MINNEAPOLIS, July 21, 2016 – The criminal trial of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki got off to an inauspicious start with a juror all but admitting that the jury pool was tainted.
Nearly all of the original 60 members of the jury pool said they had heard about the case, but one in particular said an article from that morning’s Minneapolis Star Tribune was sitting in the jury room.
Jurors are generally not supposed to be influenced by outside factors, including media accounts of the case, making the appearance of a newspaper article about the case in the jury room highly unusual.
The judge, Judge Karen Asphaugh, declined to do anything in response, and jury selection continued.
Another potential juror said he was recently at a party with a relative of David Rucki, Grazzini-Rucki’s ex-husband and the alleged victim in the case, but Judge Asphaugh declined to have him removed when the juror said he could remain neutral.
The jury pool is currently down to 21 potential jurors, so it’s not clear whether this individual will be chosen in the final jury pool.
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki is charged with eight felonies, including two added in the last couple of weeks, stemming from her alleged involvement in the disappearance of two of her daughters, Samantha and Gianna, in 2013. The two Rucki girls remained missing until late 2015, when they were found on a therapeutic horse ranch.
The two Rucki girls ran away after being forced to live with their paternal aunt, over their vociferous objections and pleas to live with their mother. David Rucki received sole custody later, and all five Rucki children currently live with him. Sandra Grazzini-Rucki hasn’t seen any of her five children in more than three years.
Grazzini-Rucki, by all indications, will put on an affirmative defense, meaning she will argue she helped the girls run away because of genuine fear in the custody of their paternal aunt and father.
Statements both made to authorities shortly after being found back up this assertion.
“Sam went through the family history with this worker. She was twelve when her parents divorced. Home life was awful prior to the divorce. They tip-toed around dad and he was physically abusive to her mom. Dad had ripped the leg off an organ and ran after mom,” a report of an interview with Samantha stated.
“She reports that dad was always screaming at mom. Neighbors called their home ‘The Scream House’. She thought her home life was normal and she didn’t know any different. She has never had a strong relationship with her dad. He would take her to the bar after dance or hockey. She states a big weight was lifted off her shoulders after the divorce. Mom would have bruises from dad; she would never see it occur but knew it had. She has seen him shove her. She feels her dad was mentally abusive, he was always yelling and ‘it took a toll on all of us’. She states they lived a dysfunctional life…. She states her dad lied to her. She wants a relationship with him in the future but not while she is in his custody. She wants to go to him when it is her choice or when she’s ready. She does not want to live with him and feels he still has control over her. She does not feel mom played a role in her thoughts or feelings about her dad,” according to another report of an interview with Gianna.
In a 2013 report to Child Protective Services, the oldest child, Nico, claimed that when he was 8 years old his father threatened him with a gun.
Despite numerous reports by the children and their mother that David Rucki was violent, Dakota County Judge David Knutson forced all the children into the sole custody of their father, arguing their mother was a parent alienator.
CDN exclusively reported that David Rucki was convicted in 1994 of a bar fight and in 2014 of a road rage incident, two of 10 incidents that led to convictions on Rucki’s rap sheet.
In another police report, a third party claimed that Rucki threatened to have the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang rough up Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, and in another incident she described how he tried to choke her with an organ leg.
It is not clear how much of David Rucki’s violent history will be heard by the jury, as the prosecution has been arguing for the exclusion of most of this evidence.
Jury selection continues on Tuesday.
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