Man Sentenced To Life In Prison For
Mar 13, 2009
An Olmsted County
Judge sentenced a Minnesota man to life in prison with
no possibility of parole for killing a father and son in
their home in Waseca, Minn. in 2007.
Friday, a jury
found Michael Zabawa, 26, guilty on all 12 felony counts,
including two first-degree murder counts, in connection
with the shootings.
The courtroom was
packed with relatives and supporters of the Kruger
family as the jury foreman read the verdict. Zabawa's
aunt and uncle were also there. They have attended the
Jurors got the case
Thursday evening and deliberated for about 4 hours. They
resumed deliberations Friday morning and reached a
verdict within an hour of meeting. The jurors were
sequestered in a hotel overnight.
Bueltel began the sentencing hearing shortly after the
Zabawa to two consecutive life sentences, with no
possibility of parole for the Feb. 3, 2007, shooting
deaths of Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son, Alec, 13.
Zabawa was also
sentenced to 216 months for shooting and injuring Tracy
Kruger's wife, Hilary.
During the trial,
jurors watched a videotape of state Bureau of Criminal
Apprehension agents interrogating Zabawa five hours
after the shootings. In the first three hours of the
interrogation, Zabawa denied entering the Krugers' home,
but eventually said he went in, looking for help after
his truck got stuck in a ditch outside.
Zabawa said after
he entered the house, he was confronted by Tracy Kruger
in the hallway of the second floor. He said the two
struggled and Tracy Kruger pumped the gun.
"That's when I
turned around and grabbed it, grabbed it so he wouldn't
do anything," Zabawa said to investigators. "Then I got
it away from him and it went off."
Zabawa said that's
when he went downstairs to leave. He said he saw the
Kruger's 13-year-old son, Alec, when he dropped the gun
and it went off again.
"I didn't know it
hit him," he said.
At that point,
Zabawa said he left the house and stole the Kruger's SUV.
Hilary Kruger also
testified during the trial.
She told the jury
she was shot first as she lay sleeping with her husband.
She said Tracy Kruger tried to pull the mattress up to
protect them, only to be shot. He fell to the floor, she
said, and "he was not responding in any way and I could
see his face was speckled."
She told jurors how
she watched as her son was also killed.
Jurors heard a 911
call for help from Alec Kruger. Throughout the call,
Hilary Kruger could be heard moaning in pain in the
"Please come to our
house. I don't know what's wrong, but something is
happening. Someone's been shot, please hurry, please
hurry," Alec Kruger said during the 911 call. He had
time add that his mother and father had both been shot
before another shot rang out and the line went dead.
Hilary Kruger also
testified she could not identify the shooter because it
was dark, saying she only saw the silhouette of a tall,
thin person wearing a winter hat and holding "a long gun
like a rifle or a shotgun."
The trial was moved
to Olmsted District Court because of pretrial publicity
in the Waseca area.
Evidence comes to light at hearing
Bloody clothes, hair,
keys among investigators’ finds
By Dan Nienaber -
September 15, 2007
Bloody clothes and shoes investigators say they found in
Michael Zabawa’s bedroom in February are among a list of
things Zabawa’s attorneys want kept from a jury.
There were blood-stained gloves and clothing, including
a jacket that had been stuffed behind a shelf, Waseca
County Deputy Doug Gerdts said during testimony at a pre-trial
hearing Friday. A pair of shoes with treads matching the
tracks left near the Kruger house south of Waseca and
between a stolen pickup and Zabawa’s mobile home in
Matawan were found in the bedroom’s closet.
investigators suspected belonged to one of the victims
and a set of keys matching the make of the stolen pickup
outside also were taken from the room during the search,
He was the
deputy in charge of getting several search warrants
approved by a judge after three members of the Kruger
family were found shot in their home on Feb. 3.
40, and his son 13-year-old son, Alec, were dead when
the first deputy arrived minutes after Alec called 911.
Hilary Kruger, Tracy’s wife and Alec’s mother, is still
recovering from the wounds she received in the shooting.
The Krugers’ younger son, Zak, was staying at a friend’s
house the night of the slayings.
house, Zabawa’s truck was found in one ditch and a truck
owned by the Krugers was found in another ditch. A
pickup truck from a neighbor’s house had been stolen.
