‘I WORRY ABOUT OUR DAUGHTER,’ MOTHER SAID – WOMAN’S COURT STATEMENTS IN A BITTER CUSTODY BATTLE DETAILED HER FEARS LONG BEFORE THE MURDER-SUICIDE OF HER EX-HUSBAND AND CHILD — (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

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St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)

September 8, 2004

Author: DAVID HANNERS, Pioneer Press

The entry in Leigh Ann Olson’s handwritten journal was as plain-spoken as it was ominous:

“We’ve had problems since Mikayla was born. I’ve been pleading with him to get some help. I said ‘if not, we’ll need to hire lawyers etc.’ He said ‘you’ll be dead,’ ‘are you stupid, don’t you read the paper, people that go over the edge never let it come to that!?’ ”

The February 2000 entry was filed in support of an emergency protection order Olson sought in January 2002 because she feared her then-estranged husband, John Martin Tester, would harm her or their daughter, Mikayla, who was born in 1998.

Over the weekend, authorities believe John Tester finally and tragically went over the edge.

Because it was Labor Day in an even-numbered year, their 2002 divorce decree gave him custody of his daughter for the weekend. Authorities say the 41-year-old St. Paul resident drove his 5-year-old daughter to western Wisconsin, parked at the intersection of two desolate rural roads southeast of Osceola, fatally shot Mikayla in the head and then shot himself.

Their bodies were discovered by a motorist shortly after midnight Sunday.

Burnsville attorney Mark Anderson represented Leigh Ann Olson (she reverted to her maiden name after the couple’s November 2002 divorce) in the pair’s most recent court battle, a dispute over how much child support Tester should pay. The lawyer said he was shocked when he heard about the murder-suicide.

He said he hadn’t had a chance to talk to Olson yet, but knew she was devastated.

“This lady, she lived for this little girl,” he said of Olson and Mikayla. “She showed me pictures of her every time I talked to her. She was a very, very dedicated mother, and she did everything she could to protect that little girl from people, but it was the one guy she could never do anything about because he had court-ordered visitation.”

The case file of “In Re the Marriage of John Martin Tester and Leigh Ann Tester” at the Ramsey County Courthouse is a folder bursting with the legal library generated when two people with a child end a marriage. The accordion file is a couple of inches thick and crammed with pleadings, responses, findings of facts, conclusions of law, orders for judgment and various other legal instruments.

On a more human level, it is filled with Olson’s constant warnings that Tester was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief — and was prone to expressing troubling and violent thoughts.

“I’m afraid to tell him how I really feel for fear he’ll hurt me or both my daughter and I because of past threats that have been made against me,” she wrote in one entry dated Jan. 5, 2002.

Olson, 37, included many of the journal entries in affidavits accompanying two emergency protection orders she filed against her estranged husband.

It appears a constant source of anger for Tester was the fact Olson and Mikayla still lived in the family’s home on Palace Avenue in St. Paul. One handwritten entry, dated Jan. 13, 2002, when the couple was still living together, offers an example:

“… He asks ‘what happens to the house if things don’t work?’ ” she wrote. “Then a bit later he ‘doesn’t want Mikayla and me to leave.’ I then comment that we all suffer because he can’t or choses (sic) not to deal with his issues. I ask ‘why don’t you leave’ and he says, ‘I’m not going anywhere, this is my house, I’ve worked hard for it.’ I say that is all he cares about and it’s pretty pathetic that he doesn’t care about his wife or child.”

Although she referred to “his issues,” the file never elaborates on what they were. Olson does discuss violent outbursts and alleges he smoked marijuana, including while he was taking the prescription anti-depressant Prozac.

In the divorce, Tester and Olson were granted joint legal custody of Mikayla by Ramsey County District Judge Michael F. Fetsch.

Olson was granted sole physical custody, but Tester was granted “parenting time” of 4 1/2 hours a day with her on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He also had her from 9 a.m. Saturday to 5 p.m. Sunday on alternating weekends. A motion to get more parenting time was denied.

Most recently, the couple had quarreled over the amount of child support Tester would pay.

According to some of Olson’s filings, Tester’s behavior had continued to be threatening. She said it appeared he was willing to jeopardize Mikayla’s safety in order to spite Olson.

One such incident involved the child’s car safety seat, Olson claimed in a May 2002 affidavit she filed to counter a motion by Tester to get more time with Mikayla. She said Tester had taken the child safety seat out of the back seat of his truck and when Olson demanded he put it back in, he told her he had heard that children were safer in the front seat.

The attorneys got involved, letters were exchanged and the child seat went back in. But Olson summed up her interpretation of what the incident had meant:

“He was more than willing to put Mikayla’s personal safety at risk just to be spiteful to my request,” she wrote. “I realize that some of this is just displaced anger at his ability to no longer have control over me. However, I feel that he is not appropriate or adult in his behavior, and I worry about our daughter if she happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when he goes into a rage.”

A call seeking comment from Tester’s attorney was not returned by Tuesday evening.

David Hanners can be reached at dhanners@pioneerpress.com or 651-228-5551.

Contributions to the Mikayla Tester-Olson Memorial Fund can be directed to First Federal Liberty Bank, 176 N. Snelling Ave., St. Paul, MN 55104.

Mikayla Tester

Record Number:  0409080032