Defense points out holes in vehicular homicide case

Published 3:17 pm Saturday, January 11, 2014

AUSTIN — Lawyer Eric Nelson hammered witness John Juenger with questions during the second day of a well-known vehicular homicide trial in Mower County District Court and implied the local detective botched the analysis of wreckage from the 2012 crash.

Juenger, a Mower County detective, spent several hours on the witness stand Friday, mostly taking heat from Nelson about the way he investigated wreckage after the crash, and what he chose to send to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for chemical testing. Nelson is representing 45-year-old Jason Fredrickson of Elkton, accused as the drunken driver in the crash that killed Austin’s 32-year-olds Jacob Moe and Luke Unverzagt on Feb. 25, 2012.

Fredrickson faces six varying counts of felony criminal vehicular homicide. Nelson represented Amy Senser, who was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for criminal vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of the accident in the Twin Cities.

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On Friday, Juenger said he began investigating the vehicles two days after the crash, when the wreckage was stored inside a county building. A key focus of the trial has been Fredrickson’s shoe, which was found underneath the steering column. Nelson indicated the severity of the crash caused items to go everywhere, so it’s not possible to say the shoe belonged to the driver.

Juenger said he couldn’t explain how it got there. Prosecutors have pointed out, however, Fredrickson was the only person with an ankle injury, which is consistent with slamming the brake before a crash.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol, the 2009 Cadillac STS was traveling at 129 mph just seconds before leaving the road, hitting a ditch, snapping a utility pole and then a tree. All three men were ejected from the vehicle. Unverzagt died at the scene, and Moe died shortly after.

Nelson implied Juenger treated the wreckage removed from the scene like debris from a simple accident instead of a crime scene, and that the BCA should’ve handled that part of the investigation. Nelson thought the county building housing the wreckage wasn’t secure enough, and questioned if Juenger wore appropriate attire while near the vehicle. He also asked why Juenger didn’t swab more areas for chemical testing, and if it was the first time Juenger had prepared biological remains for the BCA. Juenger said it was, but the BCA instructed him how to do it.

Both sides also learned on Friday that Juenger failed to previously turn over some email transcripts, which were evidence he received in his investigation. The messages were between Joel Solomonson, who testified on Thursday, and an attorney for whom he delivered a summons. Solomonson served Fredrickson with that summons in a civil case, after the attorney for one of the victim’s wives sued Fredrickson for wrongful death. When Solomonson delivered the summons to Fredrickson, he said Fredrickson inadvertently admitted to driving the Cadillac in the crash, but then backpedalled.

“He said that he was driving,” Solomonson said on Thursday. “He paused, and he said, ‘Well, we really don’t know who was driving.’”

Solomonson, who was simply delivering the summons, later notified the attorney about Fredrickson’s comments, as he thought it would help the case. The attorney and Solomonson then exchanged emails with derogatory comments about how defense attorneys can seem in court. Read aloud, the messages briefly made the situation awkward in court Friday.

While Juenger failed to provide that evidence in a timely manner, he downplayed the emails’ importance, and added that he used discretion before turning them over.

Nelson later grilled Juenger about evidence recovered seven months after the accident and not directly sent to the BCA, including a shoe Megan Moe, wife of Jacob, took home as a keepsake, and a bottle of Crown Royal from which Fredrickson allegedly drank that night.

Later on Friday, Mower County attorneys called several BCA forensic scientists to the stand. Much of the discussion revolved around tests performed on Fredrickson’s shoe, pants and part of the brake pedal. According to earlier testimonies, Fredrickson was drinking Crown Royal mixed with cola that night. However, tests can’t prove if sugary substances in the vehicle match any particular source.

Nelson and the other defense attorney, Doug Hazelton, have yet to call their own witnesses in the case as prosecutors have more scheduled for questioning. The trial will resume Monday.