February 11, 2016 at 3:51 p.m.
Assistant Chisago County Attorney Nick Hydukovich said in closing remarks to the jury that it is only reasonable to believe the prosecution’s evidence, which he said showed that Schnagl provided the 27-year-old Oakdale area woman with cocaine, that was the proximate cause of her death.
Hydukovich told the jurors the defense merely offered up “distractions that don’t really matter.”
Third degree unintentional homicide doesn’t require the prosecution to prove cocaine specifically caused the victim’s death. In fact, the medical examiner presented no definitive cause for Ms. Jelinek’s death. Her body wasn’t retrieved until spring 2013-- months after she was reported missing in December 2012.
Although the ME said cause of death was undetermined Hydukovich said testimony showed cocaine “played a role” and Schnagl provided the cocaine, and that’s all the jury needed to convict. Hydukovich said evidence showed Schnagl “directly or indirectly provided the cocaine.”
Exactly how Ms. Jelinek ended up in a swampy pond hundreds of feet away from Schnagl’s home where she was last seen, will likely be unanswered.
Schnagl was found innocent of the second aggravating charge of tampering with the victim’s body.
The state argued that after overdosing on the drugs and alcohol, Jelinek became a liability for Schnagl and he moved Jelinek’s body to the desolate swampy terrain.
Schnagl’s attorney successfully argued the evidence did not prove the defendant did any such thing.
A tape-recording played during the trial may have been a factor, for both sides, on whether Jelinek left Schnagl’s home alive or if her body was moved. Schnagl took a phone call from his house alarm monitoring company about 3 a.m. --hours before local authorities were notified by Jelinek’s family members who suspected foul play.
His lower level door alarm had triggered twice and in the recorded conversation Schnagl is heard telling the monitoring agent to disregard the alarm being triggered, saying it was just his girlfriend moving about the house. Schnagl maintained that he then passed out and awoke to realize Danielle wasn’t around.
The prosecution contended the alarm was being triggered as a result of Schnagl struggling with the victim’s body.
Hydukovich told the jury any reasonable person would immediately contact law enforcement when he snapped out of it-- if the contention that Danielle had mysteriously turned up missing was to be believd. Hydukovich stressed (in his closing argument) the activity on Schnagl’s cellphone that morning, calling many numbers, but not calling the authorities.
The defense’s case centered on Jelinek reasonably having obtained the cocaine from someone other than Schnagl, or an ”alternative perpetrator.” Additionally, other drugs and pharmaceuticals were found by investigators in the Schnagl residence, which his attorney highlighted to cast doubt on the cause of death. The ME was able to say with certainty, though, that alcohol and cocaine only, were present in the autopsy.
The defense was successfull in asking jurors to consider that Ms. Jelinek; under the influence and making a fatal judgment, left Schnagl’s home in a stupor and succumbed to the winter elements or perhaps had fallen into the slough and possibly drowned.
County Attorney Janet Reiter commented in an e mail to this paper, after the verdict that, “We had hoped for a full verdict in favor of the prosecution to bring about justice for the victim.”
She added the county attorney staff respects the verdict and “...are pleased the jury found the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of Danielle Jelinek’s death.”
As the closing day opened Feb 5, Schnagl’s attorney Melvin Welch surprised Judge Todd Schoffelman and requested second degree manslaughter to be allowed as a charge for the jury to consider. Judge Schoffelman commented that he thought the lawyers and he had already fully covered jury instructions before.
Schoffelman called a recess and the approximately 75 people who’d shown up for closing arguments exited the courtroom wandering the courthouse hallways, talking on cellphones and amongst themselves.
Judge Schoffelman returned and instructed the defense and prosecution to present their respective arguments for the second degree lesser charge and against including it. He recessed again and about 30 minutes later denied Welch’s request for a second degree manslaughter consideration.
Welch did not return our e-mail requests for comment.
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