WASHINGTON, September 5, 2016 – A previously unreleased police interview with Samantha Rucki raises further questions about whether her mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, received a fair trial.
On June 29, 2016, only a few months before Grazzini-Rucki’s trial, Samantha Rucki met with Detective Kelli Coughlin of the Lakeville, Minnesota Police Department to talk about her disappearance and her mother’s alleged role in it.
Samantha, along with her sister Gianna, disappeared on April 19, 2013 and were found on a therapeutic horse ranch in November 2015. Their mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, was recently convicted of a number of felonies for helping them run away.
Grazzini-Rucki claimed she helped her children run away because she feared for their safety after the court ordered them to live with their father.
The trial judge, Karen Asphaug, refused to allow the transcript or video of this interview as evidence during the trial.
Grazzini-Rucki put on an affirmative defense, meaning that she argued that the reasons for her actions outweighed any allegedly criminal acts she committed. She stated that she genuinely feared for the safety of her daughters and that her actions were an effort to protect them from an unsafe situation.
This police interview with Samantha Rucki appears to validate this fear.
Initially, the younger Rucki told the Detective that her father attempted to threaten her ahead of the interview, “They (her father and his sister) basically said I have to (go to the interview) and I have to be here and I have to recant everything I said and it’s going and that’s the way it’s gonna be- and they made me feel guilty about it and I started to cry.”
This tampering takes on extra meaning because when Samantha testified in her mother’s trial, the court took the unusual step of allowing Samantha to testify by Skype and out of the view of the jury. Her father, his sister, her grandmother, and attorney were all in the room all out of the view of the jury.
The defense was limited in the number of questions they were allowed to ask, and Samantha Rucki refused to say that her father was abusive during the trial
But during the police interview, Samantha told another story. “It was screaming constantly and it was getting to where it really scared the crap out of all of us and we didn’t want to be in the house.”
“It was constantly screaming,” she continued, “and he (her father) was getting to the point where he was starting to get physical.”
“He would just grab her really forcefully and he would like move her around…and he would break things.”
“He would make inappropriate comments a few times,” Samantha said of the way her father treated her, “and would grab my leg a few times and would make me feel uncomfortable.”
“Did he ever push you, kick you, anything physical?” Detective Coughlin asked.
“Mm,hmm,” Samantha Rucki responded.
Once her father first moved out in the beginning of 2011, Samantha said things became quiet and peaceful, “It was quiet, um, quiet again, you could kinda live.”
Samantha also said that running away was her idea, “It was like a fluke thing. I kind of came up with it in the bathroom. I panicked. I just wanted to be with her (her mother) and no one would let us.”
Detective Coughlin attempted repeatedly to try and get Samantha to implicate her mother in the planning of running away, but Samantha stuck to the same story.
About an hour in, Detective Coughlin asked again: “Ok so Sam, I am guessing that your mom was a little more involved in getting you to leave Nancy’s house.?
“No,” Samantha Rucki responded again, “I’m the one that called her. I’m the one that told her this, she didn’t call me up and go you have to meet me here, I called her.”
A few minutes later, Detective Coughlin tried again, “Sam, I think your mom was doing what she thought was right in her heart, but I think she helped come up with this plan.”
“Honestly, I was the one that called her. I remember because I tried to shower but I didn’t want anyone to hear me.”
When Sandra Grazzini-Rucki testified, she said her daughter called her on April 19 in a panic and told her that she and her sister were running away with or without her help.
Samantha Rucki saved her greatest ire for the judge, David Knutson, in her parent’s custody case, and the rest of the family court system. “I’m not a fan of Judge Knutson, I don’t want to hear about that guy,” she said, “Honestly. He made such bad decisions and it’s not even, he should I don’t care what you guys want to say to that. The decisions made by whoever in the court were so horrendous that they shouldn’t even be allowed to do it anymore. You can’t make a mistake like this and ruin people’s lives and then think it’s ok. Gilbertson (a therapist appointed by Judge Knutson) and Friedrich (the guardian ad litem appointed by Knutson) and him, you don’t just get to screw around with someone’s life to like practice or to just try and test out different theories on you can do this (inaudible) a bunch of test dummies or a bunch of things.”
Knutson, along with a whole host of court professionals, claimed that Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was a parent alienator and the allegations of abuse were unsubstantiated and she was coaching her kids to make the allegations. It appears that the theories Samantha Rucki referred to are the highly controversial theory of parental alienation the court applied.
On September 7, 2012, following the advice of another court professional, Dr. Paul Reitman, Grazzini-Rucki was forced out of her home under the threat of jail and told she could have no contact with any of her children.
Samantha and Gianna ran away shortly after Knutson forced them to live with their paternal aunt on April 19, 2013.
Samantha, who was forced to again live exclusively with her father and not allowed to see her mother after authorities found her in November 2015, said that while she now feels safe, this is only because most of the time she works, goes out, or is in her room and indicated she barely has any relationship with her father. She indicated a similar dynamic with her sister toward her father.
Her mother Sandra Grazzini-Rucki will be sentenced for her role in her daughters’ disappearance on September 21.
A phone call to the chambers of Judge Karen Asphaug was left unreturned.