Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was found guilty of hiding her daughters from their father. The decision came after the judge disallowed the majority of her defense's evidence.
CHICAGO, July 31, 2016 – Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was convicted Thursday of six felony counts related to the disappearance of two of her daughters from 2013 to 2015.
Grazzini-Rucki was charged with eight counts originally, but two were dismissed during the course of the trial.
The trial related to allegations that Grazzini-Rucki intentionally hid her daughters from their father and that she violated custody orders from the court.
The Rucki’s have five children and they were involved in a contentious divorce, beginning in 2011, where Sandra Grazzini-Rucki accused her ex-husband of abusing her and the children while David Rucki accused his ex-wife of alienating him from his children.
On September 7, 2012, a court order from their divorce judge, David Knutson, forced Sandra Grazzini-Rucki from her home and forbade any contact with any of her five children; Knutson ordered their maternal aunt, Tammy Love, to move into the home and assume temporary custody.
Four of the five children ran away later that day, wound up at the local police department and were placed temporarily with their maternal aunt, Nancy Olson.
On April 19, 2013, mere hours after Judge Knutson ordered all the children into the custody of Love, their two eldest daughters, Samantha and Gianna, ran away.
In November 2013, with the two girls still missing, Judge Knutson awarded sole custody to David Rucki in a trial in which he ordered Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s attorney, Michelle MacDonald to continue with the trial while handcuffed in a wheel chair. That incident is now the subject of a multi-million dollar lawsuit filed by MacDonald.
The girls were found on a horse farm called the White Horse Ranch run by Greg and Gina Dahlen in November 2015. The Dahlen’s still face an upcoming criminal trial for their role in the girls’ disappearance.
The Rucki’s custody battle has been the subject of intense international media attention including a story on ABC’s “20/20.”
Grazzini-Rucki employed an affirmative defense in the case, meaning that she admitted to hiding her daughters because of genuine fear for their safety. Her defense, therefore, depended on showing the reasons she feared for their safety.
Approximately 75 percent of the evidence her defense planned to use was disallowed by Dakota County Judge Karen Asphaug.
Judge Asphaug also disallowed the inclusion of numerous Child Protective Services reports; one of those reports included an allegation made by her oldest child, Nico, that his father put a gun to his face when he was 8 years old. Nico stated in that report that he witnessed no abuse and this report wasn’t allowed even to impeach.
A phone call to Judge Asphaug’s chambers was left unreturned.
Michael Rhedin, Grazzini-Rucki’s former boyfriend, was also not allowed to testify during the hearing. Rhedin, a former police officer, said each of the Rucki children told him their father had previously abused them.
Grazzini-Rucki was also not allowed to include evidence that she took out an order for protection against David Rucki.
“Everyone’s looking forward to moving forward and normalizing life,” David Rucki said outside the courtroom. “Every day we’re still learning. And we’re working on things every day. But everybody’s happy. And that’s what you hope for.”
Rucki’s attorney, Lisa Elliott, declined to respond to a CDN email for comment.
“It is simply inappropriate and unacceptable for any parent to hide their children and keep them from the custodial parent in violation of a court order for any amount of time,” said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, who prosecuted the case, to a local television station. “The almost two and a half years that these children were hidden led to significant trauma to her daughters and caused significant adverse impacts to the rest of her family. We are pleased with the jury’s decision in this matter.”
Backstrom’s office didn’t respond to a CDN email for comment.
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki will be sentenced on Sept. 21. She can receive a sentence of up to two years per count, but is expected to be sentenced to about a year in prison. She has already served six months.
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