Testimony continued in a Columbia County murder trial Thursday as jurors heard from more people in the victim’s past.
Mark Bringe, 73, was charged in 2018 with first-degree murder in the 1988 death of his wife Lori, and his trial began this week. Lori’s father first found the body in a wooded area near her home in rural Poynette. The cause of death was a gunshot to the head, and her body was found with guns nearby. At question is whether Lori was killed or died by suicide.
The court heard testimony from Jack Somers, a man from Michigan with whom Lori had an affair. Lori was apparently planning to leave Mark Bringe to be with Somers before she died. One of Lori’s co-workers told investigators that Mark knew of the plan because he was listening to Lori’s calls, and investigators found a recording device in his home in 2017.
Mark and Somers spoke on the phone after Lori’s death, and a recording of a call between them was played in court Friday. Mark talked about hearing shots while getting ready to return library material and thought it might have been a neighbor, but the shots sounded close. Mark told Somers that he couldn’t imagine Lori walking around with guns from the gun cabinet in her purse all day.
He said that Lori seemed sensitive and expressed feeling responsible for everything.
“God, this is such a mystery,” Mark said on the call. He noted the weird circumstances of the day, including Lori’s father coming to their house early to unexpectedly take the children down to Illinois. Mark told Somers that police questioned him like he was the suspect after he wasn’t “hopping mad” about the situation. Mark said the topic of Lori moving to another city with their daughter while they stayed friends had come up.
Mark asked Somers if he noticed any differences in Lori after a car crash she was in, and he said no. The topic of Lori’s drinking came up during the conversation. Somers said he did not know he was being recorded.
Somers testified that he and Lori had met four times in person. He said Lori did not exhibit depression immediately before she died and indicated she was ready to leave Mark at a moment’s notice
He said he did not attend Lori’s funeral and has not visited her grave. He does not have the letters she sent him.
Sabrina Groom and Gerald Halverson, who were married in the 1980s, previously lived in an apartment in the Bringe household after Groom was hired for a housekeeper and nanny position. Groom said when she first got the job, Mark and Lori were happy and smiling. Mark was polite and generous, she said. Then, over time, Lori became more quiet and distant, and Mark became less sociable as well.
Groom eventually left the job after Mark was frustrated about her job performance. She said the home environment got weirder and weirder by the day. She said she did not know a conversation she had with Mark about her job performance was being recorded.
Groom said Lori did not like guns and did not like them being in the bedroom. Lori preferred to stay inside, and the wooded area near the home made her nervous, Groom said. She was not aware of Lori’s affair.
A recording of Groom talking about how Lori had a drink every night was played in court.
Halverson said he and Groom once had a conversation with Lori on a stormy night. Lori reacted to a huge crash of thunder from the storm and then started talking about her fears, including the woods and Mark, he testified. He said Lori was afraid of firearms and wanted nothing to do with them.
He said he would see Mark and Lori talking but not doing things like holding hands, and they did not seem happy.
The criminal complaint alleges inconsistencies in Mark Bringe’s statements and evidence that Lori’s death was not as it seemed. The trial is scheduled to continue through next week.