Vickie Stay, of Princeton, confided Saturday that she felt so much
stress during the just-ended murder trial of her son Travis in Grand
Forks, N.D., that she “detached” from the trial proceedings a few
Vickie Stay holds one of the Justice for Travis sticker signs that the family had printed hundreds of and handed out to supporters during the time Travis Stay was facing a charge of murder.
By Joel Stottrup
Vickie Stay, of Princeton, confided Saturday that she felt so much stress during the just-ended murder trial of her son Travis in Grand Forks, N.D., that she “detached” from the trial proceedings a few times.
“I pictured myself at home making Christmas turkey,” she said. “After a few minutes [of the detachment] I calmed down. I’m happy that the dream I had during the trial is coming true.”
Travis Stay is greeted by supporters following his not-guilty verdicts in Grand Forks the evening of Dec. 17. Just behind Stay is Cora-Lee Taylor and to the right is Stay’s Princeton High School classmate Steve Braun.
There wouldn’t have been a celebration of Christmas in the Stay home this year had the verdict gone the other way, she said.
Vickie’s revelation about how she sometimes dealt with the stress of the nine-day trial of her son, came at the end of an interview last Saturday morning. It was three days after the jury found him not guilty of murder or manslaughter.
It was the first interview she had granted the Union-Eagle since Travis was arrested in Grand Forks Dec. 10, last year, as a suspect in the murder of Joel Lovelien, 38.
Lovelien, of Grand Forks, had been found beaten to death the night of Oct. 27, 2007, in the parking lot of the Broken Drum bar in Grand Forks.
There had been pre-Halloween partying going on in Grand Forks that evening. Evidence was confirmed that Travis had an altercation with one or more persons on a charter bus of revelers and that Travis had been punched hard in the nose. Vickie said he also showed signs of having been hit elsewhere on the face.
But now, after a year and one week since his arrest and trial, Vickie and other Stay family members have expressed mixed emotions.
They expressed relief. But all of the family members talked to Saturday, also expressed deep disappointment in the legal process that resulted in Travis having been charged and tried for Lovelien’s death.
Travis is a 2003 Princeton High School graduate and was a senior at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, studying for a Bachelor of Nursing Science degree. He plans to finish one requirement left and get the degree.
During the time he was facing the charge, a support system emerged for the Stay family.
Vickie and her twin sister Val Kriesel explained Saturday that they don’t have a large family to draw on for support. But they also had many supporters from outside the family.
Vickie and Val and others pointed to a wall in Vickie’s home that the family refers to as the “therapeutic wall.” It’s because it is covered with cards from well wishers for the Stay family and expressions of faith in Travis being exonerated.
This past September Kriesel and others passed out more than 900 stickers bearing the words Justice for Travis. The stickers could be seen on automobiles around Princeton.
Travis, Vickie and Kriesel also praised Travis’ defense team.
“My lawyers were inspirational,” Travis said. “To see someone that good at their job inspires you to be as good as you can in your own profession.”
Travis said he is still interested in nursing for a career and only has his internship left. But he also said he is considering law school and that watching his lawyers at work is a motivator.
“They lived and breathed it,” Kriesel said of the defense attorneys’ attention to their case.
Travis’ attorneys were Joe Friedberg, Peter Wold and Aaron Morrison.
“I think Travis has developed a lifelong bond with these men,” Vickie said. “They took care of him. They took Travis under his wing. They didn’t want to see him go to prison. They protected him.”
What did happen?
The accompanying Grand Forks Herald story on the trial verdict talks about the tension seen in the courtroom during the trial.
Vickie estimated that 40-50 supporters of Travis were in the Grand Forks courtroom or courthouse at different times of the trial.
“A great justice was served,” Travis said of the verdict. “I am not surprised. I knew it was coming.”
When he was arrested, he said, he felt “shock,” and hadn’t anticipated the arrest. “From the get-go, we [those working for his defense] were proactive. It just didn’t feel right ever since they [the investigators in the early part of the investigation] searched my house with a search warrant. After that we retained Joe Friedberg. I was examined by a doctor and we had a private investigator on it right away.
“I knew from the get-go that there was no way I could possibly have done that [the beating of Lovelien]. There were some scrapes on my hand. I had to be proactive.”
Travis and Vickie said the scrapes on Travis’ hands were from the parking lot after he fell during an altercation the night of Oct. 27, 2007.
Travis said he does not know how Lovelien was beat up, saying that he, Travis, had a four-hour stretch of time that he cannot remember what happened at the time of Lovelien’s death.
“Anyone who had seen Travis’ hands saw that there was no swelling,” Kriesel said. She explained that if someone had punched someone hard enough against the face and head as was done to Lovelien, the fist would have swelled.
Travis and Vickie were asked what they thought happened to cause Lovelien’s death. The two said they believe that Lovelien became a beating victim when he intervened in an altercation that Travis was having.
“I’m relieved,” Vickie said of the verdict. “I’m just very grateful.”
But she also made it clear that she is hoping that there isn’t another investigation like the one that was done in this case. She brings that out in a written statement.
First, she begins by saying she is proud of how Travis handled being charged and tried, exhibiting “strength and a positive attitude. It helped keep the rest of the family and friends going.”
She then thanked God for the hard times she has had in her life that strengthened her ability to cope. “Those bumps helped us to climb this mountain to reach the other side,” she said.
She also expressed gratitude for the jury.
When the trial attorneys interviewed the potential jury members, she said, she “felt the people from Grand Forks understood what was going on and would find him not guilty, [they would find him] a victim of the legal system.
“I hope somebody does something up there so another person, maybe their own child, does not have to go through this.
“We want to thank our lawyers, private investigator, experts, family, friends, the community, co-workers, and all who supported us. We feel very grateful this Christmas and look forward to a new year.”
Two Princeton people that were essential in helping make quick arrangements for a defense team, the Stays said, were Princeton attorney Tom Meinz, and Bremer Bank loan officer Debbie Gray.
Meinz was able to connect the Stay family with attorneys to consider and Gray quickly arranged the needed financing, Vickie said.
Vickie later added that while the ordeal of dealing with the murder charge and the trial “is over, it is not over. I am still struggling how this [case against Travis] could have happened in the United States.”
Vickie and other Stay family members said they want to have a book written on the case.