Granted a new trial by the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Michael Eugene Stratenberger has been found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder.
The guilty verdict came just after 5 p.m. Thursday, a Crow Wing County Court Administration official said Friday. Stratenberger will be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. April 7 in front of Judicial District Court Judge Earl Maus.
Stratenberger's trial started Jan. 19 at the Crow Wing County Judical Center.
Stratenberger, 30, of Brainerd, was found guilty in August of 2007 of two counts of felony attempted first-degree murder, two counts of felony first-degree assault and one count of felony first-degree burglary following the Aug. 27, 2006, stabbing of Carrie Vukelich and Gerald Lindemann at Vukelich's home on Pine Haven Road in Nisswa. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In an opinion filed in May with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Appellate Court Judges Thomas Kalitowski, Harriet Lansing and Heidi Schellhas ordered Stratenberger's convictions reversed on the two counts of attempted murder and a new trial be held on those charges after Stratenberger argued, and the appeals court agreed, that former Crow Wing County District Court Judge Fred Casey erred in instructing the jury on transferred intent, which permitted the jury to convict Stratenberger of two charges of attempted first-degree murder without necessarily finding premeditation and intent on both charges.
"Because premeditation and intent were the central focus of the trial, we cannot conclude that the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt," Kalitowski, presiding judge, wrote in the opinion.
Lindemann testified that Stratenberger began punching him in the back and shoulders and yelled several times into his ear, "You're going to die."
"(T)here is no evidence that (Stratenberger) premeditated and intended to murder (Vukelich) but instead accidentally stabbed (Lindemann), or vice versa. Thus, we conclude, and the state concedes, that because the evidence does not support a transferred intent instruction, the district court erred by giving the jury this instruction."
According information included in the opinion from the Minnesota Court Appeals:
• Stratenberger had a relationship with Vukelich from 2005 to 2006, when Vukelich ended the relationship.
After the relationship ended the two continued to have contact. In July 2006, Stratenberger told friends he could not envision Vukelich with anyone else and called and stopped by Vukelich's home several times.
• In August of 2006, Vukelich began dating Lindemann. On Aug. 26, 2006, the day prior to the incident, Stratenberger visited Vukelich's home but Vukelich and Lindemann were gone. Stratenberger later returned when Vukelich and Lindemann were having dinner and spoke with Vukelich outside for about 15 minutes. Vukelich described Stratenberger as acting like a "trapped cat - pacing and freaked out."
• Around 9 p.m. that day, Stratenberger telephoned his friend's wife and told her he could not live without Vukelich, could not handle seeing her with someone else and made comments about doing something to Vukelich. Stratenberger then called his friend, who suggested he and Stratenberger have some drinks to get Stratenberger's mind off of the situation with Vukelich. Stratenberger drove to St. Cloud, arriving around 10:30-11 p.m., and the two went out to a few bars. The friend testified that Stratenberger made threatening statements about Vukelich and her new boyfriend. The two stayed out late at the bars and returned to the friend's mother's house around 4 a.m.
• At Vukelich's house, Vukelich and Lindemann went to sleep around midnight. At approximately 5 a.m., Vukelich awoke and found Stratenberger standing beside her bed. Vukelich asked Stratenberger what he was doing and told him to leave. Stratenberger did not respond and began striking Vukelich in the chest. Lindemann awoke to see Stratenberger straddling Vukelich and hitting her in the chest. Lindemann began wrestling with Stratenberger and Vukelich got out of the bed and fled to the kitchen to call 911. There, she noticed that she had blood all over her shirt and grabbed a knife for protection.
• At one point during the struggle, Lindemann had Stratenberger by the throat and pinned against the wall. Lindemann testified that Stratenberger began punching him in the back and shoulders and yelled several times into his ear, "You're going to die." As the two continued their struggle, Lindemann discovered that Stratenberger had a knife and at some point Lindemann pushed Stratenberger away from him and Stratenberger left the bedroom.
• Police found Vukelich and Lindemann both bleeding profusely and having trouble breathing. Both received treatment for multiple stab wounds and collapsed lungs. Police found a bent, bloody knife along the edge of Vukelich's driveway. Later that morning, a deputy sheriff arrested Stratenberger after following him to a wooded area near a residence north of Merrifield.
In the opinion, The Court of Appeals also found the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Stratenberger's motion for a mistrial and that a number of other claims made by Stratenberger did not merit reversal of his burglary and assault convictions, which the appeals court upheld.
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