Douglas County District Court Judge Timothy Churchwell asked Jacob Larson if he understood that he did not have to testify. Churchwell asked him if he knew he was giving up his right to remain silent. He asked Larson if he understood that both attorneys could ask him questions and that any information he provided could be used by the jury.
On Tuesday, Jan. 14, in Douglas County District Court, Larson, 34, of Kensington, took to the witness stand, answering, “Yes,” to all of the judge’s questions and told the judge, “I think we’re good.”
After being asked by his attorney, Todd Peterson, if it was his own decision to testify, Larson said that it was.
Larson is currently on trial after being accused and charged in the beating of Steven “Beaver” Hlinsky outside the Muddy Boot bar in Forada in May 2018. Hlinsky died eight days later, on May 13.
Larson is charged with second-degree murder; aiding and abetting second-degree murder; first-degree manslaughter; and aiding and abetting first-degree manslaughter. All are felony-level charges. He is also charged with two misdemeanors, fifth-degree assault and aiding and abetting fifth-degree assault.
Bullied out of the bar
Just like several other witnesses, Jacob Larson described the events that took place in the late evening of May 4, 2018, and early morning hours of May 5, 2018.
Larson said he went over to his friend’s house that Friday night. He said his friend, Frank Kalina, along with Troy Traut and Jason Kraft, were all there. They had been working on a fence but that when he got there they were setting up targets to do some shooting. He said he was at Kalina’s house for about 30 or so minutes and that he wasn’t drinking at that time, but that the other three men were.
Larson said he had wanted to go to the Firestation Bar and Grill in Garfield that night, but that everyone else wanted to go to Forada. After they arrived, they ate, drank and played pull tabs.
The defendant said he didn’t know there was a conflict between Traut and Hlinsky that evening. He said he didn’t see Traut break a beer bottle or tip over Hlinsky’s cup. He said he possibly could have been outside when all that occurred, but that he wasn’t 100% sure.
Larson said during that evening, before the incident, he had been getting along with Hlinsky and that there were no conflicts between them. He said Hlinsky asked him to arm wrestle and that he told him, “All right, one time.”
“There was no attitude,” he said. “No conflicts. Just trying to arm wrestle.”
Larson said he recalled bringing his dog into the bar because he didn’t want the dog to stay in the vehicle. He said he saw dogs in bars before and so he thought it would be OK. He didn’t think there was a problem but that someone did eventually take his dog outside.
Larson said he was drinking Grey Goose (vodka) and cranberry that evening and thinks he had about four or five medium-sized drinks, but that he didn’t watch the bartender pour his drinks. He said he felt the effects of the drinks.
When his attorney asked him if alcohol can impact a person’s memory, Larson said it can at times. But he also said he could remember what happened that night.
Larson talked about lighting his marijuana pipe and said, “I have a bad habit and wasn’t thinking straight.”
He also said he didn’t light it with any purpose or to try to make people angry.
Larson also said, “I did not blow smoke into anybody’s face.”
He recalled that he was told not to smoke his marijuana pipe in the bar, but couldn’t remember who said it. He said he got “bullied out of the bar” and pushed toward the door. He recalled that the bartender said something about “just be good boys,” referring to him and Hlinsky.
“I think I was getting pushed around,” he said, noting that the bartender wanted them to knock it off, although he said she didn’t raise her voice.
Larson explained what happened as they reached the door.
“We went out onto the sidewalk and I lost my balance. I reached out with my right hand and grabbed Hlinsky,” said Larson. “He hit me. Twice in the throat. I reacted.”
Larson said he tried to get away from Hlinsky, but that immediately Traut hit Hlinsky in the face.
“He (Traut) blindsided him (Hlinsky),” said the defendant, adding that Hlinsky stiffened up and “face planted” on the ground.
When the bartender then came outside, Larson said he threw his drink, which was still in his hand, and told Kalina, “Let’s get the f*** out of here,” and then they left.
He was asked if he saw that Hlinsky was injured and bleeding and Larson said he did. When asked why he left, Larson said, “I was scared. I was kicked out. I was in shock. I don’t know, I guess I was in shock.”
He said that when he was questioned the next day, he didn’t tell the truth because he was scared that authorities would blame him.
“Who threw the first punch?” his attorney asked him, to which Larson replied, “Steve.”
