Man sentenced to over 90 years in Fowler murder case
FOWLER, Ind. (WLFI) – Rhett Martin will spend 92 years behind bars assassinating Daniel Riegle. It’s been almost a year since it was Riegle found shot in his burning Fowler house. As previously reported, the firefighters reacted to the house on Polk Street at around 8 a.m. on December 6, 2019.
After a long four day trial and dozens of testimonies in October A Benton County jury found Martin guilty: Murder, murder in theft, murder in burglary and arson. The jury also found him guilty of using a firearm, which is a sentence improvement. Benton County Attorney John Wright said Martin could only be convicted of one of the murder charges under an Indiana double risk act.
Wright called a witness on the booth to try evidence. Indiana State Police investigator Brock Russell was the lead investigator on the case and testified several times during the trial. Martin is currently facing a gun case theft in Tippecanoe County. He is said to have stolen a Benelli shotgun in the incident. Russell confirmed it was the same gun found in Martins and his cousin slash accomplice, Duane Scott Muse’s Fowler house. The state presented crime scene photos of the weapon during the trial.
He also confirmed that they found several laptops in Martin’s possession. They found a video on one of the laptops showing Martin installing a hidden camera in a shower. The state played the video for the court. Investigators could not identify whose shower they were placed in. They found other videos of women using a toilet on the laptop but failed to identify the women.
Defense attorney Mike Troemel briefly interrogated Russell. Russell confirmed that there was no video of the toilet cameras being placed. And he confirmed that he didn’t know who put these videos on the computer.
During the trial, Daniel Riegle’s daughter-in-law Sonya Riegle testified that she found hidden cameras in her bathroom. Dan Riegle had lived in her house at the time and admitted to having set up these cameras. She said he was thrown out of the house immediately, at which point she resumed her affair with Martin.
Testimony and evidence indicated that Martin made it appear like he was avenging Riegle’s intrusion and making him suffer for his actions. The state said during the final clashes that Martin was clearly no better than Riegle as he also set up his own hidden cameras in private areas.
The defense did not call any witnesses and Martin decided to remain silent.
A member of the Riegle family wanted to give Dan a character witness. Sharon Hiatt is Dan’s sister. She attended the entire four-day trial in October. She said her brother suffered from social anxiety and found solace on the internet. She said he also found darkness that led him down the path that ended at Sonya’s home.
However, she said her brother made a decision to pursue a better path in life. She said he went to a counseling where he was encouraged to take up healthy hobbies. It was here that he discovered his interest in metal detection and had bought a bicycle for cycling tours. Riegel’s metal detection equipment was found at Martin and Muse’s home.
She said he was waiting for granddaughters to arrive whom he was never allowed to meet. He was a carpenter whom he had learned from her father and was as artistic and creative as her mother. She said he grew up in a family of faith and that he could find ease and forgiveness again.
She said forgiveness is for the perpetrator, not the crime, and with that in mind, she told Rhett Martin that she forgive him.
Wright began making cases for the state by saying that the evidence and trial really speak for themselves. He felt that no mitigating factors were being used in this case, but there was plenty of trouble. He said there was no justification for the murder and it was a pointless act. He said Martin had clearly been waiting for Riegle and following his morning routine so that he could murder him at the right time.
He said Indiana law states that committing murder and breaking and entering and robbery can be used to justify life without parole or even the death penalty, although prosecutors did not aim for that level. Since the judge can only convict the single murder charge, the state argued that the court should attach weight to the fact that he was also found guilty of murder and burglary.
The defense did not agree with this approach. Troemel said the purpose of the double threat meant that one could only convict one count and then not burden the murder charge with the other charges. He said the jury was not asked to determine who the shooter was.
Later, the state argued that Martin was technically not allowed to buy a firearm. He had a previous crime conviction in 1999 that was discarded in 2014. Wright argued that this was a perfect example of why the Extinction Act was not a good law, given that it allowed Martin to wipe out the murder weapon in 2017.
Troemel said the conviction dated more than 20 years ago and that Martin had gone through the right channels of obliteration. The court apparently felt that he was worth getting his gun rights back, given that he had little criminal history between 1999 and 2014, which in his view showed that he is capable of a good character.
