After seven hours of deliberation, a jury of nine women and three men found Steven Bernard Radke guilty of premeditated first-degree murder for the 2007 shooting death of his father-in-law Darrell Buesgens.
The jury's verdict was returned about 7:30 p.m. Thursday. By 9:10 p.m., Crow Wing County District Court Judge David Ten Eyck had sentenced the 39-year-old Radke to life in prison without parole.
"I feel like justice has been served but it will never bring my husband back," said Buesgens' widow, Lynette Buesgens. "I'm glad to see they found him guilty of first-degree premeditated murder so he never gets out and hurts somebody else."
Radke has been in jail since being arrested for shooting Buesgens twice with a high-powered rifle June 20, 2007, at Buesgens' rural Emily home.
For the Buesgens family, the past year-and-a-half has been a long wait.
"I wanted it to be over, yet it was hard the closer it got to trial and the anticipation of what would happen," Lynette Buesgens said.
Lynette Buesgens was one of about a dozen family members who read, or had read on their behalf, victim impact statements before Ten Eyck delivered his sentence.
Among those who gave victim impact statements were Buesgens' children - Melanie, Penny, Jolene and Jacob, all of whom spoke about the pain of losing their father and the fear they've lived with since.
Family members also remembered Darrell Buesgens for his decorated service in Vietnam, for always helping out his kids, for the love he showed his family and especially of his fondness for his grandchildren, some of whom were present when he was murdered by Radke and still are traumatized, and some of whom will grow up never knowing their grandfather.
Following sentencing, Jacob Buesgens said he was pleased with the outcome but didn't think the punishment fit the crime.
"Personally I think he should be lined up in front of a firing squad and done proper," Jacob Buesgens said. "That's what I would call justice, an eye for an eye. He took my father, he should lose his life. It's only fair."
When asked by Ten Eyck if he wanted to make a statement before sentencing, Radke said he didn't. Three family members seated behind him also made no statements in the courtroom.
Because he was found guilty of first-degree murder, Radke has a right to appeal his conviction to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Radke's attorney, Gary Bryant-Wolf, also told Ten Eyck he intends to file a motion for acquittal.
The trial, which last two weeks, wrapped up with closing arguments Thursday morning.
In offering their closing arguments, there was no dispute between Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan and Bryant-Wolf that Radke shot and killed Darrell Buesgens. There was, however, differing arguments about what led up to the shooting and whether it was premeditated or an act of self-defense.
In his closing argument, Ryan said Radke and his wife at the time, Melanie Buesgens, had a rocky relationship and that she often left him to stay with her parents.
In a June 20 phone call before Darrell Buesgens' murder, Melanie Buesgens told Radke that she wants a divorce. He goes back home looking for sympathy from a friend but finds none.
Instead, Ryan said Radke snuck a .308-caliber rifle out of his bedroom window, got on his four-wheeler and drove it to Buesgens' property. Once there he hides the four-wheeler, walks through the woods and takes a hidden position outside of Darrell Buesgens' home.
Ryan said Radke fired a warning shot. When Darrell Buesgens came out of his house to investigate, Radke shot him twice - once in the right arm and once in the face.
Ryan closed his arguments with an audio tape of Radke responding to a question from law enforcement by saying, "He'll never get away with it though because I planned it and I murdered him."
Ryan said, "It was premeditated. In other words, he planned it, he knew what he was doing. The defendant considered, planned, prepared for and determined to commit the act before he committed it."
Bryant-Wolf disagreed, saying the short audio clip was taken out of context. He said Radke told officers that no one else was involved because he wanted to protect his wife.
Bryant-Wolf said Melanie Buesgens invited Radke to the house that day and Radke hid his four-wheeler and brought a rifle because he feared Darrell Buesgens, with whom he had a poor relationship.
It was Melanie Buesgens that told Radke to hide when her father came home, Bryant-Wolf said. The first shot fired by Radke, what Ryan called the warning shot, was fired accidentally, Bryant-Wolf said.
When Darrell Buesgens came out of the house with a shotgun Radke believed his life was in danger, Bryant-Wolf said, and Radke shot Darrell Buesgens in self-defense.
Whereas Ryan described Radke as a predator, Bryant-Wolf said his client was a rabbit, harmless, impassive and always doing what he was told, such as coming to Darrell Buesgens' house as instructed by his wife.
"Mr. Radke did not induce anything. He was invited to the property, told to go hide and misfired the gun," Bryant-Wolf said. "He ran away and was hiding like the rabbit he is. He's not the wolf he's the rabbit. He did not intend to assault anybody, he didn't induce the assault he used self-defense."
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5857.
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