First week of testimony concludes in murder trial

By Janice Gregorson

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

More than 30 witnesses testified during the first week of a murder trial that has filled an Olmsted County courtroom most days.

Michael Stanley Zabawa, 26, of Matawan, has been indicted on 12 counts of first- and second-degree murder and attempted first- and second-degree murder. He is accused of going into the rural Waseca, Minn., farmhouse of Tracy and Hilary Kruger, taking a 12-gauge shotgun from a basement gun cabinet and climbing up to the second floor and opening fire.

Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son, Alec, 13, were both killed. Hilary Kruger was critically injured, but has survived.


Zabawa’s trial was moved to Rochester because of pretrial publicity in Waseca County. Testimony got under way Monday after a week of jury selection.

Extra chairs were brought into the courtroom Tuesday for Hilary Kruger’s testimony as friends and relatives came out for support.

Zabawa denies allegations

Zabawa has denied the allegations. One of the defense attorneys, Christine Funk, told jurors in opening statements that Zabawa never went into the Kruger home. She said he was in that area and that his pickup did go into a ditch outside the Kruger home. She said the case hinges on forensic evidence and the statements Zabawa gave authorities after the shooting. She contends he was browbeaten into a false confession.

Prosecutor William Klumpp said Zabawa’s shoeprints were found in the snow outside the Kruger home and outside a neighbor’s home where Zabawa stole a pickup, which was found in his home town of Matawan. And, Klumpp said, there were bloodstains on clothing seized from the Zabawa residence.

Hundreds of exhibits have been introduced, including graphic pictures of the homicide scene, clothing, fired shell casings, unfired slugs and even pieces of plaster. Jurors have heard from a medical examiner and medical personnel who treated Hilary Kruger, saying they didn’t expect her to live. She did lose her left arm below the elbow.

Eleven people testified Friday.

Call for mistrial


What jurors didn’t hear, though, was a motion for a mistrial. Defense attorney Jim Martin moved for the mistrial after learning that a prosecution witness was in the courtroom during the testimony of another witness and before he testified. A judge’s order prohibits witnesses from being in the courtroom until after they testify so they are not influenced by other testimony.

Judge Joseph Bueltel denied the motion, saying the violation did not rise to the standard for a mistrial. However, he was about to say the prosecution couldn’t call the witness, a bartender, when the defense asked that the trial continue without such sanctions.

Defense attorneys said if the bartender’s testimony was influenced by what he heard, they would know by his answers and would renew their motion for a mistrial. They did not renew the motion.

Klumpp could wrap up his case Tuesday or Wednesday. But before then, jurors can expect Michael Anderson, a special agent with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, to be on the witness stand for hours. He is one of the officers who interviewed Zabawa. One of those taped interviews is 41⁄2 hours long.

The case could be in the hands of jurors by the end of next week.

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