GOSHEN— The jury found Todd Stewart guilty of murder in connection with the 2012 death of business partner Mark Miller following a four-day trial in Elkhart Circuit Court.
Stewart, 36, faces up to 65 years in prison as a result of the conviction. The jury reached a verdict by 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 1.
Stewart's sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 29 at 8:30 a.m.
Stewart was arrested on a warrant in May 2013, six months after Miller's body was found stuffed in a barrel floating down the St. Joseph River on Sept. 20, 2012.
Miller, 44, went missing Sept. 7. He was last seen at his tattoo shop in Dunlap.
Miller's family felt some relief when they heard the verdict Thursday.
Melissa Martin, Miller's ex-wife, said she was glad to hear the verdict, specially after months of having her young children ask about their father and whether Stewart would face any consequences.
"We waited a long time and there's nothing more relieving than I can go home and tell my two little boys that this man is going to be punished," she said.
Sheila Miller, Mark's mother, said she was just thankful to see the trial over and to see the jury reach a guilty verdict.
The family went through some challenging times, moving back from Florida, dealing with medical problems and even losing three of their pets.
"It's just been a a horrible, horrible time. And then you have Christmas and Thanksgiving and none of that's the same because Mark's not here," Sheila said.
Parts of the case will remain a mystery, counsel admitted during final arguments Thursday.
Vicky Becker, chief deputy prosecutor for the Elkhart County Prosecutor's Office, told the jury during final arguments that there was sufficient evidence to find Stewart guilty of murder, but it's possible that the truth of why he killed Miller will never be known.
Throughout the trial, attorneys presented evidence that suggested Stewart was interested in Miller's business.
On Tuesday the jury heard from Dawn Miller, Mark's sister, who talked about Stewart's demeanor after Mark went missing in September 2012. Dawn received a document from Stewart that stated that ownership of the shop would go to Stewart if something happened to Mark.
They also heard from Mark's attorney, Ben Pfaff, who said he received a copy of the document Stewart gave Dawn, and it didn't seem like the type of document a professional counselor would prepare.
That same day the jury heard testimony from a forensic pathologist, a forensic specialist from the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department and the man who found the barrel in which Mark's body was stuffed.
The defense presented to the court a different theory. They attempted to place the blame on Matt Howard, a tattoo artist working at Mark's tattoo shop, who they say gave inconsistent statements when questioned by police.
Howard testified in court Wednesday. He told the jury that on the night of Sept. 7, 2012, he heard what he thought was a gunshot. When he went out to the back of the shop he found Mark's lifeless body laying on the ground.
Howard said at some point that Stewart had thrown Mark's body into a black barrel, and asked Howard to help him load the barrel onto his truck.
Stewart drove the truck to his home in Bristol and Howard followed, on Stewart's orders. Stewart told Howard not to tell anyone.
Days after Mark's body was found police contacted Howard. He gave detectives contradictory statements.
The defense argued that Howard was the only direct evidence in the case and questioned whether he was trustworthy.
Stewart's attorneys called Emma Morris, Howard's former girlfriend, and asked her about Howard's relationship with Stewart. Howard had told the jury he did not consider himself a friend of Stewart or Miller, but Morris said she thought that at some point Stewart and Howard were friends.
The defense also wanted to present as evidence the fact that Howard was given a polygraph test and that he manipulated the test, but court did not allow that piece of information to be submitted to the jury.
More stories on Todd Stewart's jury trial:
•Day one of trial: Deputy prosecutor gives detailed account of homicide during first day of trial for Todd Stewart
•Day two of trial: Witness says Stewart's actions suspicious days after Dunlap tattoo artist went missing
•Day three of trial: Witness to Mark Miller murder trial testifies in court
•Day four of trial: Jurors deliberating on Todd Stewart's role in death of business partner