On the afternoon of Saturday January 28, 2006, Martin “David” Pietz called his wife Nicole and left a message on her cell phone asking about their dinner plans.
“Give me a call,” Pietz said. “I need to know what we’re doing, if I need to stop and get food or anything…so give me a call. I love you. Bye.”
That message and two others left by Pietz the same day were played in a Washington courtroom Wednesday as prosecutors alleged he made the calls to cover up what they say is the truth: that he had strangled his 32-year-old wife the night before.
Prosecutors say the couple was scheduled to have dinner with friends on January 28. When David arrived for dinner without Nicole and said he had not seen her or been able to reach her all day, the friends encouraged him to call 911 and he did so, according to court documents. The next day, he filed an official missing persons report.
Nicole Pietz’s naked body was found in a wooded area in Burien, 30 miles from her home, a week later. Her Volkswagen Jetta was discovered abandoned in a Seattle parking lot three weeks after that.
David Pietz, now 36, is currently standing trial on a second-degree murder charge for Nicole’s death. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
David and Nicole Pietz married in 2002. In January 2006, they were living in a Lynnwood condo they had recently purchased with the help of Nicole’s mother.
On January 27, 2006, a Cingular Wireless co-worker saw Nicole upset and crying at their office. He testified that he asked her what was wrong and she told him she thought her husband was having an affair.
It was not the first time she expressed those suspicions to someone else during their marriage, but prosecutors say the conversation was significant because it occurred only hours before she was murdered.
After leaving work, Nicole bought a meal at a restaurant called Taco Time at 6:22 p.m., according to a receipt found in her car. When her autopsy was conducted, a medical examiner discovered remnants of that meal in her stomach. The presence of that, along with four completely intact prescription pills, led investigators to conclude she was killed no later than the early hours of January 28.
According to court documents, David Pietz told detectives that he left work at a 24 Hour Fitness in Seattle around 11 p.m. on January 27. He stopped at a Safeway and purchased Drano, rubber gloves and Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
Pietz allegedly said that when he got home close to midnight, Nicole was in bed, but she awoke briefly and said goodnight. He claimed that when he got up at 8:20 a.m. the following morning, Nicole and her Jetta were gone.
One outgoing call was made from Nicole’s cell phone on January 28, according to prosecutors. It was a 21-second call to the 24 Hour Fitness where David worked placed at 11:50 a.m.
A probable cause statement filed in 2012 states that new technology enabled investigators to pinpoint the source of that call to within four blocks of the gym. Surveillance cameras showed that David left his work area at the gym two minutes before the call came in and returned eight minutes afterward.
The gym’s receptionist had no recollection of Nicole calling that day, according to the document. Based on the medical examiner’s conclusions, authorities believe Nicole had already been dead for hours at that point.
When Nicole’s naked body was discovered on February 6, investigators determined that it had been carefully placed among overgrown blackberry bushes. Despite extensive searches, her clothes, wallet and phone were not found. She had a retainer in her mouth, which prosecutors say she only wore to sleep.
The autopsy found that in addition to being asphyxiated Nicole had suffered blunt force injuries to her head, torso and legs.
According to investigators, DNA from both David and Nicole was found in her abandoned Jetta, although there was a greater quantity of David’s. They also noted in court documents that David Pietz’s DNA was on the gearshift, steering wheel and windshield wiper knobs, places the vehicle’s last driver would likely have touched.
Prior to the discovery of Nicole’s body, David Pietz told a detective that she was probably wearing a diamond tennis bracelet and a gold cross necklace, according to a probable cause statement. Police found the necklace with her body, but not the bracelet.
In an email to prosecutors about the bracelet at the time, Pietz’s attorney stated, “He can’t find it in the house and assumes his wife was wearing it on the day she went missing.”
Six years later, days after police arrested Pietz for his wife’s murder, the bracelet was found among his personal belongings at the Chase bank in Kirkland where he worked.
At the start of Pietz’s trial in September, prosecutors suggested to the jury that the couple argued after David returned home on the night of January 27, with the fight escalating to the point where he strangled Nicole to death, according to KOMO.
“There is no smoking gun,” King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Carla Carlstrom told jurors, admitting a lack of strong physical evidence supporting the state’s theory, the Seattle Times reported.
Defense attorney Cooper Offenbecher dismissed the prosecution’s version of events as speculation and said what really happened to Nicole Pietz remains a mystery, according to the Times.
While the state has presented forensic evidence related to DNA and fingerprints found in Nicole’s car, much of the first week of testimony in the trial related to David Pietz’s behavior and his character.
Prosecutors have alleged that David Pietz was unhappy with his marriage to Nicole and that he had affairs with multiple women throughout their relationship and attempted to have affairs with even more. Several of those women have taken the stand during the trial.
According to the state, Pietz’s infidelity began while he and Nicole were engaged. One woman, Sabrina Strieck, testified she began a sexual relationship with Pietz before the wedding and it continued until 2003.
“I asked him why he was getting married and he said it was too late to back out of it,” Strieck said, according to KING.
Other witnesses have testified that Pietz slipped ecstasy into his wife’s Red Bull drinks at nightclubs in an effort to loosen her up sexually, ABC News reported. One woman told investigators Pietz fondled her on the dance floor and proposed a threesome with her and Nicole.
Court documents list at least ten women who Pietz allegedly either had sex with or tried to have sex with during his marriage, and prosecutors stated they believe there were even more.
“He explored joining sex ‘swinger’ clubs, cruised internet sites advertising sex partners, and commented on the dissatisfaction he felt with his wife’s appearance, age, boring personality, sobriety, and lack of ‘party’ mentality...He said he had gotten married too young,” they wrote in one filing.
Pietz allegedly began asking other women for their numbers within weeks after his wife’s death.
Defense attorneys argued in court filings that any evidence of extramarital affairs was irrelevant because there is no evidence that Pietz was engaged in an affair at the time of the murder or that he killed his wife to marry another woman.
Nicole Pietz’s relatives have also testified, telling jurors about their emotional struggles during the six years between her murder and David’s arrest and about behavior by David that they deemed suspicious.
Gael Schneider, Nicole’s mother, testified that she walked into David’s bank one day in September 2010 to deliver a note to her daughter’s husband.
“I will be in here every day to make your life just as miserable as you've made mine,” the note said. “The new detective has vowed to get you, you murderer. How do you live with yourself?"
As she left, she said to everyone else in the bank, “He murdered my daughter.”
Asked about that incident on the witness stand, Schneider said, “If he can't take being confronted by a 72-year-old woman, he's not much of a man."
Schneider also testified that at Nicole’s funeral, David said to her, “I didn’t think you’d take it so hard.”
Nicole’s sister Tonia Zurcher told jurors that David Pietz did nothing to assist with the search for his missing wife.
Court documents indicate that the defense intends to call their own experts to testify about the forensic evidence in the case.
Prosecutors estimated the trial could last up to six weeks.
Defense attorneys for Pietz have not returned calls seeking comment on the case, but they have maintained in court that he is innocent and that the evidence against him is weak.