By Terrell Boettcher
Reprinted courtesy of Sawyer County Record
A Hayward woman pleaded no contest Tuesday, Sept. 21, to a charge of second-degree reckless homicide in the death of her husband at their home Nov. 5, 2020.
Mari Patricia Isham, 33, 15503 Davis Avenue, Apt. C, Hayward, appeared in Sawyer County Circuit Court Tuesday before Judge John Yackel with her attorney, James C. McKenzie. The case is being prosecuted by District Attorney Bruce Poquette.
Isham’s bond was set at $25,000 cash and she is being held in custody pending her sentencing on Nov. 24.
According to the criminal complaint, at 12:56 a.m. Nov. 5, 2020, Hayward police responded to a 911 call at the Davis Avenue apartment. The caller, Mari Isham, stated her husband, 47-year-old Justin Coles, would not wake up and it was unknown if he was breathing.
Sawyer County sheriff’s deputies and a Sawyer County ambulance also responded to the scene. First aid was administered to Coles and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Isham told an officer that on the evening of Nov. 4, she and Coles had a verbal argument. She said they both went to bed, as she was not feeling well. When she woke up, she noticed that Coles was on the floor and not breathing.
Initially, officers believed the cause of death may have been an accidental drug overdose. But they observed that Coles had some unusual injuries to his face, neck, abdomen and the right side of his chest.
Police Chief Joel Clapero said evidence of injuries raised concern of a possible assault. An autopsy was requested and completed on Coles by the Midwest Medical Examiner’s office in Ramey, Minnesota. Upon completion of the autopsy, the physician who conducted the autopsy stated that the cause of death was “blunt force injuries and strangulation and the manner of death was homicide.”
City police requested assistance from the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), Wisconsin Crime lab, Wisconsin State Patrol and Sawyer County Sheriff’s Department to assist in the death investigation.
At the time of the Nov. 5 incident, Mari Isham was on probation for possession of methamphetamine and interfering with child custody beyond visitation, with a condition that she have no contact with Justin Coles. She told an officer that she and Coles had arguments since they returned to Hayward about a year earlier. She remembered they had a physical fight after their home on the Chippewa Flowage burned down the previous year.
Police arrested Isham on Nov. 5, 2020, and she was jailed on a probation hold.
The maximum penalty for the crime of second-degree reckless homicide is 25 years in prison plus a $100,000 fine.
According to the complaint, Isham told an investigator that while she was living in Racine, she had been treated for heroin addiction after being addicted for 7 ½ years. and has been sober the past three years. She also stated she had been diagnosed with epilepsy about a year earlier. On Nov. 25, 2018, she married Justin Coles, who was one of her counselors at the treatment center in Racine. She said they moved back to Sawyer County because she wanted to be closer to her family, but also said she did not want to move back “because it is where all of her demons are.” Isham stated that Coles had basically raised her youngest daughter.
Isham told the investigator that on the night of Nov. 4-5, 2020, after she found Coles lying on the bedroom floor, he was having trouble breathigng. She asked him if she wanted her to call 911 and he nodded affirmatively. She called 911 and began CPR on Coles until medical first responders arrived. She stated that Coles was a 100 percent disabled Navy veteran, and was not a drug user. She said she owes everything to him for her sobriety. She stated that on the night of Nov. 4-5, Coles had been drinking alcohol but she did not drink alcohol.
When the investigator asked Isham if she and Coles were physically abusive toward each other during domestic disputes, she replied ‘yes’, that they had hit each other. When the coroner took photos of Coles, he had two black eyes, and an officer observed that Isham had bruises and scratches on her arms. Isham stated that Coles had a broken nose but refused to go to a doctor. She said they must have had a fight, but she couldn’t remember.
The autopsy showed that Coles had bruising and broken ribs on his right side, internal bleeding in his stomach area and a broken bone in his neck.
Neighbors in the apartment building reported hearing Isham and Coles arguing the night of Nov. 4, furniture being moved around, and loud thumps from the apartment. They heard a female screaming and then the sounds of medical first responders arriving. They said that Isham and Coles had numerous arguments in the past.
Isham told the investigator that she and Coles had “a lot going on” since they got together. She said they have been “to hell and back” but they had grown stronger because of it.
She said that when they were living in Kenosha, Coles beat her so hard she had to spend two weeks in the hospital because both eyes were so swollen that she couldn’t see. She said that even though he hurt her so bad, she stayed with him.
Isham’s mother told officers that five-six years earlier, Isham had “beat her up bad” and was a “mean drunk” at the time. She said Isham quit drinking for some time after that. She said tht night before Isham was arrested, Isham called her on Nov. 4, 2020, and it sounded like she had been derinking. Isham was with Coles; they had ordered by the court to have no contact with each other. She said she knew that Isham and Coles fought a lot and said that since Isham had married Coles, Isham had started drinking alcohol again, using drugs such as methamphetamines and possibly heroin.
Isham’s mother told officers that Mari and Justin “fought all the time and knew that one of them was going to end up dead” because of how bad they fought.
Pursuant to a search warrant, a DCI agent seized Isham-Coles’ cell phone and an agent performed a forensic download of the phone.
The agent reviewed text messages between Iaham and Coles from June 3, 2020, to Nov. 2, 2020. On Sept. 8, it appeared they ewre arguing about possibly splitting up. On Oct. 6, Justin seemed upset and alleged that Mari had a boyfriend. He threatened to kill himself if their marriage was over.
The DCI agent also reviewed text messages between Isham and a woman from Aug. 9 to Oct. 11, 2020, in which sIsham was attempting to obtain meth and heroin. On Sept. 20,2020, Isham appeared to put $40 underneath the front doormat at her and Coles’ apartment and the woman identified in the text message took the money and left some heroin under the mat.