To individual questions from his attorney about whether he killed Tammy, raped her, choked her, dumped her body, Priest replied firmly, “No, sir, I did not.”

In less than 30 minutes Wednesday afternoon, Martin Priest took the stand in his own defense and told his story, denying anything to do with the disappearance or killing of Tammy Rothganger, a 15-year-old Eldon girl who went missing on May 16, 1984.

Rothganger was the daughter of a woman Priest was dating at the time, Sandra Jeffries, now Kuchan.

To individual questions from his attorney about whether he killed Tammy, raped her, choked her, dumped her body, Priest replied firmly, “No, sir, I did not.” 

After that opening, more details came as Martin Priest remained calm, seemingly emotionless throughout as he had during prior testimony by others against him.

Priest said he had come to Eldon in February 1984 and met Sandy at the Southside Bar where she bartended. They dated on and off over the next few months, often fighting, but not knowing Tammy well. He said the only time they were ever alone was a time he drove her to the hospital to see her mom when she had an issue.

The night before Tammy’s disappearance, all parties seem to agree Tammy was driving Priest’s car and wrecked it, “nothing major,” said Priest.

He did not address borrowing Tammy’s brother’s — Donald Rothganger — car the next morning, as Donald testified to Tuesday. Donald claimed Priest borrowed the car saying he needed it to get to work.

According to Priest, he went to his brother’s farm to dig up worms and then went fishing that day near Osage Beach.

Having spent the night at Sandy’s Eldon home but arguing with her, Priest said he was considering breaking things off and leaving Eldon. He went out to fish and think about things.

The morning of May 16, 1984, he said he saw Tammy and gave her a ride to the park where she said she was meeting friends, but she told him she would be going back to school.

Going to his brother and sister-in-law’s farm in the Rocky Mount area, he got some worms and left, according to Martin’s version of events.

According to his now former sister-in-law, Trobey Priest, however, Martin was acting strangely that morning, arriving around 9 or 9:30 a.m. She testified earlier in the day on Wednesday, called by the State.

He took a shovel to dig worms, but left the worm can behind. Gone 15 to 20 minutes, he returned, allegedly saying the ground was too hard to dig for worms. Martin claimed he had his own plastic container. He got the worms in 10 minutes and left.

She also he bugged her about a check that he had from Sandy for oil for his car. He had previously put some money into her account and was getting it out. Trobey said though that Martin pestered her about filling out the check for him, calling the bank to see if there was enough money in the account and following him into town to get oil for his car insisting on taking back roads to the tire station on Highway 52. 

That afternoon, he said he returned to Eldon and saw Tammy in the park on the main road of town. She was supposedly with a few other kids there. He stopped and asked what she was doing because she had said she was going back to school. She replied that she had gone but had left again.

Under cross examination, he said she was in the park plainly visible to others on the road and to the kids there.

No one else though appears to have made any reports that they saw Tammy at the park that afternoon. 

Another woman also testified against Martin earlier on Wednesday, Georgeanna Erdahl, then Cooper. Through monosyllabic answers to the prosecution, she claimed that during investigations, Martin, whom she had previously dated, approached her to lie to the police to throw them off his trail. In 1987, he allegedly gave her a specific story to tell — that she had seen Tammy on July 1, 1984 at the Ben Franklin’s. Tammy wanted to know where to find her mother and said she had been staying with friends. Georgeanna said she hadn’t seen Sandy since June 7, 1984.

However, Georgeanna later recanted and told police that it was all a lie constructed by Martin.

In his testimony, Martin Priest said he had never met Georgeanna and didn’t know her at all.

The day of May 16, 1984, Martin said he left Eldon for Wichita, Kansas to brother’s place there. His car broke down on the way there and he sold it. There for a few days, he heard Tammy was missing and returned to Eldon.

Though he realized he was a suspect, he continued an on and off relationship with Sandy for awhile before a final split.

Moving to Kansas, he was convicted of murder in 1985 for which he is serving life in imprison as well as served time for stealing a motor vehicle. 

Martin claimed David and Michael Nicholas were not in Eldon in 1984 and he didn’t see them until the beginning of 1985.

The brothers, just 10 months apart in age and around 13 years old at the time, testified Wednesday morning against their uncle, Martin Priest.

David was identified by Theresa Baughman in previous testimony as the passenger in the car that picked up Tammy that morning. After years of refusing to talk to police, he came forward in 2014 with a story that he saw Martin Priest rape and strangle Tammy to death that morning. Taking her body back to the Nicholas’ mother’s house, Michael said he saw Tammy’s body before it was hidden by Martin and David that night.

In testimony Tuesday afternoon, Sandy testified that Martin Priest told her the only way to get Tammy back was through him, and she began recording in a diary their meet ups. 

Martin denied saying anything like that to Sandy and said he didn’t know about the diary.

He claimed he still holds out hope that Tammy will be found.

A brief question by the prosecution seemed to indicate that a conviction in this case would impede Martin Priest’s ability to get parole in the Kansas murder. Martin did not answer as his attorney quickly sought counsel with the judge.