Before the verdict was read Wednesday, both attorneys presented their final arguments.
Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson said establishing the outcome of his case was no easy task because it required jury members to look through closed doors.
He told them that at the beginning of the trial, which started Thursday, Jan. 9. And he repeated it during his closing statements.
Chad Larson is the prosecutor in the case against Jacob Larson, 34, of Kensington, who is 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.
Jacob 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.
Chad Larson said that justice can only be met with reason and common sense in fairness to Hlinsky’s family and fairness to the defendant’s family and his lawyer.
“I presented evidence the best I know how,” he said. “Back on May 5, 2018, Mr. Hlinsky was brutally assaulted and at that time, he had eight days to live. This brutal assault is what killed him.”
Chad Larson told jury members they had to look through closed doors because the assault had happened after the door to the bar closed, leaving Hlinsky and the defendant outside where no video surveillance captured the incident.
However, the prosecutor said what is known is that it took eight seconds for that assault to happen and video from inside the bar showed the defendant wrapping his arm around Hlinsky’s head and neck just before the door closed.
Chad Larson said it was in those eight seconds that Hlinsky only had the ability to live no more than eight days.
“How do we look through that closed door?” Chad Larson asked. “With God-given common sense, witnesses and technology.”
The prosecutor said a starting point was needed and there was no doubt he was assaulted. He also said Hlinsky was walking and talking inside the bar until that door slammed shut, until Jacob Larson put him in a headlock.
Calling up a photo that was taken at the hospital shortly after the incident, Chad Larson told the jury that shortly after that door closed, “Hlinsky looked like this.”
What matters in the case, said Chad Larson, is the evidence and the testimony and that he was confident the evidence and witnesses would prove that Jacob Larson is guilty.
He told the jury that what attorneys said was not evidence and that jurors had to rely on what they heard from witnesses and what they saw in the photos and the videos.
Larson went over each of his witnesses testimonies in detail for the jurors. He said Scott Roers, a friend of Hlinsky who was sitting at the bar with him, testified that Troy Traut, a co-defendant in the case who pleaded guilty to the fifth-degree assault charge in exchange for his testimony, got into an argument with Hlinsky. And that when Traut grabbed Hlinsky’s beer bottle, threw it against the wall breaking it and tipped over Hlinsky’s cup, Hlinsky just sat there. Hlinsky didn’t try to start a fight.
He also said that Roers testified that Jacob Larson blew marijuana smoke into his and Hlinsky’s face. Chad Larson said Roers testified that Hlinsky was not being aggressive, wasn’t trying to start a fight and that he simply was trying to get Larson out of the bar because he was smoking marijuana.
Chad Larson said it was up to the jury to decide if Hlinsky was “aggressively pointing” for the defendant to leave.
“He just wanted him (the defendant) to leave,” Chad Larson said. “He didn’t want to go outside to fight. He was rather pulled outside.”
Chad Larson made several other points based on what the witnesses said, including:
Hlinsky was to the left of the door, laying on the sidewalk incapacitated.
A first responder on the scene,Travis Habiger, who knew Hlinsky well, couldn’t recognize that it was him lying on the ground.
The bartender, Carrie Goulet, said Hlinsky was her friend and called him her protector. She said Hlinsky was the gambling manager for the Muddy Boot and that he was trying to protect her that night by trying to escort Jacob Larson out of the bar. She never heard Hlinsky threaten either Traut or Hlinsky, which Chad Larson said was “pretty important” in this case.
Traut asked for the bartender or someone to call 911 and that the defendant, at no point, made that request.
No blood was found on Roers’ truck except for the tire. Blood wasn’t present on the grill or the front of the truck.
Traut entered into an agreement to testify against his friend and that his testimony was consistent with the evidence and that the defendant’s version is not true.
Frank Kalina testified that at no point did Traut kick or punch anyone, including Hlinsky, and that Traut was by the bumper of the truck and the defendant was by Hlinsky, which was consistent with other testimony. It was also consistent with photos and other evidence. It was consistent with everyone's testimony except that of the defendant.
Chad Larson noted several times that Jacob Larson texted his friend, Kalina, “No one touched anyone. You know nothing.” He asked the jurors to really think about that and asked why Jacob Larson would have sent that.
“Was it because he was afraid his friend, Frank, would say something,” said Chad Larson. “You need to rely on common sense with this stuff.”
Chad Larson said Jacob Larson assaulted Hlinsky and that it was not premeditated, but that it was vicious and cost Hlinsky his life.
