Martin Priest

Martin Priest was charged on Monday with Capital Murder in the 1984 disappearance of 15-year-old Tammy Rothganger, nearly 32 years after she was last seen.

MILLER COUNTY, Mo. — Martin Dean Priest is finally in a Miller County Jail, facing a murder charge from a teen who was killed in 1984. Priest was arraigned in Miller County Court on Wednesday, Aug. 14, where he filed for a change of venue. The case has now been moved to Laclede County.

Case History

Fifteen-year-old Tammy Rothganger disappeared in Eldon, Mo. on May 16, 1984. She was presumed to be the victim of a homicide, although her body has never been found. Martin Dean Priest, the primary suspect, was living with Tammy's mother at the time of the crime.

According to a juvenile witness, Priest and another male picked up Rothganger in a car that morning at the intersection of First Street and Pine Street, near the Eldon High School. Rothganger got in the back seat and the car turned left on Second Street. That was the last time the witness would see her friend.

The male passenger in the vehicle, a juvenile at the time, reported to witnessing Priest stop the car and hit Rothganger in the back of the head with a wrench, causing her to lose consciousness. Priest then allegedly raped Rothganger, strangling her until she was dead, according to the witness. The witness, identified only as D.N., told investigators that he and Priest hid the body at a residence before later returning to transport and bury the body in an unmarked location. 

While the witness identified as D.N. was a juvenile at the time of the murder, he would be at least 45 years old today. His identity is currently being protected and it is unclear if charges are pending for his role in the murder and subsequent cover up.

Since 1985, Priest has been sitting in a Kansas maximum security prison, serving a life sentence for an unrelated homicide in Wichita. He faced charges for—and was subsequently acquitted on—the murder of two other people, though, and nearly faced charges in the murder of a third (a judge decided there was not enough evidence to proceed with a second-degree murder charge in that case).

Two years ago, Kansas denied parole to Priest, but recently he was extradited to Miller County, and Priest is now incarcerated in the Miller County Jail, according to jail personnel. Here he faces the charge for Tammy's death: Capital Murder, an unclassified felony, which Prosecuting Attorney Ben Winfrey filed in January of 2016.

In May of 2018, Priest filed a 180 Day Writ that limits the timeframe for a legal proceeding to 180 days. Priest also filed a request for a speedy trial. 

Capital Murder is charged where the homicide occurs with forethought or planning. The range of punishment for capital murder includes the death penalty or life in prison without parole, but sentencing would not take place until the second phase of the trial and only after a finding of guilt by the judge or jury.

The penalty phase would include consideration of mitigating factors such as extreme abuse of the victim and aggravating circumstances such as homicide committed in a vile or depraved manner or involving torture or committed while attempting another crime such as rape or robbery.

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