Verdict: Jury says Fredrickson committed vehicular homicidePublished 7:31am Thursday, January 16, 2014
AUSTIN — The jury deliberated well into the night while anxious family members and friends waited outside the courtroom, but at about 9:30 p.m. Judge Donald Rysavy finally read the verdict: Jason David Fredrickson is guilty of felony criminal vehicular homicide.
The jury convicted Fredrickson, 45, of Elkton, on four of six total charges, including two for criminal vehicular homicide with alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more and two for criminal vehicular homicide by operating a vehicle with negligence. The jury did not find Fredrickson guilty of counts five and six: criminal vehicular homicide by operating a vehicle in a grossly negligent manner.
Fredrickson was convicted as the drunken driver in a crash south of Austin that killed Jacob Moe and Luke Unverzagt on Feb. 25, 2012. Both victims were 32 years old. All three men were ejected from the vehicle.
Tension filled the dead-silent courtroom just before the verdict, and then there were tears and sniffles from both families. Many breathed sighs of relief and gathered for hugs, while others quietly left the building without saying anything.
Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen and assistant attorney Jeremy Clinefelter praised the jury for its six long days of work, and its dedication to the trial.
“We appreciate how serious they took it,” Clinefelter said.
Yet the two had sympathy for the families.
“In the end, there are still the families…,” Nelsen said. “Luke and Jake are still gone, and we can’t bring them back.”
Fredrickson’s attorney, Eric Nelson, would not comment about the jury’s decision, or if he will appeal it.
Fredrickson left the courthouse with his family Wednesday night. Of course, not everything with the case is complete, though.
Fredrickson will be allowed to stay at home before he is sentenced in March, as Nelson pointed out Fredrickson made all court appearances and never violated his previous conditions of release from jail. However, Fredrickson was told to check in with Mower County Correctional Services on Thursday for further instructions.
The trial began last week, but the case had been unfolding for more than a year. Attorneys for prosecution and defense focused on placement of a shoe found in the obliterated 2009 Cadillac STS, the physics of the crash, and an inadvertent admission by Fredrickson, according to the man who served him with a summons. That man, Joel Solomonson, testified last week that when he served Fredrickson with a summons for a civil lawsuit, Fredrickson said he was the driver, but then quickly said, “Well, we really don’t know who was driving.”
Then, on Tuesday, the last witness of the day threw the jury a curve ball. Fredrickson’s wife, Tamara Fredrickson, testified that Solomonson gave the papers to her, not Jason.
The prosecution didn’t spend much time cross-examining Tamara. It simply wanted to move on with the trial at that point.
Prosecutors moved to their final arguments and acknowledged the lead detective’s work in the case was insufficient. However, it didn’t ruin their case, they said, and mentioned plenty of others did good work. Clinefelter alluded to Unverzagt and Moe’s familiarity with the stretch of road, and Fredrickon’s possible inexperience with that section south of Austin, and the fact the car was his.
He tried to explain Tamara Fredrickson’s opposing testimony about the day Solomonson served the summons, as well.
“One of the ways to determine credibility is, ‘Who has something to gain?’” Clinefelter said. “What does Mrs. Fredrickson have to gain if you disregard this evidence?”
But for roughly an hour, in his closing argument, Nelson pleaded to the jury that nearly all of the evidence was inconclusive. He repeatedly referred to investigation mistakes, and items not tested.
“This was not a meticulous investigation,” he repeatedly said.
Look for more in the print edition of the Austin Daily Herald.