Zabawa, 25, became a suspect after investigators went to
his mobile home in Matawan. They found the stolen truck
nearby and tracks leading to Zabawa’s front door.
team of attorneys is questioning whether information
from some of the searches that were done, and the
statement that Zabawa gave to police before he was
arrested, should be admissible at trial.
Funk, Zabawa’s lead attorney, also has requested a
change of venue, something Assistant Minnesota Attorney
General William F. Klumpp said he wasn’t going to
challenge. It would be hard to argue that the murders,
which have resulted in both community outrage and
support for the survivors, haven’t had an impact on any
potential jury pool that could be drawn from Waseca
County, Klumpp said.
requested the trial be moved to Duluth, or at least a
location north of the Twin Cities, because the murders
have garnered the heaviest media coverage in southern
Minnesota. Klumpp argued that Rochester would be better
because it’s far enough away from Waseca, but close
enough to be accessible for witnesses.
hearing that lasted all day Thursday and stretched
through Friday morning, the two teams of attorneys
questioned Michael Anderson of the Minnesota Bureau of
Apprehension and Waseca County detective Trevor
Kanewischer. They were the investigators who interviewed
Zabawa after the murders.
been brought to Waseca’s city offices for questioning
after he was found at his home the morning of Feb. 3. He
wasn’t officially arrested until after noon that day.
transcripts and recordings of the interviews, Zabawa
never asked for an attorney. During the hours of
questioning, he eventually admitted to going to the
house to ask for help, then shooting Tracy during an
altercation before accidentally shooting Alec and Hilary.
testified Hilary told investigators she was the first
victim shot. She said Tracy was shot next while trying
to block the blast with a mattress and Alec was shot
after he called 911, Anderson testified.
and James Martin, Zabawa’s two other attorneys,
repeatedly asked Anderson and Kanewischer if Zabawa
would have been free to leave before he was arrested.
They were building on their argument that Zabawa was
coerced into giving the statement.
investigators hesitated to directly say Zabawa was in
their custody but did acknowledge they joined Zabawa
during trips to the bathroom and outside to smoke a
Charged with 6 Counts of Murder
July 2, 2007
(KAAL) --- The man accused of killing two members a
Waseca family has been charged with six counts of first-degree
According to published reports a
Waseca County grand jury issued a 12-count indictment
against Michael Zabawa.
That includes six counts of first-degree
murder in the deaths of 40-year-old Tracy Kruger and his
13-year-old son, Alec of Waseca.
The grand jury listened to testimony
from Wednesday until this morning.
After deliberating for about 90
minutes, they returned with the 12-count indictment.
Lessons learned in
girl's slaying helping Waseca area deal with Kruger
The break-in that left
two dead reminded many of Cally Jo Larson's death in
1999. In some ways, it moved the community to action.
By Warren Wolfe
- Star Tribune
February 11, 2007
WASECA, MINN. - It was
a horrendous murder, an intruder breaking into the house
and leaving a path of destruction and grief in his wake.
That was almost eight
years ago, and the people of Waseca wrapped their arms
around Connie Larson and her family after a burglar
raped and killed her 12-year-old daughter, Cally Jo.
Now, the community
faces a similar heartache. Nine days ago, an intruder
entered a rural home just outside Waseca, shooting to
death Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son Alec, 13 -- like
Cally Jo, a seventh-grader.
"It's all happening
again -- terrible sorrow and confusion and rage.
"People here are
enfolding that family with love and concern. Waseca
learned how to do that because of Cally Jo," Larson said.
The Krugers' funeral
will be held Tuesday. Kruger's wife, Hilary, 41, remains
in critical condition. A second son, Zak, 10, was not at
home at the time of the shootings.
Michael Zabawa, 24, a
farmworker living about 15 miles south of the Kruger
home, has been charged with second- degree murder.
Larson attended Zabawa's arraignment last week.
"When I heard the news,
I was right back there -- April 20, 1999 -- living in
fear, anger, confusion. For a few days it was awful,"
said Larson, a social worker with Minnesota Valley
Community Action working with low-income clients.
"Right now, the Kruger
family really can't function," she said. "For now, all
they can do is breathe in and breathe out."
