By Clare Kennedy
Owatonna People's Press
OWATONNA -- Ryan Hurd's attorney conceded Monday that his client was "involved" in the death of 19-year-old Morris native Kathryn Rose Anderson, whose body was found in a ditch in rural Steele County in December 2009.
Hurd, a native of Tulsa, Okla., was returned to Minnesota shortly after Anderson's body was found, pocked with gravel and gashed with 109 stab wounds. The 23-year-old faces five counts of murder, including premeditated murder in the first-degree, the highest possible charge.
"We're not going to dispute that she was killed and we're not going to dispute who was responsible," public defender Joel Eaton told the jury in his opening statement. "Evidence will show that he left the state after her death, and that in the Tulsa jail, he wrote statements expressing remorse. What will be more significant is not how she died, but the events preceding her death and after."
The prosecution will have to prove that Hurd planned the death of Anderson, a student from Morris, Eaton said. At the time, Anderson and Hurd were living together in an Eagan apartment complex.
"There will be evidence that her death was caused in an impulsive manner -- that there was no plan," Eaton said. "This is obviously a tragedy and it will be difficult, but we're asking you to look closely and fairly at the evidence. We believe the state will not be able to prove premeditation or that that Ms. Anderson was kidnapped."
That was the stance of the defense team on Monday, the first day that Hurd faced a jury of his peers.
In his opening statement, Steele County Attorney Dan McIntosh outlined an array of physical evidence against Hurd.
"She was cut, sliced, and stabbed from her head to her toes," McIntosh said. "You will hear from the medical examiner that knife wounds to her head were delivered with enough force to chip the skull, the hardest bone in the human body. We will prove to you that he is the person who killed her, with intent and premeditation, during a kidnapping."
This is the second week of the trial, which began with five full days of jury selection and a flurry of pre-trial motions from the defense.
One central issue raised in pre-trial proceedings made a lengthy reappearance on Monday: Whether or not the jury should have knowledge of a previous court order prohibiting contact between Hurd and Anderson. Hurd was charged with domestic abuse in late October 2009, and was released from custody prior to Anderson's slaying on the condition that he would have no contact with Anderson.
The case had not yet been resolved at the time of her death.
Eaton has long argued that knowledge of the active restraining order would unfairly slant the trial against his client. He likened it to past court precedents that prohibited juries from hearing of the defendant's previous criminal convictions.
However, the restraining order is a basic element of one of the five charges against Hurd -- murder while restrained under an order for protection. Judge Casey Christian asked both sides if they thought it would be feasible to simply lop off the words pertaining to the restraining order when discussing the charge with the jury.
McIntosh argued that such precedents only apply to past convictions, not something that would qualify as a "status." In any case, such a measure would be impractical, he argued, because the jurors were already well aware of all the charges against Hurd.
"I don't think we can unring the bell on that," McIntosh said.
Eaton also asked the court Monday to empanel a new jury on the grounds that the current selection had been tainted by suggestions that there may have been a history of domestic violence between Hurd and the victim.
This seemed to take McIntosh by surprise. He pointed out that the jury could have easily come to the conclusion that domestic violence was an aspect of the case during the jury selection process itself, when both sides asked each potential juror if they had any personal experience with domestic violence or restraining orders that may color their judgment.
In the end, the trial went ahead as planned, with the seated jury. Testimony began late in the afternoon. The first witness was Medical Examiner Lindsey Thomas, who will continue her testimony on Tuesday morning.
Reprinted by permission of the Owatonna People's Press.