Martin Priest, nephew testify in murder trial's second day
Martin Priest looked on as his murder trial began Monday at the Laclede County Courthouse. (KRCG 13)

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Day Two of the Martin Priest murder trial began Wednesday with the state calling his nephew David Nicholas to the stand.

Court records showed Priest was the live-in boyfriend of Tammy Rothganger's mother in 1984. Investigators said Rothganger, a high school sophomore at Eldon High School at the time, disappeared after apparently getting into a vehicle with Priest and another man before school. Rothganger had not been seen since and her body was never found.

Priest has been charged with capital murder

Nicholas, who was 13 years old at the time of the alleged incident, said he was with Martin Priest the day Tammy Rothganger died. He said the morning of May 16, 1984, his grandmother woke him up saying Priest needed help with his car. 

The nephew said Priest told him to get him the vehicle and they drove to Eldon High School. He said they saw Tammy standing outside and Priest told Nicholas to ask Tammy to get in the car with him. He said after she entered the car, they stopped at a gas station and Priest went inside. While Priest was inside, Nicholas said Tammy was nervous and said she wanted to go back to school. 

When Priest came back to the car Nicholas said they eventually drove to a rock road and pulled over. He said Tammy said she wanted to go to the bathroom but instead when she got out of the vehicle, she ran. 

Nicholas said he chased her down and talked her into coming back to the car. Nicholas said he and Tammy were dating, and Priest told them he knew they were and made them have sex in the backseat of the car while he watched. 

After, Nicholas said Tammy sat in the front seat and Priest dropped something on her side of the floorboard and asked her to pick it up. That’s when Nicholas said Priest hit Tammy over the back of the head with a wrench. 

Nicholas said Tammy tried to get out of the car, and Priest eventually raped her and strangled her to death. Nicholas said they ended up taking Tammy’s body back to his mothers house and put her on a bed in the back bedroom. 

He said later on Priest came back to the house and put her body in a steel drum. He said Priest made him go with him to bury the body in a remote area.

At one point during Nicholas’ testimony, the state showed Nicholas a picture of Tammy and Nicholas started crying. Throughout Nicholas’ testimony Nicholas made eye contact with Priest for several seconds at a time.

To close out the day, Priest took the stand, testifying that he never raped or killed Tammy. He said the day Tammy went missing, he saw her walking away from Eldon High school and said she had been kicked out of school. Priest said he gave Tammy a ride to the park nearby and left her there to meet friends. He said he went fishing until about 1:30pm and, on his way back to Eldon, he said he saw Tammy sitting at the park with friends. Priest said that was the last time he’s seen her. 

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