After the Kruger
killings, school, church and community leaders "immediately
knew what to do," Larson said: "Protect the family, help
the children and give us all a way to show we care."
The day after the
shootings, pastors at Grace Lutheran Church, where the
Larsons and Krugers are members, called in classmates of
the Kruger children to help them talk about the horrific
"The community is
reeling right now, just as we were after Cally Jo died,"
said the Rev. Roger Haug, Grace Lutheran's senior
He is ministering to
Kruger relatives. "We're concentrating on them and on
the children in the community," he said. "But adults,
too, are meeting in small groups to talk about our fears,
our anger and how important we are to each other."
pulled out their "Cally Jo" file and met the day the
Krugers died, preparing to help students last week.
Round Bank in Waseca set up a Tracy Kruger Family
Benefit Account, collecting donations and letters for
Some financial support
may come from the Cally Jo Children's Fund, set up by
Larson primarily to help crime victims and their
families. Since 2000, the fund has given out $34,150.
"We do learn from past
tragedies like Cally Jo's death," said Patrice Abbe,
executive director of the Waseca Area Foundation, which
administers the fund. "I think we're better prepared. We
know more about what to do and what not to do -- but
that doesn't make it any easier.
"Being able to take
action helps, but it's still such a shock. You don't
From Cally Jo's death,
law-enforcement officials learned how to better protect
the Kruger family, said Brad Milbrath, chief deputy at
the Waseca County Sheriff's Office, which is
investigating the killings.
"It's difficult to
shelter the family because the press and all their
friends want to talk with them," he said. "Maybe someday
they'll want to talk, but not now. It's a big family,
and right now they're pretty distraught."
It will take several
years for relatives and friends of the Krugers to begin
feeling "sort of normal," Larson said. "Our first two or
three years we just went through the motions. We were
After Cally Jo died,
police briefed Larson regularly, through the arrest of
Lorenzo Sanchez 10 months after Cally Jo's killing, as
well as his confession and guilty plea a year later.
For Larson, becoming
an activist helped. She worked for successful passage of
tougher state penalties for sex offenders and a system
to track them. Since 2001 she has served on the
Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
Larson also joins
counselors helping schoolchildren in other communities
after suicides or other deaths of classmates.
Her daughter Contessa,
29, is attending college and raising a 12-year-old son
And daughter Jayme,
24, who at 16 found Cally Jo's body that day in 1999,
graduated from college in criminology and psychology.
She has worked with victims of crime and domestic abuse
in Duluth and plans to marry this summer, then go to
Africa with the Peace Corps.
Guilty plea is
"I still have people
who recognize me as Cally Jo's mom, and I'm proud of
that," Larson said. "But I feel like I'm turning some
sort of corner with my life."
What might help the
Kruger family most in coming months would be admission
of guilt by the killer, Larson said.
"The pain will not end.
The loss can't be undone. But hearing the guy take
responsibility, express remorse -- realize that he gets
it, that he did something terrible -- that's what helped
me start to heal," she said.
"For now, all we can
do is support the Kruger family, be really good
neighbors for each other and hug our kids."
charged in Waseca murders
February 6, 2007
man was charged Monday with murdering two people and injuring a third
with a shotgun after breaking into their rural home.
S. Zabawa, 24, was charged in Waseca County District Court with two
counts of second-degree intentional murder. Bail was set at $2 million.
accused of breaking into the home of Tracy and Hilary Kruger early
Saturday morning and killing Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son, Alec, 13.
Hilary Kruger, 41, was wounded in the upper torso and remains in
critical condition at North Memorial Hospital.
to a criminal complaint, Zabawa entered the Kruger home after his pickup
truck got struck in a nearby ditch.
told police that Tracy Kruger confronted him with a shotgun after he
entered the home and that Kruger was accidentally shot during a struggle
for the weapon, the complaint says.
said the gun accidentally discharged and wounded Hilary Kruger and then
went off again after he dropped it, striking Alec Kruger.
