Story County trial to determine whether Ames woman's killing was premeditated or self-defense

Phillip Sitter
Ames Tribune

Attorneys in Story County court Wednesday did not dispute that a man on trial killed Ranea K. Bell, 37, of Ames, in February 2021, but one of the questions before the jury is whether Bell's death was premeditated or in self-defense.

Richard G. Fleck Jr., 34 — who was Bell's boyfriend at the time of her death — faces charges of possession of a firearm by a felon, trafficking in stolen weapons and third-degree theft, in addition to first-degree murder.

Beyond attorneys' opening arguments Wednesday afternoon — arguments focused on Bell's death — jurors heard about Bell's life and the scene of her death.

Ranea Bell, 37, of Ames holds her cat, Monster, during the summer of 2020. Bell died by homicide in February 2021.

Bell was found dead from blunt-force trauma the night of Feb. 20, 2021, after police performed a welfare check at her apartment in the 400 block of South Fifth Street.

Ames police did the welfare check after police in Kansas City, Missouri, received a report of a man hiding a trash bag in a drainpipe. Officers said they found bloody items in the trash bag, some of which were identified as belonging to Bell, and the police in Kansas City alerted Ames police.

More:'An absolute sweetheart': Friends remember Ames woman allegedly killed by boyfriend

Fleck was sought for nearly a month before Des Moines police arrested him after investigating an assault report March 21, 2021. 

Prosecutor Keisha Cretsinger argued Fleck killed Bell "because of his own insecurities," that she had disrespected him. 

Cretsinger said Fleck was suspicious Bell was cheating on him, and that the day of her death, Feb. 19, he had watched her workplace for hours from outside, accompanied by a Des Moines woman who didn't know what they were doing.

Cretsinger said that later that night, "Richard Fleck was not in a fight for his life. Ranea Bell was, and she lost," in what really was not even a fight, but a beating, Cretsinger said.

Defense attorney Mike Adams argued Fleck watched Bell because he was looking for an excuse to break up with her to be in a relationship with the Des Moines woman. 

That night, Adams said Fleck went into the bathroom in Bell's apartment to smoke and drink some vodka, and then told Bell he was leaving her. At that points, Adams said, Bell got upset, poured out the rest of the vodka and then swung the empty bottle at Fleck, hitting his face and causing him to bleed from above his eye.

Adams said Bell punched Fleck, and tried to shove him into the shower and suffocate him. He said Fleck blacked out, and the last thing he remembers is being on his knees with the taste of blood in his mouth.

He said Bell bought Fleck expensive clothes and food, and loaned him money. "Why would he kill somebody that treated him so well?"

The first witnesses jurors heard from were an Ames police officer who was first on the scene and Tammi Bell, Ranea's mother.  Tammi Bell also was at the scene to let police into her daughter's apartment but did not see her body, only blood on the walls before she was escorted out.

Bell's mother was emotional in speaking about being told of her daughter's death — her body identified by her tattoos.

Jurors saw photos that officer Steven Spoon took of the door to Bell's apartment as well as inside the apartment and of her body, and footage from Spoon's body camera of locating Bell's body.

Blood was visible on many surfaces and objects inside the apartment, especially in the bedroom around Bell.

Tammi Bell told the court she and Ranea were close, seeing each other daily and frequently speaking with each other. At the time, Tammi, now of Ankeny, lived in Ames; Ranea would often stop over for coffee or breakfast.

She said Ranea had epilepsy, which had been brought under control by medication in recent years. She also talked about the sizes of clothing Ranea wore and the handgun she owned.

Tammi Bell said she last saw her daughter the morning of Feb. 19 at Tammi's home and last spoke with her about 5:30 p.m. that day. Both times, she said nothing seemed unusual about Ranea.

Phillip Sitter covers education for the Ames Tribune, including Iowa State University and PreK-12 schools in Ames and elsewhere in Story County. Phillip can be reached via email at psitter@gannett.com. He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.