Lion costume + blood evidence + wounds = murder charge for Travis Stay

The Dakota Spotlight podcast reviews what evidence Grand Forks County submitted against Travis Stay when he was arrested for the murder of Joel Lovelien in 2007.

Travis Stay's yellow sweatshirt
Grand Forks Police investigators examine part of Travis Stay's Halloween costume. The bloodied sweatshirt was confiscated with Stay's permission and held as evidence against him in the 2007 murder of Joel Lovelien. Stay was found not guilty in a court a year later.
Photo courtesy Grand Forks Police Department

GRAND FORKS — Two days after Joel Lovelien was found beaten to death in a bar parking lot in October 2007, Grand Forks police asked the public for some help. They wanted to speak with a few unidentified persons, including a man who wore a yellow Halloween costume.

That same afternoon, a 22-year-old University of North Dakota student named Travis Stay walked into the police department. He told investigators he had worn a yellow Halloween costume. He threw the costume away at home though. Why? It was soaked in blood.

Stay had an open cut under his left eye, scratched knuckles and blood on his shoe. He said he had been at the bar where Joel was killed, but he didn't remember much of anything. The only thing he felt certain of was that he never met Joel Lovelien.

Six weeks later Travis Stay was arrested for the murder of Joel Lovelien. A year after that he was acquitted following a 14-day trial.

But, what was the evidence against Travis Stay and what was the state's case exactly?


Listen to Episode No. 5 — The Evidence Against Travis Stay

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In this episode of Dakota Spotlight, host James Wolner interviews former Grand Forks County State's Attorney Nancy Yon, who prosecuted the state's case against Travis Stay in December of 2008. Travis Stay was found not guilty.

To fully grasp the evidence submitted against Travis Stay, Wolner interviews Nancy Yon and two former Grand Forks investigators about the investigation into Joel Lovelien's death.

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.
  • Bryce Larson: Dressed as a cowboy. Interviewed by Grand Forks investigators the night Joel died.
  • 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.
  • Mike Flannery: Former Grand Forks police detective, processed the "party bus" in search of blood. No blood was found.
  • 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.
  • James Wavra: Dressed as a hunter. Involved in a short fight with Travis Stay. Interviewed by Grand Forks investigators the night Joel died.
  • 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.
  • Jon Deziel: Dressed as a clown. Interviewed by Grand Forks investigators the night Joel died.
  • Heather Eastling: Joel Lovelien's fiancée in 2007.
  • Mike Ferguson: Grand Forks Police sergeant.
  • Heather Holter: Party bus passenger and Jon Deziel's girlfriend.
  • 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.
  • Erika Lovelien: Joel Lovelien's older sister.
  • 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.

James Wolner is a Digital Content Producer at Forum Communications Company, Fargo North Dakota and the creator, producer and host of Dakota Spotlight, a true crime podcast. He has lived the Upper Midwest since 2013 and studied photojournalism at California State University at Fresno. He is fluent in English and Swedish.
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