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But, as the pastor waited in jail for his trial, his attorney and former church member Glenn Swiatek was optimistic.
What did you think your chances were if you went to trial.
I don’t believe that the state had second-degree murder. They didn’t have a body.
Maybe not, but as the pastor and his attorney looked at the evidence that might put him in prison for life, just before the trial they made a deal. The state reduced the charge from second-degree murder to manslaughter. And James agreed to tell them what he did to Marie and where he put her.
Marie’s family grudgingly agreed.
First, as part of the deal, the pastor told the story of Marie, of the poligamy arrangement.
James: It was as if she was another wife. Ok? Although we never had a ceremonty, or anything like that.
He said Marie even had a name for their relationship.
James: Marie called it a “throuple.”
Throuple. Then the pastor offered his version of that last awful night. He claimed that Marie was in a downward spiral mentally and erupted after he told her she should be hospitalized for depression.
James: She hit me in the chest, and I grabbed ahold of her, and I grabbed ahold of her and just hugged as tight as I could… In the scuffle, we fell down on the floor… When we hit the floor, we hit it hard… When I realized something wsn’t right, I rolled her over and — and she wasn’t breathing.
A fatal bear hug? Not possible thought Nesli. And then she braced for the answer she had waited five years to hear.
State Attorney Edding: Did you bury Marie in the backyard?
James: I’ll tell you exactly where it’s at…
State Attorney Edding: Is that where you buried her?
At that point, the detective got up and left the room.
Nesli passed me a note that said I missed her.
I was pretty devasted. I was in that backyard in 2012. Um.
It’s not like you didn’t look.
Yeah, but human nature, you still have the guilt. The feeling of I could have found her six months after she was reported missing.
The pastor insisted that Tanya wasn’t around was shocking, knew nothing.
State Attorney Edding: Did you get her buried before, uh, Tanya came back?
James: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Do you wonder whether Tanya had more to do with this?
I think that will always be in the back of our minds; but, you know, I think she may have known more than she wants to say.
But Tanya was never charged and her defense attorney said she was truly shocked by James’s confession.
I can tell you as a matter of fact from having to tell her what happened, she did not know.
Later that afternoon, Nesli escorted James Flanders into his former back yard where he marked with little flags the spot where he buried Marie Carlson five years earlier.