15 years later: How Joel Lovelien's slaying, and a trial verdict, still haunt many involved

15 years after Joel Lovelien was found slain, his death, and the murder trial and verdict that followed, continues to reverberate in many people's lives.

a photo collage shows courtroom images of many of those involved in the Travis Stay trial in 2008.
Stills from video of the Grand Forks courtroom in the Travis Stay trial in 2008 include, Prosecutor Nancy Yon, defense attorneys Peter Wold and Joe Friedberg, Judge Joel Medd and in the photo frame: Joel Lovelien.
(Courtroom footage from WDAZ / photo illustration by Dakota Spotlight's James Wolner)

Editor's note: This is the last scheduled article for season 8 of Dakota Spotlight. To read all articles on this case, go here.

GRAND FORKS — It has been more than 15 years since Joel Lovelien was found dead outside the Broken Drum Bar in Grand Forks. It's been more than 14 years since Travis Stay was found not guilty in Lovelien's murder.

And what's left: few answers, but a lot of hurt — a lot of harm.

Obviously Lovelien's loved ones remain bereft of his big heart, his big sense of humor. But there were other victims here. There remains no justice for Joel. To this day, nobody has yet been found guilty of his murder. It remains unresolved.

Hence, the clouds of doubt and accusation remain heavy over Stay and several of those on the party bus who approached Lovelien that fateful night, even as they've tried to moved on and live their lives.


Listen to Episode No. 7 — 15 Years Later

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In this episode, Dakota Spotlight speaks to some of those best positioned to address the matter 15 years later: Erika Lovelien — Joel Lovelien's sister, Peter Wold and Nancy Yon — the lawyer and prosecutor who dueled in the Travis Stay case, Healther (Holter) Keena — who experienced a creepy invasion of her wedding due to lingering suspicion about her then-fiancé, and the Grand Forks Police Department sergeant who continues to check out any new clues in the Lovelien case.

Do you have information or tips about the murder of Joel Lovelien? Use the tip411 app (you may remain anonymous) or call the non-emergency number at Grand Forks Police Department : 701-787-8000.

About Dakota Spotlight, Season 8 — Unresolved: The Murder of Joel Lovelien

Joel Lovelien was beaten to death outside the Broken Drum bar in Grand Forks in the early morning hours of Oct. 28, 2007, amid a night of Halloween revelry. Nobody has ever been found guilty for his murder.

Suspicion immediately fell on a variety of costumed partiers that night, including some dressed as a lion, the joker and a hunter. Local police and prosecutors thought they had their man, the one dressed as a lion that night: Travis Stay. But Stay was found not guilty in December 2008 in a high-profile trial -- a sensational result that has made the case a staple of true crime shows, including the Dateline TV program.

Welcome to Dakota Spotlight's eighth season: "Unresolved: The Murder of Joel Lovelien." With unprecedented access to case files and evidence, prosecutors, police, witnesses and family members, Dakota Spotlight creator and host James Wolner will use his unique investigation and reporting style to pursue the case's central questions: Who killed Joel Lovelien? Why was Travis Stay found not guilty? And why does so much suspicion linger around others in this case?


People in this episode

  • Anna Barrett: Dressed as Paris Hilton and left the Broken Drum arm in arm with James Wavra. Witnessed altercation with Travis Stay.
  • Jon Deziel: Dressed as a clown. Interviewed by Grand Forks investigators the night Joel died.
  • Archie Ingersoll: Former reporter at the Grand Forks Herald and current news editor for The Forum of Fargo Moorhead. Reported on the trial in 2008.
  • Heather (Holter) Keena: Party bus passenger and Jon Deziel's girlfriend.
  • Bryce Larson: Dressed as a cowboy. Interviewed by Grand Forks investigators the night Joel died.
  • Erika Lovelien: Joel Lovelien's older sister.
  • Joel Lovelien: 38 years old, a technical systems analyst for Altru Hospital. Joel went to the Broken Drum bar with his fiancée
  • Travis Stay: A reveler at the Broken Drum bar that night who was driven home with blood on his lion costume. He was later charged with Lovelien's murder and found not guilty in December 2008.
  • Steven Raasakka: Was walking home in the alley between 10th Avenue North and 11th Avenue North at approximately 12:20 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007 when he encountered a seemingly intoxicated Travis Stay. Stay took a swing at Raasakka but missed and then fell to the ground. 
  • Duane Simon: Former Grand Forks police detective, chief investigator into the murder of Joel Lovelien in 2007.
  • Rory Suby: Current Grand Forks police sergeant. Responsible for following up on new leads and tips about the Joel Lovelien case.
  • James Wavra: Dressed as a hunter. Involved in a short fight with Travis Stay. Interviewed by Grand Forks investigators the night Joel died.
  • Peter Wold: Travis Stay's defense attorney in the 2008 trial of Travis Stay.
  • Nancy Yon: Former Grand Forks County state's attorney. Prosecutor in the 2008 trial of Travis Stay.

People in previous episodes

  • Paul Balstad: A taxi driver in Grand Forks the night Lovelien was killed, he drove Travis Stay home and noticed he was dazed, had blood on him and looked like he had been in a fight.
  • Heather Eastling: Joel Lovelien's fiancée in 2007.
  • Mike Ferguson: Grand Forks Police sergeant.
  • Mike Flannery: Former Grand Forks police detective, processed the "party bus" in search of blood. No blood was found.
  • Jennifer Holter: Party bus passenger and sister to Heather Holter.
  • Heidi Hosley: Joel Lovelien's ex-wife and mother to Joel's daughter Alexa.
  • Leslie Hovda: Joel Lovelien's niece.
  • Dana Kelly: Friend and colleague of Joel Lovelien.
  • Jennifer Kohl-Fichtner: Friend and colleague of Joel Lovelien.
  • William Macki: Grand Forks Police sergeant.
  • Eli McVey: Travis Stay's childhood friend. Accompanied Travis on the party bus. Has no recollection of being at the Broken Drum Bar but paid for a drink there with a debit card. Was awake when Travis arrived at home covered in blood.
  • Cora Lee Taylor: Travis Stay's roommate. Partied with Travis and others on the party bus. Spoke with Travis the next morning about his injuries and condition. 
  • Keith Swartz: Discovered Lovelien in the parking lot of the Broken Drum bar.

Jeremy Fugleberg is editor of The Vault, Forum Communications Co.'s home for Midwest history, mysteries, crime and culture. He is also a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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