A Roosevelt woman who was too injured to speak clearly to investigators wrote down details about the attack that led to her death, according to search warrant affidavits made public in the last week.
Sherry Lynn Melo, 51, also told investigators that during the beating, she had noticed a flash that made her believe someone was either recording or taking photos of the April 6 attack on a cellphone, the documents said.
Five people are charged in 8th District Court with aggravated murder in connection with the fatal beating: 35-year-old Thomas Neil Tuinman, 30-year-old Samantha Tuinman, 30-year-old Michael Wallace Tuinman, 33-year-old Stephanie Ann Tuinman and 29-year-old Byron Rashad Thompson.
Thomas Tuinman, who is married to Samantha Tuinman, is Stephanie Tuinman’s brother. Michael Tuinman is Thomas and Stephanie Tuinman’s cousin, and Thompson is dating Stephanie Tuinman, according to a news release from the Duchesne County sheriff’s office.
According to court documents, Thompson told investigators that he, his girlfriend, and her brother and sister-in-law had left his “in-laws’ ” home that evening in a van that belongs to Thomas and Samantha Tuinman.
Samantha Tuinman was driving with her husband in the front seat and Thompson and his girlfriend in the back, documents say. When they arrived at Melo’s home, Michael Tuinman had driven there in his own truck.
Thompson “couldn’t tell how everyone knew what was going on or where they were driving,” records say, but once they arrived, he saw Thomas Tuinman walk up to Melo’s house and hit the window with his fist. The punch broke the glass and “then he went running into the residence,” Thompson told police.
Before the attack, the front door of Melo’s home was open with the glass storm door apparently shut while Melo was lying on the couch in the front room, her partner told police. He was in the kitchen heating up soup in the microwave when he heard Melo scream and saw her run past him out the back door.
Melo apparently made it to, or out of, the back fence before she was caught by the suspects and “brutally assaulted,” documents say. After the attack, Melo made it to her neighbor’s house and told them she’d been attacked by Thomas Tuinman.
The neighbors called police and when officers arrived, they found Melo with a few other people on her neighbor’s porch, bleeding from her head, nose and mouth and “screaming in pain,” documents say. She was first taken to a local hospital and then flown by medical helicopter to a hospital in Provo for “bleeding on her brain.“
She died at the hospital on April 22.
When police tried to interview her at the hospital after the attack, Melo’s right eye was “swollen almost completely shut,” and she was still bleeding from her nose as she tried to speak with police.
“She was having a hard time talking,” an officer wrote, “and so I gave her a piece of paper to write things on for me.” Melo told police that she had been struck with a bat on the left side of her head, and doctors later discovered that an artery or vein in her neck had slightly torn and caused a blood clot in her neck.
Melo told police she remembered seeing flashing during or after the assault and said she thought one of the attackers was taking photos or videos of Melo and her partner. Melo didn’t know who was recording the attack, documents say, because she was focused on trying to protect herself.
Three days after the attack, Melo’s sister told police that Melo had recognized Thomas, Samantha and Michael Tuinman and said there had been another man and woman there whose names she didn’t know. Melo said both women attacked her, according to the documents.
During an interview with police, Samantha Tuinman admitted to hitting and kicking Melo, documents say.
According to the documents, after seeing Melo run past, her partner threw a fan onto the floor to slow down people “who were running through the house after him.” He headed outside and fell down, he told police, where he was “hit and kicked multiple times with items that were lying around the back yard.”
Meanwhile, Thompson heard a man scream, thought it was Thomas Tuinman, got out of the van and joined his girlfriend’s brother in punching and kicking Melo’s partner, he told police.
The assailants reportedly beat the man with pieces of wood and other objects. He was bleeding from his head, nose and mouth, and had cuts and bruises on his back from his neck to his buttocks, as well as a gash on his knee.
At the hospital, police observed the wounds more closely, documents say. The man had gashes on the top and back of his head, and his hair and facial hair were “caked in blood.” He had swelling above his eyes and had “marks on his back that were round and about the same size as the head of a standard hammer. He also had some long welt-looking marks that could have been caused by a piece of lumber,” as well as some larger, circular marks on his back, along with scrapes and welts.
After the attack, the suspects left the scene. Police later found them at their homes, and each person was booked into the Duchesne County jail on April 7, according to probable cause statements.
Either before her arrest or after being released April 7, a sheriff’s deputy pulled Stephanie Tuinman over for a traffic stop and noted that she had an LG-type smartphone, according to search warrant documents. The next day, the same deputy stopped Stephanie Tuinman again and asked her about the cellphone. She told him that she lost it.
On April 9, all five suspects had been charged in 8th District Court. They each face three first-degree felonies. The four Tuinmans are charged with aggravated murder, while Thompson is charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated murder. All five were also charged with aggravated assault targeting law enforcement with bodily injury and aggravated burglary.
The murder charge was upgraded after Melo’s death, and each person’s bail was set at $50,000, cash-only.
At the home, police collected samples of what they believed to be blood as well as a small ziploc bag containing “white residue,” documents say.
Search warrants were issued for the cellphones of all four Tuinmans. Stephanie Tuinman’s phone had apparently been deactivated, so police were unable to obtain information from it. From the other three Tuinmans’ phones, police collected cell data, tower data including messages and mail, GPS data and owner information.