“And you thought you would get blamed?” Peterson asked his client, to which he replied, “Yes.”
An opportunity to tell the truth
When cross-examined by Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson, the prosecutor in the case, Jacob Larson admitted that he lied because he was scared and concerned for his own welfare.
Chad Larson said that Jacob Larson gave a statement on May 7, two days after the fact, and that he had two days to report what he believed to be the truth.
“You chose not to do so,” he stated. The defendant replied, “Yes.”
When asked if he had been drinking and simply didn’t recall what happened, Jacob Larson replied, “Yes.”
“You had an opportunity to tell the truth and you chose not to do so. Is that correct,” Chad Larson asked, to which the defendant replied, “Yes.”
Chad Larson asked Jacob Larson if he told investigators in his statement that Hlinsky was being a bully. He said, “Yes.”
He was then asked if he remembered investigators asking him about that and again he said, “Yes.”
The prosecutor asked Jacob Larson if he remembered his response to the investigators when he was questioned after the incident and Jacob Larson said, “No.”
Chad Larson referred to the transcript of the interview and said that Sgt. Mike Tvrdik asked if Hlinsky had his hands on Jacob Larson and Jacob Larson said he didn’t recall. Chad Larson asked the defendant if he remembered Hlinsky being aggressive and he said he did not.
After Peterson made an objection, Chad Larson brought a copy of the transcript to Jacob Larson so that he could look at it. When Jacob Larson was asked if Hlinsky was being aggressive, Jacob Larson’s response at that time was, “No, neither of us were.”
Chad Larson asked Jacob Larson if Hlinsky struck him, to which he replied, “He pushed me.”
He asked again, “Did Hlinsky strike you?” to which he replied, “No.”
Jacob Larson was asked if he wrapped his arm around Hlinsky’s head. He said he was losing his balance and that he grabbed Hlinsky because of that.
“Is it your testimony today that you lost your balance,” Chad Larson asked the defendant.
“Correct,” Jacob Larson said.
The defendant was asked to describe what happened after he left the bar that night.
Jacob Larson said he went home and dropped off his dog, but that he didn’t change his clothes. He said he then went over to a friend’s house, but when questioned who that was, he refused to give his friend’s name.
Chad Larson asked the defendant what he said when investigators told him they had video of the night in question. Jacob Larson said they were lying.
Neither attorneys had any other questions and Jacob Larson was excused from the witness stand.
Radiologist takes the stand
Vibhu Kapoor, a board certified radiologist who works at a hospital in Sartell, testified on behalf of the defense. Kapoor graduated from medical school in India in 1991 and moved to the United States in 1999. He redid his residency, along with two fellowships in neuroradiology and body imaging. Kapoor moved to Minnesota in 2008, and from 2008 to 2011 he worked for the Center for Diagnostic Imaging, often working at what was known then as Douglas County Hospital.
He is licensed to practice in 15 different states.
Kapoor prepared a series of slides that described in detail adrenal hemorrhage and traumatic brain injury. The slides were presented and shown during his testimony. The defendant's attorney went through each of the slides while Kapoor explained each one.
The doctor stated traumatic brain injury doesn’t cause adrenal hemorrhage and there is no medical literature that supports that it does.
With a traumatic brain injury, Kapoor said the natural sequence of events is either recovery, disability or death. He said Hlinsky had a mild traumatic brain injury based on his CT scan and “he should have made a full recovery.”
He said there have been no studies done on traumatic brain injuries causing adrenal hemorrhages because not a single case in the world has ever been reported.
When cross examined by the prosecution, Kapoor said he was a radiologist and when asked if he was qualified to determine cause of death, he replied, “I don’t know if I’m not.”
Chad Larson asked Kapoor about a letter he had received regarding the medical examiner’s findings about the cause and manner of Hlinsky’s death. He was asked if he stood behind the opinions of Angelique Quinn Strobl, the chief medical examiner at the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Ramsey, who performed the autopsy. Kapoor said, “More or less.”
Chad Larson asked Kapoor if he typically determines cause and manner of death when a patient dies, to which he said no.
Kapoor was asked what the recognized manners of death are in Minnesota and he said he didn’t know. He was asked if he was certified to determine the cause of death and he said he didn’t know. He was asked who makes those decisions and Kapoor once again said he didn’t know.
