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Prosecutor says Zornes done in by family, friends who helped him while he was on the lam

Danette McCradie, cousin of Megan Londo, who was murdered in 2010, talks to the media Wednesday at the Clay County Courthouse in Moorhead after a guilty verdict was read in the Tracy Zornes double-murder trial. (David Samson / The Forum)

MOORHEAD - In the end, prosecutors didn't need a fingerprint or drop of blood or some other form of forensic evidence to link Tracy Zornes to a murder scene in Moorhead, prosecutor Heidi Davies said.

Rather, it was the explanations Zornes gave family and friends who helped him during his two weeks on the lam that ultimately placed him at the apartment where Megan Londo and John Cadotte were found beaten and stabbed to death on Feb. 19, 2010.

"The fact that there wasn't any DNA didn't matter that much because the defendant repeatedly stated that he was there," Davies said after Zornes was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder Wednesday.

Now, the 39-year-old from Naytahwaush, Minn., will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing Londo and Cadotte last year, brutal slayings in which much of the potential evidence burned up in an arson for which jurors also convicted Zornes.

The jury deliberating the case against Zornes, who was on trial for six days of testimony ending Monday, got the case at 11:21 a.m. Tuesday and handed down the guilty verdicts at about 12:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Standing in a black suit, Zornes stared straight ahead and showed no emotion as Judge Galen Vaa read the verdicts. In the row of seats behind Zornes, his girlfriend, Elizabeth McPherson, buried her face in her hands.

Across the aisle, Londo and Cadotte family members wept and embraced.

The jury of six men and six women convicted Zornes on two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Londo, 25, of Naytahwaush, and Cadotte, 20, of Moorhead.

Zornes also was found guilty on the arson charge and a count of vehicle theft. Jurors found him not guilty on two counts of second-degree murder.

Zornes faces two mandatory terms of life in prison without chance for parole on the first-degree murder convictions. Sentencing is set for Dec. 16 in Clay County District Court.

One of his two attorneys, Joe Parise, said Zornes had some time to steel himself for a guilty verdict because of a question the jury asked shortly beforehand about whether he could be convicted of both first- and second-degree murder.

"So, it didn't come as a great shock, but I think leading up to the verdict, he was holding out a lot of hope," Parise said. "I mean, if you have 12 hours of deliberation, that's pretty close to reasonable doubt in my mind."

Zornes will have 90 days from his sentencing date to appeal the case, Parise said.

"Most assuredly, he'll pursue those avenues," he said.

Davies, an assistant Clay County attorney, said it wasn't an easy case, with "many small pieces" being put together through the 46 witnesses called by prosecutors. The defense called four witnesses.

The prosecution witnesses included five people who saw Zornes - and in several cases helped him - as he fled the murder scene in Cadotte's car, drove it to rural Mahnomen, set it on fire and hid out in the woods, where authorities tracked him down about two weeks after the fire.

Zornes' story about what occurred the night of the fire varied, according to witness testimony:

Zornes' nephew, Shannon "Little Sam" Wadena, said Zornes told him, "'I seen a fire, and I was outside and so I headed out.'"

McPherson said that when she told Zornes she thought he'd burned up in the fire, he said, "Almost."

Zornes' friend Monica Perrault said he told her he was partying with Londo and another man and it was getting loud, and he went outside and listened to the radio, and "when he woke up, it was obvious it was too late to do anything so he just left."

Zornes' cousin, Christine Alvarado, said he told her "that he pulled up and it was already started or something like that."

Melanie Malmo, also a friend of Zornes, testified he told her "that he remembered jumping out a window" of the apartment.

What Zornes couldn't explain, Davies said in her closing argument Tuesday, was why the remnants of a smoke detector were found in Cadotte's burned up car. Prosecutors say Zornes removed two smoke detectors and a carbon monoxide detector from the lower-level apartment and locked the front door's deadbolt before setting it ablaze.

None of those who helped Zornes while he was on the run from authorities were charged criminally.

"Certainly there were some people who could have been, but sometimes that's part of getting cooperation," Davies said.

McPherson left the courtroom right after Vaa read the verdicts. Zornes' mother, seated behind him, waited until authorities led her son away to jail.

"We know that he's innocent," Suzanne Zornes said. "We have been terrorized by law enforcement."

In the courtroom, Cadotte family members wore white t-shirts with the words "In loving memory" over pictures of Cadotte.

Following the verdicts, Cadotte and Londo family members hugged and shook hands with each other and also with Davies, co-prosecutor Matthew Greenley and law enforcement including Ryan Nelson, the Moorhead police detective who testified he heard Zornes say something to the effect of, "This wasn't anything sexual," when Zornes was being processed after his arrest.

Londo's cousin, Danette McCradie, told The Forum afterward that the family was thankful for the "hard work and diligence" of prosecutors, law enforcement and all those involved in the case.

"We're very, very pleased with the verdict," she said. "It doesn't bring Megan or John back."

Cadotte's brother, Robert Cadotte, who prayed a rosary before the verdict and shook with emotion as Vaa announced the jury's decision, spoke briefly to reporters on his way out of the courthouse.

"As civil people, we feel justice was done," he said. "But the final justice is in God's hands."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528