Crookston man convicted of murder, gets mandatory life sentence
THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. — In the end, Jedidiah Troxel had nothing to say before he was sentenced Tuesday to spend the rest of his life in prison for the stabbing murder of his old friend Tanya Kazmierczak.
State District Judge Donald Aandal turned to Troxel after Kazmierczak’s husband, children and mother gave tearful summations of who they lost.
“Anything to say prior to sentencing?” he asked.
“No,” Troxel said quietly but firmly.
He didn’t testify, either, in his own trial, which ended Tuesday morning without any defense witnesses called to the stand.
Since the August weekend last year when he attended a party with Kazmierczak and others before she was found slain on a riverbank near here, he’s had virtually nothing to say publicly.
Aandal spoke his mind after a week of presiding without comment. A prosecutor had told the jury nothing was more precious than human life and a juror had added, “perhaps freedom,” Aandal reminded Troxel.
His own consideration of the question in recent days had led him to think of something else of as much or more value than a human life, Aandal told Troxel: “The human soul.”
“You have your life yet,” Aandal said, adding that the fate of his soul was still a question.
The judge then sentenced Troxel to the mandatory time for his crime: life in prison without the possibility of parole, Minnesota's stiffest penalty.
‘What he deserved’
Just before 3 p.m. Tuesday, a jury of six men and six women found Troxel, 32, guilty on all three counts of first-degree murder with criminal sexual conduct in Kazmierczak’s death Aug. 25, 2012. It had deliberated about three hours.
Because Minnesota law allows only one conviction per crime, John Gross, one of two assistant attorneys general prosecuting Troxel, asked Aandal to sentence him only on the third count, to make any appeal a cleaner process.
The practical result will be the same: life in prison.
Jeff Kazmierczak, Tanya's husband of 20 years, told a reporter after the verdict was read, “Thank God he got what he deserved, and the evidence showed it.”
A half-hour later, he interrupted himself with his own sobs as he read a victim impact statement in court before Troxel was sentenced, about how “my loving wife … her first grandchild … he’ll never know her … I was looking forward to the day we could retire and grow old together and watch our grandchildren play.”
He returned to his seat in the gallery, next to his and Tanya’s three children and her mother, Muriel Briggs, showing the long family ties between the victim and her killer.
When Troxel was arrested, he was living in Crookston in a back bedroom in the home of his mother, who lives with Tanya’s brother, Steven Briggs.
When he lived in Thief River Falls previously, he and his mother lived near Kazmierczak’s family. He told investigators last year, in recorded interviews watched by the jury, that he was friends with Kazmierczak and her husband and would never hurt her.
Tanya Kazmierczak’s mother, Muriel Briggs, came to the sentencing and had someone read her statement, including this to Troxel, that she forgives him.
“A mother should not have to bury her child because someone took her away. I am a forgiving person but I will never forget. God wants us all to forgive,” she read.
Matthew Kazmierczak read a statement from his “little sister,” Katelynn, who said her mother was buried on “what was supposed to be a great day, my 13th birthday.”
Contradiction in story
Troxel’s attorney, Kip Fontaine, had no statement before sentencing. Earlier in his closing, he told the jury each of the charges requires the state to prove Kazmierczak was killed during the commission of a sexual assault, which he said an expert witness for the prosecution had described as “likely.”
“We are asking you, we are telling you, you cannot make this life-changing decision,” based on it being “likely” that Kazmierczak was sexually assaulted during her murder, Fontaine said. Evidence found at the scene makes it just as likely the sexual act happened some time before she was slain, which would not fit the charges against Troxel, he said.
In his closing, prosecutor Eric Schieferdecker told the jury to remember “the 100 lies of Jedidiah Troxel,” referring them to the three interviews by investigators with Troxel in the first days after Kazmierczak went missing.
Troxel adamantly denied she ever was in his car or that he ever had sex with her, Schieferdecker said. Yet tests later proved her fingerprint was on his car, her blood was on its gear-shift handle and elsewhere in the car and on his black tank-top shirt found in his home, and DNA testing showed sexual contact between them, said Schieferdecker, an assistant attorney general for Minnesota.
No witnesses called
Troxel and Kazmierczak partied together with others at three neighboring homes in Greendale trailer park in Thief River Falls from Friday night, Aug. 24, 2012, until about 6 a.m. the next morning, according to testimony.
Michelle Rose, a friend of Kazmierczak, said she last saw her standing outside Troxel’s car about dawn Aug. 25, talking to him.
Kazmierczak was reported missing later that day. Her body was found Sunday morning, Aug. 26, mostly naked, lying face up, arms flung out, on the bank of the Red Lake River near Smiley Bridge, southeast of Thief River Falls.
In his closing, Schieferdecker again showed the jury explicit photos of her body as it was found, with 37 stab wounds and a gash across her throat, her face bruised, one eye appearing swollen from a beating.
Troxel, following the prosecutor’s proceeding closely on the video screen in front of him, turned 90 degrees away while photos of Kazmierczak’s bloody body were shown.
The defense called no witnesses. But in his closing, Fontaine told jurors they already had heard Troxel’s testimony in hours of recorded interviews he did with investigators the day before and the day after Kazmierczak’s body was found.
“He cooperated fully,” Fontaine said.
Fontaine stressed to the jury that everyone partying that night in Thief River Falls was so intoxicated their memories of what they saw, and when, were unreliable.
The defense attorney argued that the blood and DNA evidence could have been transferred by others, including investigators who he said carelessly handled Kazmierczak's body, Troxel's car and clothing.
Investigators focused on Troxel on the day she was reported missing and before her body was found because of what others at the party told them.
In those first interviews while pressing Troxel, investigators suggested a motive: Troxel was so worried about his girlfriend at the time, Wilma Anderson, finding out he had been carrying on with Kazmierczak that he killed her down by the river. Troxel last year consistently denied it all, saying she had never been in his car, that he never would have sex with Kazmierczak.
Anderson testified last week she broke up with Troxel that weekend after learning he lied about spending time with Kazmierczak and that investigators found evidence of her in Troxel’s car.
A child born to Troxel and Anderson after Kazmierczak’s murder turned 1 last month, Anderson testified.
Stephen J. Lee | Forum News Service