The testimony by Angelique Quinn Strobl, the chief medical examiner at the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office in Ramsey, is essential to the case, said the prosecutor. He said it links the assault to the death. He said the medical examiner testified that Hlinsky would not have died had he not been assaulted.
The medical examiner said the cause of death was from complications of blunt force head injuries and that the manner was homicide.
Chad Larson said the defense’s witness, Vibhu Kapoor, a board certified radiologist who works at a hospital in Sartell, “missed the boat” and that he didn’t understand when the medical examiner talked about traumatic brain injury and adrenal hemorrhage. There are a number of risk factors for adrenal hemorrhage and traumatic brain injury is one.
“Adrenal hemorrhage is not a superseding cause,” Chad Larson said. “It was a result of the assault. He (Hlinsky) was dying for eight days.”
Fight did not cause death
When Jacob Larson’s defense attorney, Todd Peterson, addressed the juror for his closing arguments, he said he understood it could have been hard to pay attention but that it was critically important for both the state and his client.
He reminded them that the evidence only comes from the witness stand and other evidence. Peterson said he certainly disagreed with the prosecutor and his description of evidence. He said just because someone repeats a word, like headlock, it doesn’t make it so. He asked the jurors to consider the evidence.
Peterson also asked the jurors to use the same amount of vigor when deciding the outcome of the case as they would use to tackle their own financial affairs.
He there were two things for them to consider – was it self-defense and did the fight cause Hlinsky’s death?
He told them to assess the credibility of witnesses and to think about their motives, friendships, bias and business connections.
Peterson told the jurors if his client acted in self-defense, he would not be guilty of any of the charges.
With self-defense, he said a person has cause to use reasonable force to defend themselves, although at first, they need to retreat if they can.
“We submit that he was being assaulted. I conclude that Hlinsky was assaulting him,” said Peterson. “He (his client) was being thrown out of the bar. He was pushed a minimum of three times. Hlinsky was yelling at him. Hlinsky was aggressively pointing at him. Hlinsky was very drunk. Three times the legal limit.”
When a person is that drunk, Peterson said they can make poor decisions, they can go off and that Hlinsky continued to push his client out of the bar.
“Hlinsky threw the first punch,” Peterson said. “He started a drunken bar fight and because of that he lost his life. He had to be intubated to protect him, not because of the injuries.”
Peterson contended that his client was in a relaxed mood, a party mood, and that he didn’t yell or point or push. He said when Hlinsky punched first, his client reached for his balance, inadvertently grabbing Hlinsky. He said there was mutual grabbing, mutual punching and there were hockey punches being thrown.
Peterson said Traut blindsided Hlinsky and put him down, not his client. He also said that the only testimony to his client kicking Hlinsky came from Traut.
“What evidence is there of kicking?” asked Peterson. “Think about his (Traut’s) motive. He’s been given an amazing deal. He is the only person that said kicking. Do you think that’s true? As the kicking occurred, Traut said everyone was saying, ‘Stop.’ Not a single person said they said stop. Only Traut. There is no physical evidence of kicking. It’s a fabrication. There actually was no kicking.”
Peterson said that it’s not true that what is fair for Traut is fair for Larson because Traut is more culpable. Traut participated in the altercation and doesn’t have a self-defense claim.
“Mr. Larson has a legitimate claim. He was being assaulted,” said Peterson. “I would ask that you find my client not guilty because of self defense.”
Peterson reiterated his claim that traumatic brain injury doesn’t cause adrenal hemorrhage and that was the cause of Hlinsky’s death.
“This fight did not cause death. He simply passed away,” said Peterson. “Has the state proved this case beyond a reasonable doubt? I would ask that you find that Jacob Larson did not cause his death.”
During his rebuttal to Todd Peterson’s closing arguments, Chad Larson said it was not a fight, but an assault that turned deadly. It was assault because Hlinsky was on the ground getting stomped on.
Chad Larson said Hlinsky didn’t have the “wherewithal” to get mad when medical personnel had to intubate him and the intubation wasn’t because he was being belligerent and combative because of alcohol. It was a medical intervention to treat a head injury.
“Look at the extent of the injuries,” he said. “We had multiple injuries not consistent with a bar fight. This was an assault that ended up taking a life.”
Chad Larson asked the jurors what they had seen in terms of evidence of self-defense. He said they had nothing.
He again stated that the medical examiner, who is board certified to determine cause and manner of someone’s death and does it on a daily basis, said Hlinsky died as a direct result of the injuries he sustained in the assault.
“This case is not about a paper cut, it’s about a brutal attack that killed Steven Hlinsky,” Chad Larson stated. “You are being asked to look beyond that door. I would ask that you find Jacob Elmo Larson guilty as charged.”