Court case for 2nd defendant in Forada beating death moved to Morrison County judge
Two judges recused themselves, one judge was removed
The next court appearance for a defendant in the beating death of a man at a Forada bar is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 5. But the settlement conference won’t take place at the Douglas County Courthouse. Instead, it will be held in Little Falls at the Morrison County Courthouse.
Troy Traut, 35, of Pine River, formerly of Alexandria, is one of two men who faced charges after the beating and eventual death of Steven Hlinsky, 46, of Forada, in May 2018.
Traut was originally charged with six different charges – second-degree murder, aiding and abetting second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, and aiding and abetting first-degree manslaughter, which are all felony level charges, along with two misdemeanor charges, fifth-degree assault and aiding and abetting fifth-degree assault.
Early on in the case, Traut pleaded guilty to the fifth-degree assault charge as part of a plea agreement where he would testify against the other man, Jacob Larson, 35, of Kensington.
However, after Larson’s trial, Douglas County District Judge Timothy Churchwell rejected Traut’s plea for “lack of a sufficient factual basis” and at a hearing for Traut on Aug. 13, Churchwell recused himself from the case.
The recusal was a safeguard against any perceived bias because of Traut’s guilty plea in June 2019 and that fact that Churchwell heard that plea.
Because of this, Traut’s case was brought back to court and a new judge, who hadn’t had the chance to formulate any opinion regarding the defendant’s guilt or innocence, was sought.
In court documents dated Aug. 13, Douglas County District Court Judge Michelle Clark also recused herself from the case. No reasons were provided.
On Aug. 20, the case was reassigned to Todd County District Judge Daniel Benson. But on that same day, Traut’s attorney, Gary Leistico, filed for a removal of Benson. As of Wednesday, Sept. 9, Leistico could not be reached for questions about his reasoning for the removal of Benson.
Benson's removal was granted and the case was once again reassigned, this time to Morrison County District Court Judge Antoinette Wetzel.
According to Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson, although the settlement conference will take place at the Morrison County Courthouse, it is simply a change of judges and not a change in venue.
If there is no resolution reached and the case would end up having a jury trial, Larson said a Douglas County jury would still be used.
About the case
In the early-morning hours of May 5, Hlinsky was found on the sidewalk outside the Muddy Boot Bar and Grill in Forada bleeding from the nose and ear. He was airlifted to St. Cloud Hospital with life-threatening injuries, released May 11, and died two days later, May 13, 2018.
Both Traut and Jacob Larson, 35, of Kensington, were charged in the case and faced the same six charges. They were each offered a plea deal, with only Traut accepting it. Larson's case went to trial. On Aug. 3 of this year, Larson was sentenced in Douglas County District Court by Judge Timothy Churchwell to 90 months – 7½ years – in jail. Two-thirds of his sentence will be served in jail, while the rest will be on supervised probation. Larson received credit for time he already served, which was 207 days.