A South Dakota man accused of physically abusing and eventually strangling his girlfriend until she passed out during a road trip last year must stand trial, a judge ruled Monday.
John Leo Hemmer, 46, is charged with nine felonies including torture, attempted murder, criminal threats and several spousal abuse counts. Prosecutors initially tagged on kidnapping and rape charges as well, which were dismissed by Riverside County Superior Court Judge James Hawkins during a preliminary hearing Monday.
Hemmer faces a potential life sentence if convicted of all his charges, according to prosecutors.
Deputies went to a KOA campground at 70405 Dillon Road in Desert Hot Springs about 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 6, 2019, in response to a domestic violence call, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Deputy Jeffrey Creiglow testified Monday at the Larson Justice Center in Indio that, after arriving at the scene, campground security told him they found the alleged victim lying in the middle of the street.
“She was bleeding from her lip,” Creiglow said. “She had swelling to her forehead, bruises along her eyebrows (and) underneath her eyes as well. Her legs were covered with bruises, as well. She was trembling.”
She was transported to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries, sheriff’s officials said at the time.
Hemmer was then arrested early the next morning after barricading himself in the RV.
The alleged victim, whose name was not released by authorities, also appeared in the courtroom to testify. She said she met Hemmer in October 2018, about three months before embarking on an RV road trip in January that included several southern California stops.
She testified that initially Hemmer was only verbally abusive, until he punched her in the forehead at local casino, sparking a daily trend of daily physical abuse, which spanned over an unspecified amount of time during the roughly four-week road trip, until Feb. 6 when she called 911 in Desert Hot Springs, she said.
“His attacks ranged from shoving me down on the ground, to dragging me by my feet through the RV,” she said. “He would urinate on me and laugh. He would take beer cans full and throw them at my head. He’d throw food at me. He headbutted me.”
She also described an incident on Feb. 6, 2019, where he allegedly strangled her in the RV, temporality cutting off her breathing, causing her to pass out. After she awoke, she called 911.
She also testified that prior to arriving in Desert Hot Springs, she sought the help of security guards at Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa in Cabazon, but that they didn’t believe her, she said. The guards instead called it a “lovers quarrel,” she said. “They told us to get along.”
Hemmer remains jailed at the Smith Correctional Facility in Banning without bail, and is scheduled to return to court on March 23 where he is expected to be re-arraigned on his charges.