But coroners took just two days to rule her death a homicide. The corn rake had four tines, but there were six puncture wounds in Amy Mullis’s back, which meant that she couldn’t have fallen and landed on it like her husband had suggested. Someone had repeatedly impaled her, on purpose.
Todd Mullis, prosecutors would later say, had been enraged for months over an affair his wife was having.
Authorities eventually arrested and charged Todd Mullis with his wife’s murder, and on Monday a jury in Dubuque County, where the trial was moved because of publicity, found him guilty of first-degree murder — a charge in Iowa that carries a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Defense attorney Gerald “Jake” Feuerhelm told the Telegraph Herald that they planned to appeal the jury’s decision.
“We’ll sort things out and talk to Todd about that and go from there,” Feuerhelm told the newspaper.
Iowa District Judge Thomas Bitter read the verdict, reported the Telegraph Herald, and Amy Mullis’s family embraced and wept. Tears fell on the face of Jeff Fuller, Amy’s brother, as he told reporters the family would have no further comments on the case, according to the Telegraph Herald.
Fuller testified on the first day of the trial that his sister had desperately wanted to leave the family’s hog farm.
It wasn’t life in rural Earlville, Iowa, that was getting to her. The 39-year-old loved hunting, fishing and spending time outdoors and had left her job as a registered nurse so that she could help out in the barn, her brother testified in court Tuesday. But her husband was allegedly so controlling that Amy Mullis’s friends called her “POT,” short for “prisoner of Todd.” As soon as all their crops were out of the field, she told her brother in August 2018, she planned on leaving him and filing for divorce. Todd Mullis, she predicted, was going to “flip out.”
That November, as the fall harvest came to an end, Amy Mullis’s 13-year-old son found her slumped over in a small red shed on the family’s property, the pitchfork-like corn rake sticking out of her back.
At first, Todd Mullis blamed his wife’s death on a freak accident. “He hoped people would feel sorry for him and not ask any more questions,” Iowa state Prosecutor Marie Hughes said last week.
But his explanation — that Amy Mullis had fallen and landed on the corn rake — quickly fell apart under scrutiny, police said.
During opening statements Tuesday, Feuerhelm argued that while there was no doubt Amy Mullis had been “viciously and deliberately murdered,” there was plenty of reason to question whether his client was the person who killed her. But prosecutors contend that the hog-and-soybean farmer had an obvious motive: Not only was he angry that his wife was having an affair and wanted to end their 14-year marriage, he also feared losing half his land and potentially millions of dollars if she filed for divorce.
“Being a farmer means everything to him. He has put his life into that farm,” Hughes told the jury. “The defendant had to find a way to keep his farm.”
The couple’s marriage had been on the rocks since at least 2013, when Todd Mullis discovered that Amy Mullis was cheating on him. Her friends later told police that he became paranoid, requiring her to keep him apprised of her movements when she left the farm to shop or meet a friend for lunch. Then, several months before her death, Amy Mullis started flirting with a man who serviced hog operations in the area and regularly stopped by their farm. At first, the two mostly talked about animal feed and the livestock business, but their relationship eventually turned sexual.
The man told police that Amy Mullis said she wanted to leave her husband, but she feared what would happen if he learned about the affair, explaining, “If he catches me, he might make me disappear.” According to court records obtained by WOI-DT, she had expressed similar fears to several close friends, at one point predicting Todd Mullis would kill her and “throw her to the pigs” if he learned about her infidelity.
In August 2018, the same month she told her brother, Jeff Fuller, that she planned on leaving her marriage, Amy Mullis told a friend that she and Todd Mullis had recently purchased a plot of wooded land. If she ever disappeared, she said, police should look for her body there.
“You’ll know Todd did something to me,” she said.
Though Todd Mullis told police after her death that the couple had a good relationship and never fought, detectives learned the two hadn’t shared a bed for five months. During that same period, Amy Mullis had texted a friend to say things were “still very tense around here.” In October 2018, she called up another friend crying and screaming because Todd Mullis had gotten wind of her affair.
After a light breakfast on Nov. 10, 2018, Todd Mullis and his 13-year-old son went out to ready the hog barn for a delivery of small pigs. Amy Mullis, who was recovering from a recent surgery, joined them but soon started feeling dizzy. Todd Mullis repeatedly urged her to go back to the house and rest, but she insisted she wanted to help out. Finally, he suggested a less taxing chore: She could get their old pet carrier out of the shed for a litter of orphaned kittens that had taken up residence in the workshop.
Later in the morning, Todd Mullis asked his son to check on her. He told police that he had stepped out for a drink of water, noticed that the pet carrier wasn’t there and wondered what was going on.
The 13-year-old testified Tuesday that his father had left the barn for a brief period before sending him to check on his mother, but he couldn’t say how long he’d been gone. Prosecutors contend Todd Mullis wanted the teenager to discover his mother’s body so that her death would look like an accident.
On Tuesday, Feuerhelm said the story about an accident hadn’t been a lie, but an “honest, legitimate on-the-spot explanation” based on facts available at the time. “This wasn’t something he manufactured. It was like, what else could it be?” the attorney said.
But the inconsistency wasn’t the only thing that prompted authorities to charge Todd Mullis with first-degree murder in February. According to a police affidavit, he had used his iPad to search the Internet for terms such as “organs in the body,” “killing unfaithful women,” “what happens to cheaters in history” and “what happened to cheating spouses in historic Aztec tribes.” He had also initially denied confronting Amy Mullis about her affair in the months leading up to her death, then changed his story.
Court records show Amy Mullis told a friend that if she and her husband split up, she stood to gain $2 million from the farm trust, as well as half the couple’s valuable land holdings. Prosecutors argue Todd Mullis was hellbent on making sure that didn’t happen. When Amy Mullis’s stepmother testified in court Tuesday, she recalled that back in 2013, Todd Mullis told her he knew about his wife’s infidelity. But he wasn’t willing to let it end their marriage.
The stepmother recalled in court what he said: “I’m not going to lose my farm and what I worked for.”
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