jail time because of his BAC. I also wonder why his wife let him drive.

  • Disco

    Robert Moffitt nailed it. There are facets to this story that Bob Collins’s original write-up did not consider.

    My first question would be, how much does this father value his children if he gets drunk and then drives onto a lake? What quality of judgment is he using? I believe you’re already taking a risk if you drive onto ice with your child even whilst *sober.* And as others have noted, where was the mother’s judgment in all this?

    Even darker, what about the possibility that his misjudgment could cause the death (in some future event) of his two-year-old daughter who survived this? He very well could kill someone else if he isn’t put away.

    Hopefully the jury considers all these factors. It’s quite possible that he really does belong in jail, Bob. The guilt of causing the death of his baby might not be that big a deal to some people.

  • BJ

    //This is more about a prosecutor making a name for themselves

    Mike Freeman has already made a name for himself…. At 64 years old he has spent over 20 years as an elected official – 8 years as State Senator, 4 times elected Hennepin county attorney. I think he is actually making solid choices, not not padding a resume.

  • Bob Collins

    // here are facets to this story that Bob Collins’s original write-up did not consider.

    Well, for the record, you don’t know what I did and didn’t consider. As I said, I’m conflicted. For every thought I’ve expressed, I’ve had the same thoughts on the opposite side that everyone else has written.

    My guess is this *is* a case of stupidity more than anything else. And if we’re going to factor in the possibility of killing someone else with stupidity, they better build more prisons in this state.

    The sentence has to be about the crime that was committed, not the one that might be.

    Sidebar: I was at the stoplight at Valley Creek and Radio Drive in Woodbury this morning. Every car at the front of every lane I was facing had whiskey plates. That shouldn’t be too surprising. 1 out 7 people in Minnesota HAS a drunk-driving conviction.

    As for the “where was the mother in all of this?” I do have to admit that I find the pitchfork mentality in case like this rather troubling. We can only imagine the hell she may be going through. We don’t know, of course, but I’m comfortable having the default setting be compassion until proven otherwise.

    And as for Tom Freeman, absolutely, he’s a solid man with high integrity. As I indicated in the piece, these are very difficult decisions.

  • David

    What would you do if you were on the jury?

    Probably cry, a lot.

  • Disco

    I participated in trivia weekend a few times with some friends who are from St Cloud. At first it was fun. Then I realized that the questions they ask are some of the most excruciatingly stupid trivia you could possibly imagine.

    Name 10 of the 12 peanut vendors employed by the Brooklyn Superbas during their 1908 season.

    What’s the 93rd word on the 346th page of a book that was printed for only two months during the reign of Louie XIX?

    Here’s a 0.03-second clip of a song written by Blind Lemon Jefferson while he was sitting on a motel toilet in Memphis in 1920. What brand toilet paper was he using at the time?

    The answer to most of their questions is, “Who gives a flying fortress?”

  • Jake

    Re: #1. This isn’t the first time the offender has been arrested for driving under the influence. He was pulled over for BWI in 2004 and went on probation after entering a plea deal. It could have easily been someone else’s kid he killed this time.

  • BJ

    //for Tom Freeman, absolutely, he’s a solid man with high integrity.

    He has also had a few of these, high profile ones, in the last year. I don’t think politicians that want his job in the future will think of these when they run. Or if the topic does come up that our current political conversations will help us to find someone who can make solid choices in these kinds of cases.

  • Kassie

    Drunk driving is not stupidity. Drunk driving is a crime and if you kill someone, you should get charged with it. If he would have hit the child with the car instead of going through ice, would we be having this discussion?

    If he went through the ice and was sober, then I don’t think there would be criminal charges, but that’s not the case. I think part of the reason 1 in 7 Minnesotans have a DWI conviction is because we don’t see drinking and driving as a big deal.

    Michael Brodkorb may have charges pressed against him for drunk driving, and he only hurt himself, but people are arguing that this guy who put his small children in a car and killed one of them, shouldn’t have any?

  • Tim

    Disco, it’s called “trivia” for a reason. If the information was important, then by definition it would not be trivia. 🙂

    Acutally, though, I do see your point, like I said above. I think that’s due in part to how much easier it is to find information now than it was in, say, 1980. And things like Google Books and Image Search have changed the game in a lot of ways.

  • Bob Collins

    // If he would have hit the child with the car instead of going through ice, would we be having this discussion?

    Well, of course not and the first line of the post explains why not.

    One question for lawyers: Would these charges have been filed if there was only negligence involved and not alcohol?

    I can’t recall, but I presume charges weren’t filed in this case.

    // , but people are arguing that this guy who put his small children in a car and killed one of them, shouldn’t have any?

    I’m not prepared to reduce it to something so simplistic, no. The case requires us to ask some of the questions I asked. What’s a proper punishment in a case like this? What’s the goal? How does fit the crime? What is the impact on the innocent?

    The reason I think it’s worth discussing is because I think it is a different sort of crime than almost any other.

  • Disco

    Regarding the “whisky” plates. I read once (FWIW) that the W signifies only that the car was impounded at some point. It does not necessarily mean the person drove drunk.

  • @ Disco –

    My google-fu says no. You get a whiskey plate for alcohol violations, according to MN DUI lawyers.

  • Joanna

    I grew up with an alcoholic father who refused to let my mother drive when he was in the car, and who refused to listen when she (and we) begged him to slow down, or stop driving dangerously. Why didn’t she (we) refuse to get in the car? Why do you think? Being abandoned on the side of the road with small children in the winter is no picnic. Coming home to an enraged spouse might seem worse.

    Speaking from my own experience, if my father had ever been pulled over for drunk driving and suffered the consequences, it would have been a good thing for our family rather than something that would make us suffer; HE was already causing our suffering. I can’t claim to know what this family’s situation is like, but I don’t assume that they are better off with him than without him.

  • Pete Johnson

    “These are the kind of stories that the talk-show crowd can turn into an absolute.”

    Are you certain?