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Jury enters second day of deliberations

By Janice Gregorson

gregor@postbulletin.com

Deliberations resumed this morning in the murder trial of a rural Waseca, Minn., man accused of killing a father and son two years ago.

Olmsted County jurors spent the night in an undisclosed Rochester hotel after not being able to reach a verdict after four hours of discussions in the case of Michael Stanley Zabawa, 26.

It ended a long day for the jurors, who had already spent more than three hours listening to closing arguments from attorneys and an hour getting instructions from Judge Joseph Bueltel before retiring to a small jury room at the city-county Government Center in Rochester.

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During closing statements, attorneys recapped much of what jurors had heard during eight days of trial.

Zabawa is charged with 12 counts of first- and second-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son, Alec, 13, and with critically injuring Hilary Kruger. The shootings occurred at the family’s rural Waseca farmhome early on Feb. 3, 2007. Zabawa has pleaded not guilty.

If convicted of the first-degree murder charges, Zabawa faces life in prison.

Jurors shown shotgun

Jurors got a close view Thursday of the 12-gauge shotgun authorities say Zabawa used.

Prosecutor William Klumpp, holding the gun, which was not loaded and had the firing pin removed, told how Zabawa got his pickup stuck in the snow near the Kruger farm in the early-morning hours. It was below zero. Wind chills were below 30 degrees, the coldest night of the year.

"He got out of his truck and walked the very long drive to the home of the Krugers," Klumpp said. He opened the door to their SUV, saw the keys were inside. He could have taken the vehicle and left, Klumpp said. Instead, he said, Zabawa took the garage door opener on the visor and went inside.

"He made a decision to go into the house, into the basement to the gun cabinet and take a 12-gauge shotgun," Klumpp said. Zabawa took 12 live rounds out of the ammunition boxes on the floor. Eight he fired, Klumpp said. Four were left in the hallway upstairs.

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"He had to individually load those rounds into the magazine," the prosecutor said. He had to exert 51⁄2 pounds of pressure to pull the trigger.

"He had to walk up 22 steps," Klumpp said, to reach the floor where the shootings occurred. "That’s 22 opportunities he had to turn and go out and steal the car."

And, Klumpp said, demonstrating, he had to pull the pump action slide every single time he fired a round and ejected a fired round. Klumpp pulled that slide eight times.

"With 13-year-old Alec, he pulled it the final time while Alec was on the bed dying next to his mother."

Defense attorney: Story ‘tragic’

Defense attorney Jim Martin told jurors that "this is the most tragic story he has encountered."

"We all want to do something to help the (Kruger) family, but there is nothing we can do to put that family back together."

Martin said the natural tendency is to say someone has to pay the penalty, and often, people look to the person in the defendant’s chair and say "he is the one that will pay."

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"Let’s not compound this tragedy by convicting an innocent person," he implored.

He said there are just too many things unknown about what happened between 1:15 and 3:15 that morning.

He reminded jurors that Zabawa’s mother testified that her son was home no later than 3:10 a.m. that day — before the shootings even occurred.

The 911 call about the shootings came at 3:24 a.m. Alec Kruger made that call. The dispatcher testified the line went dead when he heard a loud bang. Authorities believe Alec was on the phone when he was first shot.

Klumpp told jurors that Zabawa’s motive for the crime was to avoid getting arrested for driving with a suspended license and for drinking alcohol. He had been out with friends the previous night and was driving home when he went into the ditch. His license was suspended and he was on probation for a DWI conviction, under court orders to not drink.

Martin told jurors it’s "ludicrous" to believe that someone who drove into the ditch would walk1⁄4 mile, go into the house and "kill sleeping people because he was afraid someone would find out he was drinking and driving."

Martin reminded jurors that there was no physical evidence found in the Kruger house linking Zabawa to the crime and said the defense position is he never went inside, that he walked up to the house and stole the SUV and tried to use it to get his own truck out. When that failed, he walked to a neighbor’s farm, stole a pickup there and drove to his home of Matawan.

Prosecutor details evidence

Klumpp detailed some 25 points, asking jurors to consider if it was coincidence or evidence. Those included the forensic evidence that Alec’s DNA profile was on a blood stain on one of Zabawa’s shirts, found in his closet in Matawan hours after the shooting. In addition, Klumpp said, DNA found on Zabawa’s gloves and a jacket linked him to Alec.

Both attorneys talked of the six hours of interviews conducted by law enforcement. At the end of the lengthy first interview, Zabawa is heard admitting he went into the house and saying there was a struggle with the armed Tracy Kruger and that the shotgun went off. He said it was an accident.

Martin said the techniques used by the investigators were aimed at breaking down Zabawa, who finally did give in and agree to their descriptions of what occurred.

"He was tired. He was scared. He was worried. He was being told what he could do to help himself," Martin said. "The (investigator’s) goal is to wear you down until you agree."

Martin concluded by saying that the prosecution failed to prove that Zabawa was guilty and asked jurors to "prevent this from becoming another tragedy — a legal tragedy."

Klumpp told jurors that he is not asking them to help the Kruger family or convict an innocent person. "Use your common sense," he said, saying guilty verdicts "are fair and just."

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