Kruger gave investigators a different account of what happened. She says
she told her son to call 911 after her husband had been shot, and that
the shooter went downstairs and came back upstairs to shoot them.
medical examiner says both Tracy and Alec Kruger died of multiple
lives with his family in Matawan, about 15 miles from Waseca. His mother
tells KARE 11 she's shocked by the allegations and her thoughts are with
the Kruger family.
criminal history includes a gross misdemeanor theft conviction and two
Junior High School, most of Monday was dedicated to Alec Kruger.
Students made hundreds of posters with messages to Alec, and they
created a memorial around his locker.
difficult because when you deal with 7th and 8th graders, everybody
grieves in a different way," says principal Bill Bunkers.
them grieve, students were encouraged to express themselves.
got to get your emotions out and talk with others," says Steve Luther, a
Waseca police officer and school liaison officer.
Kruger's other son was not home at the time of the shooting.
Snowmobile races at this weekend's Sleigh and Cutter Festival on Clear
Lake in Waseca will be held in memory of Tracy and Alec Kruger.
helped organize those races each year.
Farm worker held in
slayings of family in Waseca
Authorities said the
suspect's statements "put him in the house" at the time
of the killings near Waseca of 2 family members.
By Anthony Lonetree and
Joy Powell - Star Tribune
February 06, 2007
WASECA, MINN. -- The man
arrested in the shooting of a couple and their
13-year-old son early Saturday near Waseca, Minn., did
not know the family, authorities said Sunday afternoon.
Husband and father Tracy
Kruger, 40, and Alec Kruger, 13, were killed when an
intruder broke into their farmhouse shortly before 3:30
Hilary Kruger, 41, wife
and mother, remained in critical condition Sunday at
North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, according
to authorities and friends.
the suspect as Michael S. Zabawa, 24, of Matawan, Minn.,
who worked at a hog farm in Waseca County. Chief Deputy
Sheriff Brad Milbrath said Zabawa "gave us statements
that put him in the house."
Milbrath said the suspect
got his pickup truck stuck in a snowy ditch in front of
the Krugers' home.
He then stole the Krugers'
Ford Explorer to try to pull out his pickup, but again
At some point, Milbrath
said, the suspect broke into the Krugers' house, where
Tracy Kruger confronted him.
Authorities had said
Saturday that Alec Kruger called 911 at 3:23 a.m. to
report an intruder. The dispatcher heard gunshots and
the line went silent.
The three victims were
shot on the second floor of the house, Milbrath said.
are that the shotgun used belonged to the Krugers, he
said. Hilary Kruger was shot in the upper torso;
Milbrath wouldn't say where the others were shot.
The Krugers' youngest son,
Zak, a fourth-grader, was spending the night at a
friend's house and now is with relatives, authorities
They wouldn't say anything
about a possible motive, whether anything was taken from
the house or whether the suspect was drunk or high.
The arrest stunned
Zabawa's employers and co-workers on the Woodville
Township hog farm.
Peter Zimmerman, an owner
of the family farm, said Zabawa was a responsible and
skilled swine technician who had worked at the farm
since July, caring for newborn piglets. Zabawa was
mechanically inclined and was willing to stay late to
fix whatever needed it, Zimmerman said.
"He was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill
guy who showed up on time, did the work, did a good job,
got along with his co-workers, and was just kind of a
quiet guy," Zimmerman said. "We didn't have any reason
to think badly of him."
He said he never saw
indications of mental problems or violence in Zabawa.
"It really is out of
character," Zimmerman said.
"Both my wife and my
daughter have worked with him in the past at my
operation," Zimmerman said. "They've never had any
problems with him, had no trouble working with him. We
have quite a few employees, and there was never anything
about him that was brought to my attention, or that
would really give me reason to worry."
At a news conference
Sunday, Milbrath said the suspect went to the Krugers'
neighbor's house and stole an old farm pickup, which he
drove to his home -- about 15 miles from the Krugers'.
Authorities traced the
pickup truck in the ditch outside the Krugers' home to
the suspect and took him into custody about 7:30 a.m.
Saturday. They also found the Krugers' neighbor's truck,
and got a warrant to search it.
Milbrath said the
suspect's previous offenses include mostly traffic
violations and a gross misdemeanor theft charge.
The investigative reports
will be turned over to the Waseca County attorney's
office today for charges.
