April 20, 2014 in Idaho

Triple-homicide case in rural Idaho slowly unfolds

Michael H. O’Donnell Idaho State Journal
 

POCATELLO – Oneida County Sheriff Jeff Semrad was in Colorado about a year ago when he received the darkest phone call of his 31-year career in law enforcement. Three people had been found slain in a remote farmhouse near the tiny community of Holbrook.

One of Semrad’s deputies shared the shocking news on April 5, 2013.

The bodies of Brent L. Christensen, 62; his son Trent Jon Christensen, 32; and Trent’s girlfriend, Yavette Chivon Carter, 27, were found in the home of the Christensen ranch about 25 miles west of Malad City. An infant girl was in Carter’s arms and another 2-year-old girl was in the home with the bodies. Both children were unharmed and authorities think they had been in the home with the gunshot victims for at least 12 hours.

“I thought this really couldn’t happen,” Semrad said about his initial reaction to that long-distance call. “Then I thought, I need help.”

Semrad said he immediately made calls to Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen, the Idaho State Police, Bingham County Detective Lt. Paul Newbold and the Blackfoot Police Department.

“Within 20 minutes help was on the way, including the Idaho State Police mobile lab,” Semrad recalled. “It was very humbling to me.”

Eventually the investigation would include the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and law enforcement agencies in Utah.

“There’s not a day goes by that we’re not working on it,” the sheriff told the Idaho State Journal. “We actually have a motive now.”

And Semrad said there are suspects – dangerous ones now living in Utah – with connections to major gang activities in California.

Detectives made a trip to California to chase leads just this month.

“These are hard-core people,” Newbold said. “They absolutely knew where they were going and what they were going to do.”

Newbold, the lead investigator on the case, said the Oneida triple homicide has been a tough one.

“In this particular case we’re out in the middle of nowhere with no neighbors or witnesses,” Newbold said. “If a normal murder case has 500 pieces to the puzzle, this one had 5,000 pieces. I think it’s going to come together.”

Investigators quickly determined that the remote crime scene had been a hub of illegal dogfighting and drug use. Officers discovered more than 60 pit bull terriers in makeshift pens on the property and a marijuana growing operation in the basement of the residence.

The animals were transported to Boise and given shelter by the Idaho Humane Society. Experts there examined the dogs and eventually a large number of them were adopted by families. A couple of weeks ago, 19 of the local adoptive families and their dogs held a reunion at the Idaho Humane Society complex in Boise, according to the Humane Society.

The surviving children of Yavette Carter have been living with family members. The oldest girl celebrated her third birthday recently, according to Semrad.

“That’s who we’re working for, those two little girls,” Semrad said.

More than 200 pieces of evidence have been sent to the FBI lab for analysis and investigators work the case every week, according to Newbold. When detectives are working the case, he said, they put in 12- to 14-hour days.

Meanwhile, the homicides that marked the tiny unincorporated town of Holbrook have taken a toll on the people who live there. People in this rural part of Oneida County now watch more carefully for strange vehicles and out-of-state license plates, according to the sheriff.

“It’s changed our whole county, but it’s changed that community a lot,” Semrad said. “Strangers no longer stop and ask for directions to Stone Reservoir. They ask where the murder house is.”


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