Wright asked the court to consider Martin’s three current crime cases in two different counties. He faces four charges in Tippecanoe County, including breaking into a home and stealing a gun. That incident happened in October 2019, just two months before the Fowler crime. In Newton County he has two separate cases. One is for sexual behavior in front of minors in November 2018. The second is for stalking in March 2019.
Muse is also charged with the Tippecanoe County break-in. Wright said this shows that Dan Riegle’s home invasion was not their first and they had experience working together in the crime field.
He pointed out the arson and how unnecessary it was in the grand scheme of things. He managed to get rid of Dan Riegle with the shot but went back an hour later to destroy evidence and set Riegle’s body on fire. He said the action endangered local firefighters and was a risk to the community.
Next, Troemel began the defense and closed the arguments. He argued again that the jury hadn’t decided who pulled the trigger. In giving Martin the gun upgrade, it’s stuck that pulled the trigger on him. He said this improvement will incentivize others to simply carry out their murder with something other than a firearm.
He said again that the nature of the other two murder charges could not be used to improve Martin’s judgment. He argued that Martin’s criminal past is minimal other than his current cases, which are still pending. And a person is innocent of the crime until proven guilty. He argued that the court could not impose a maximum penalty for arson and then use it to increase a murder sentence.
Some of the mitigators he argued were Martin’s family support during the trial. His parents and several other family members sat through every four days of the trial. However, only his brother appeared for a condemnation. Troemel argued that Martin had a good work experience and was making good money. Most importantly, Martin is a veteran who served three years in Iraq, received multiple awards, and was honorably discharged.
Judge Rex Kepner first addressed Martin’s pending crime cases. He agreed that while Martin is innocent until proven guilty, the fact that he has collected three cases in just over a year certainly says something about his character. Especially since the Tippecanoe County case is linked to this case through the shotgun found in Martin’s house.
Judge Kepner reflected on the nature and circumstances of this case. The surveillance cameras show that Martin and Muse drove around several days in advance to track the victim. He said they were preparing to harm, break in and murder. He said this murder case was far more offensive than any other. He said it wasn’t a spontaneous, emotional heat, quick decision. They planned, tracked, and prepared for what was to happen. He was referring to the practice door locks on Martin and Muse’s house show, how calculated they were to carry out this crime.
He said Rhett Martin was far more frightening and that, as a judge, he should be more concerned about what would happen in this man’s future.
As he looked at the arson, he felt the same way as the murder. There are people who might choose to burn a house for insurance money or out of revenge, but with no one inside. He took the evidence when Martin Riegle murdered and assumed the police would be on their way. When he found this was not the case, he went back and burned the house and the victim. He read a report from a Riegle family member and said they couldn’t have a proper funeral because the body was damaged.
Judge Kepner believed Martin had a high chance of reoffending and said he could expect the same level of planning in the future if given another chance.
He disagreed with the defense that Martin had a strong work history. It was clear that Martin and Muse were behind on rent, utilities were gradually being cut off, and Martin was well behind on child benefit payments. He did not work well and honestly and did not see a strong work ethic. He recognized the time in the military, but said three years was not that long of serving, and he did not appear to be taking any positive aspects of service into his civilian life.
Judge Kepner said an important part of any legal process is the body language and emotions displayed throughout the process. He noticed that Martin was emotionless throughout the process and even saw a grin with probation officers hinting at arrogance.
Judge Kepner ultimately showed little mercy towards Rhett Martin. He said that if Martin were released tomorrow he would be a threat to the community and would only use that experience to become smarter and more calculated in the execution of crimes. He said he didn’t deserve to be released.
He sentenced Martin to 65 years for murder, 12 years for arson, and added a 15-year gun upgrade for a total of 92 years. Martin left the courtroom as stoically as he had entered it. The von Riegle family hugged and wept, knowing that justice was being served. Hiatt said she was happy with the result.
“It really speaks in favor of investigating what the State Police did, that they were able to find these videos, and that we had all of this evidence,” Wright said after the hearing ended. “Mister. The von Riegle family was very supportive of our office and the state police throughout the investigation. I know that they are relieved and satisfied with the sentence.”