From the opening prayers
Sunday morning at Grace Lutheran Church in Waseca, the
tragedy was revisited often by the Rev. Roger Haug,
senior pastor, and the Rev. Dan Doering, the church's
associate pastor, who rewrote his sermon to try to
answer the question: "Why does God let this happen?"
Doering said he hasn't
slept since he heard the news, and he was still at a
loss. "I need to say, I don't know why stuff like this
But what he did know, he
said, was that "Tracy will rise again. Alec will rise
again. We will see them again."
Haug said that he'd talked
to Hilary Kruger's boss earlier in the day, who told the
pastor that Hilary "was alert -- or at least awake."
Haug later said he'd
learned that a doctor had said Saturday that the first
24 hours would be essential to Hilary's recovery, and
that if she did survive it would be a "miracle."That's
occurred," Haug said. "It's a miracle. She's alive."
Tracy Kruger's former
vocational-education teacher, Ward Ask, was at church
Sunday morning. He was remembered as a "tremendous kid"
who turned into a tremendous man.
Ask said he's taught
hundreds of kids, yet maintained connections to only a
dozen or so former students and was proud to count Tracy
Tracy Kruger and his
brother, Tony, who is a member of Grace Lutheran, co-owned
a construction company.
Before that, Tracy Kruger
ran an auto body shop near Waterville, Ask said. Four
years ago, Ask's son had gotten in a minor car accident,
and Kruger patched the car up.
Sensing that Ask's son,
then a college student, might be short on money, Kruger
refused to take any payment for the work, Ask said.
"Fixed it for free," Ask
said. "That's just the kind of guy he was."
Tom Anderson of Byron,
Minn., had known Tracy Kruger for the past couple of
years. Both were snowmobile aficionados and Kruger knew
everything there was to know about vintage snowmobiles.
Anderson said of the
family, "I've never seen a group of people who got along
so well together. This guy was just so easygoing; took
the time to talk to his family; never loud, never pushy.
"I'm extremely shocked,"
Anderson said of the shooting. "It really hits home, you
know, the old cliche, the good die young."
in Waseca double murder
Waseca, Minn. — (AP) - A
southern Minnesota man charged
Monday with killing a father and
his son and injuring the mother
of the family said the slayings
were accidental and happened
after he was confronted by the
father, who he said was wielding
Michael S. Zabawa, 24, of
Matawan, was charged in Waseca
County District Court with two
counts of second-degree
intentional murder. Bail was set
at $2 million.
Zabawa is accused of breaking
into the rural Waseca home of
Tracy and Hilary Kruger early
Saturday morning and killing
Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son,
Alec, 13. Hilary Kruger, 41, was
wounded in the upper torso and
remained in critical condition
Monday afternoon at a Twin
According to a criminal
complaint, Zabawa admitted that
he broke into the Kruger's rural
home but said Tracy Kruger
confronted him with a shotgun
and that Kruger was accidentally
shot during a struggle for the
He also said the gun
accidentally discharged and
wounded Hilary Kruger and then
went off again after he dropped
it to flee, striking Alec.
Police believe the shootings
happened after Zabawa's vehicle
went into the ditch and became
stuck outside the Kruger home.
Zabawa went to the Kruger
residence, got into their SUV
and tried to pull his vehicle
out of the ditch, but when that
didn't work he went into the
house, where he was confronted
by Tracy Kruger, the complaint
Hilary Kruger, however, painted
a different picture for police,
according to the complaint.
She told an officer that her
husband was shot by a tall, thin
man with a long gun and that she
told Alec to call police after
her husband was shot upstairs.
She said the shooter then went
downstairs and then came back up
again and shot her and Alec, the
Another officer who responded to
the 911 call found a shotgun
leaning against an upstairs
bedroom door and spent and
unspent shotgun shells littering
the floor at the top of the
He found Alec dead in a bed
while Hilary Kruger also lay on
a bed, critically wounded. Tracy
Kruger was found dead on an
Zabawa was arrested hours later
at his home in Matawan.
Zabawa was charged with
shoplifting in 2001 in Freeborn
County and drunken-driving in
Steele County in 2004 and Waseca
County in December 2006. In
2004, he was convicted of felony
theft and criminal damage to
property in Lake County,
according to state court