Chad Larson asked Kapoor if he read and understood the conclusions from the medical examiner and said, “Yes.” He was asked if the cause and manner were the medical and legal reasons and he said, “Yes.”
Kapoor then said he was trying to get to the bottom on the cause and manner of Hlinsky’s death.
Kapoor said he agreed with the medical examiner but then disagreed with her summary diagnosis.
“My objection is the traumatic brain injury,” said Kapoor. “I strongly disagree with the conclusion.”
Chad Larson showed Kapoor the final summary from the medical examiner that stated the cause of death was complications of blunt force trauma and that the manner of death was homicide. Larson said it did not state adrenal hemorrhage.
After several more questions, Chad Larson asked Kapoor, “Are you telling the jury that the injuries Mr. Hlinsky received were somehow unrelated to his death?”
Kapoor stated, “That is correct.”
After about a two and a half hour long recess, Chad Larson recalled the medical examiner, Dr. Strobl, to the witness stand.
She confirmed again that Hlinsky’s injuries were very serious, that he was intubated as a way to protect his airway, not because of intoxication and that at some point during his hospital stay he got pneumonia.
“Did you link his death to his head trauma,” Chad Larson asked the medical examiner, to which she replied, “Yes.”
She said he had documented known risk factors for adrenal hemorrhage, including the infection, severe stress because of the injuries and having surgery, and because he was on blood thinners.
“Adrenal hemorrhage is not what I listed as cause of death though,” Strobl stated. “It was complications of blunt force trauma.”
She said she disagreed with Dr. Kapoor as she was the one who did the autopsy on Hlinsky and that the adrenal hemorrhage is a direct consequence of the assault.
“Would he not have died had he not been assaulted?” Chad Larson asked Strobl.
“No,” she said.
Fairly good memory
Jason Kraft said that although he believes he was intoxicated the night of the incident, he has a fairly good memory of what happened.
Chad Larson asked Kraft to rate his level of intoxication using a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being pretty intoxicated. Kraft said he was at seven.
While on the witness stand, Kraft described the events of the evening as others had described it.
He said he had been in and out of the Muddy Boot bar that evening because he smoked and went outside for cigarette breaks.
Kraft said he did not hit, punch or kick Hlinsky but that he did see someone else do those things.
While outside with Traut and Kalina, he said the door busted open and Hlinsky and Jacob Larson came out. He said they were hockey punching each other. He said they separated briefly and then went back at it and the next thing he knew there were boots on the ground and that they were Hlinsky’s. Kraft said he didn’t see Hlinsky go down.
He also said that Kalina was standing next to him and that Traut never hit Hlinsky. He said it was just the defendant and Hlinsky hitting each other.
“When I saw Beaver, his nose was broken and he was full of blood,” said Kraft. “His eyes were blank and blood was coming out of his ears.”
Kraft said he stayed there and asked someone to get some towels. He said someone else was also trying to help Hlinsky. While he remained on the scene until law enforcement and medical personnel arrived, Kraft said Jacob Larson, Kalina and Traut all left.
In his cross examination, Peterson asked Kraft if he knew much about the company he worked for billing Traut Wells for the jobs they did. He said he didn’t. He asked if the company he works for has an association with Traut Wells and he said, yes, that they do business with them.
Kraft said he has been in Alexandria three times working on jobs since 2011 – twice for Traut Wells and once for Klimek Well Drilling. He said the relationship with Traut was mostly business, but also social.
When asked if there was conflict during the night in question, Kraft said everyone seemed to be getting along and that there was not any conflict.
Peterson questioned Kraft’s recollection of events during his time in the witness stand Tuesday compared to his recorded phone interview with investigators after the incident.
Peterson showed Kraft a copy of the transcript and asked him several questions about it. Kraft said he didn’t remember saying some of the items, including that at one point Traut had gotten up, which meant he must have been knocked down.
Kraft said there was a commotion of events and that everything happened so fast.
When Chad Larson re-examined Kraft, he asked if Kraft saw Traut fighting with Hlinsky to which he replied, “No.”
Both the state and the defense were done with their witnesses and rested their cases Tuesday afternoon. The trial will resume on Wednesday morning at 8:45 when the jury will be given their instructions and both attorneys will present their closing arguments.