Defense on the offensive

MARQUETTE – The defense continued its case Friday in the trial of two Ishpeming men who allegedly tortured and imprisoned two Ishpeming women last summer.

Jason David Sadowski, 44, and Charles Leroy Cope, 66, are being tried on two counts of unlawful imprisonment and two counts of torture.Sadowski is also charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, solicitation of murder and assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder.

The prosecution alleges that on July 2, Sadowski and Cope duct taped the two women to posts in the basement of Sadowski’s and Cope’s Cleveland Avenue home and former mixed martial arts studio in Ishpeming called The Martial Way, where the women were allegedly held for hours against their will, threatened and beaten.

Cope has been accused of helping duct tape the women, but neither alleged victim said he played a part in their assault.

The jury continued to hear testimony Friday morning from Sara Pietro, Sadowski’s ex-wife, friend and business partner.

Defense attorney Timothy Quinnell began by asking Pietro about her role in Sadowski’s MMA business.

Pietro said she’d been present at Sadowski’s gym for training and coaching, traveled with Sadowski and Cope to various fight events and helped with the gym’s finances and publicity. When answering questions from the jury later in her testimony, Pietro also said she’d invested significant money in helping Sadowski start the business and continued to lose money for the little more than a year the gym was open.

Quinnell also asked Pietro about items she gathered from the gym the day after the alleged incident that she said was evidence the Ishpeming police had missed. These included various pieces of jewelry that she said she found in Sadowski’s bedroom/office and an empty pint bottle of rum which she said had previously been “at least half full.”

Pietro, who paid for Sadowski’s vehicle and cell phone, also provided a printed log of phone calls and text messages that she obtained through her Verizon account between Sadowski and herself as well as between Sadowski and another number during the early morning hours of July 2, though Pietro wasn’t able to provide the content of the text messages.

“I had them on my phone, but my phone crashed and I lost everything,” she said.

Under his cross-examination of Pietro, Cope’s attorney Karl Numinen directed his line of questioning toward Cope’s age and suggested that Cope may have a form of dementia. Pietro agreed with Numinen’s assertions that Cope “tends to repeat himself over and over,” can be nonsensical and sometimes gave her the impression that he was “not all there.”

Numinen went on to discuss Cope’s alcoholism and the “panoply of meds” he was taking, and asked Pietro if alcohol or his medications ever caused him to act incoherently.

Pietro said that Cope was particularly incoherent when he combined the two.

“I was uncomfortable around him when he drank and took his meds,” she said.

While Pietro had testified to Quinnell about Cope’s involvement with the training of fighters in the gym, she said he himself didn’t fight and agreed with Numinen that Cope’s fighting days are behind him.

During Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Wiese’s extensive cross-examination, Wiese delved deeper into the relationship between Pietro and Sadowski, questioning her involvement in the case and describing her role as a private investigator.

“Private investigator work? I wouldn’t say that, no,” she said.

Wiese responded: “You’ve gathered items you call evidence, correct? You downloaded phone records, correct? It just doesn’t sound like the traditional ex- or divorced couple to me. It seems rather unconventional.”

After saying that she didn’t see anything odd about Sadowski and herself remaining friends considering the length of their on-again, off-again relationship, Pietro admitted that she was in love with Sadowski and had been for more than 18 years.

“There’s a lot at stake here for the man you just professed your love for, isn’t that right?” Wiese said.

“Correct,” Pietro said.

Wiese then questioned Pietro’s contact with Sadowski since the alleged incident. Pietro said she had had weekly, sometimes daily contact and had traded hundreds of phone calls with Sadowski since his arrest. Wiese suggested that in these conversations, Sadowski coached her testimony or instructed her what to say.

Pietro repeatedly denied this.

Wiese reminded Pietro she was under oath.

“He did in fact suggest to you that you testify a certain way, did he not?” wiese asked.

“He told me to tell the truth and be honest with what I know,” Pietro insisted.

Wiese then went into great detail regarding Pietro’s visit to Sadowski’s on the night of the alleged incident. Pietro testified Thursday that she had gone to The Martial Way to take Sadowski to breakfast.

Wiese asked Pietro about the layout of the basement room where the women were allegedly tied to posts, and about the specific angle at which she looked into the room around 5 a.m. – where she said she saw both of the women sitting on Cope’s bed, drinking vodka straight from the bottle. Pietro maintained that she had not entered the room or even the threshold, but had looked briefly around the door and had seen – from over a mattress and boxed spring that lay against a pole between the doorway and the bed – the women sitting on Cope’s bed, after Sadowski asked her if she knew either of the women.

Pietro testified that at some point during her conversation with Sadowski he told her some of his money was missing, but said he never accused the two women of having stole it.

The next witness called by Quinnell was Dr. Lyle VanderSchaaf, the physician on duty at the Bell Hospital Emergency Room when the two alleged victims were brought in for examination.

Quinnell went through the hospital report from each woman line by line, asking VanderSchaaf questions about what various medical terms meant, and seemed to be trying to cast doubt on the prosecution’s allegations that Sadowski had struck the women and that he’d forced the first woman to search inside the second woman for the money he was missing – which is the basis for Sadowski’s CSC charge and which the first woman vehemently denies.

The doctor examined many photos taken by Ishpeming police the day after the alleged incident and was asked a barrage of questions from both the prosecution and defense on the nature of the women’s injuries.

VanderSchaaf told Quinnell, as well as Wiese on cross-examination, that he couldn’t say for sure what caused the alleged victims’ various bruises and abrasions, but said that they were consistent with being struck. He testified that there were “ligature marks” on the women’s arms, consistent with being restrained, and the ER report mentioned finding “tape residue” on the women’s forearms.

Quinnell asked VanderSchaaf about whether the report indicated any cigarette burns on the women’s bodies as alleged by the prosecution. VanderSchaaf said no. On cross-examination, however, the doctor told Wiese that it was “quite consistent that there will be things not brought up at the initial visit,” for a variety of reasons, including impatience at being in the hospital so long, being preoccupied with other injuries or simply not thinking clearly after experiencing a traumatic event.

Testimony will continue Monday, when Sadowski is expected to take the stand.

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401. His email address is