State, defense rest their cases in Knapp murder trial

Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Thomas Knapp

PLYMOUTH CO. — A video of Thomas Knapp in a Merrill police car was part of the evidence viewed by jurors Friday, Sept. 9, in the first degree murder trial of Knapp.

Knapp is charged with killing his son-in-law, Kevin Juzek, at their home on Echo Road on May 11, 2020.

Mike Van Otterloo, who was sheriff at the time of the shooting, testified there were several law enforcement officers on the scene before he arrived.

Upon his arrival, Van Otterloo said officers were still attempting to find out if there still was or had been a threat.

“I was informed by Deputy Cabney and DOT Officer Berry that there were two individuals detained at that point, and they were sitting in two separate vehicles,” Van Otterloo said. “One was a female who was possibly a victim and the other was Mr. Knapp.”

When asked if he was told if Knapp was a victim or a suspect, Van Otterloo said, “I believe it was mentioned that he may be a suspect.”

Plymouth County District Attorney Darin Raymond then asked if Van Otterloo had a chance to talk to Knapp.

“I did. He was sitting in the back seat of the Merrill police department vehicle. I approached him then, opened the door, and began a conversation with him,” Van Otterloo said.

He began by introducing himself as the sheriff.

“Tom, do you know why we’re here today?” Van Otterloo asked Knapp.

“I shot my son-in-law... he’s been doing that ever since he’s been out here. I’m a decent person. I wouldn’t do that unless it was necessary.”

“Tom before you go any further, I have to advise you of your rights, OK,” Van Otterloo said.

At that point, Van Otterloo read Knapp his Miranda rights and asked him if he understood them.

“Do you understand what your rights are?” Van Otterloo said.

“What?” Knapp replied.

“Do you understand your constitutional rights as I’ve explained them to you?” Van Otterloo said.

“Yeah,” Knapp said.

After a pause, Van Otterloo asked, “So what started this Tom?”

“Oh he’s been bugging me ever since he’s been out here,” Knapp said. “. . . The last thing he took the damn bird bath down.”

“So today you had enough of it?” said Van Otterloo.

“You can only take so much,” Knapp replied.

“Why did you shoot him Tom?” asked Van Otterloo.

“Because he was attacking me. He was jerking on the door, and he had a plastic thing and he was gonna hit me with it,” Knapp said.

Shortly after that exchange, the video showed Knapp getting out of the car to be taken to the Law Enforcement Center.

Next on the stand was Kyle Williams, Correctional Officer with the Plymouth County Jail.

He explained the duties of processing and booking an individual into jail.

Some of the questions asked of the individual is name, address, making a physical description, employment history and a series of medical questions.

Raymond asked if Williams was wearing a body camera through the jail booking process.

Williams said he was. He also said the video was accurate about what happened that day.

One of the questions Williams asked was, “Are you feeling so bad about how things are going you believe you there is no way to make your life work right?”

“Make my life better? Write it down,” Knapp replied.

The video played for the jury showed Williams writing the question on paper and handing it Knapp.

After reading it, Knapp replied, “How can I, I just shot the rottenest son of a bitch that ever lived. I should have a reward.”

“Are you thinking about committing suicide?” Williams asked.

“No,” Knapp replied.

Defense attorney Wendy Samuelson questioned that even while yelling questions at Knapp, Williams had to write questions down for him.

On redirect, Raymond asked about the booking room, which is large and made of concrete, with acoustics different than in an interview room.

Williams said he did not mind writing the longer questions out.

The third and final witness of the morning was Darlene Knapp, who at the time of the incident, was married to Thomas Knapp. According to court records, the couple’s dissolution of marriage was final on Aug. 9, 2021.

Raymond asked about Darlene’s family, her first marriage to Marvin Juzek, who is deceased, and her son, Kevin, who was living with the couple in May 2020.

Darlene acknowledged the couple had separate bedrooms, and Thomas also had a place in the basement where he kept items.

She testified after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the two had separate bedrooms.

“He always said I snored. Actually he snored, too,” she said.

Later she testified that Thomas never really liked Kevin, and even Kevin tried to get along with him.

Raymond asked if Tom ever said Kevin was doing something with electronics to bother him.

Darlene said she tried to check, but never heard anything.

Darlene related on the day of the shooting, she was up early and was making breakfast, which she ate with Tom.

She said Kevin was up next and wanted to talk with her about Jesus.

“Then he had pictures of my great-granddaughter and we talked about that,” she said, adding Kevin was in a good mood.

When Thomas came in, he sat at the kitchen table by the window, when he said something about the bird bath being knocked over.

She added she told him the raccoons probably knocked it over.

Thomas went out to set the bird bath up, and then returned to the house. Darlene was unsure of where Kevin went.

A bit later, Darlene took a water jug to Thomas’s bedroom.

She indicated when she went into the room, Thomas was pretty mad, doubled his fist, and kept hitting her. She fell over a small stand and hit the wall.

“Then he was pulling my hair,” she said.

He also hit her with a stick, like a broomstick.

“I just saw the stick coming to me,” she said. “He hit my hand, broke some fingers.”

Raymond entered several photos of Darlene’s injuries into evidence which the jury viewed on a screen.

She continued that Kevin came to the bedroom door and saw what Tom had done.

“Kevin told me to call 911,” she said, as he held the door shut to Tom’s bedroom.

Darlene was on the phone with the dispatcher while walking back and forth to see what was happening.

She then saw Kevin come into the living room, holding his stomach.

“He told me Tom shot him,” she said.

She continued that Tom came out and kicked Kevin, and said, “You’re still alive.”

Darlene said Kevin’s last words were, “Oh no.”

She said she then saw the second gunshot from the dining room.

“I’ll never forget it,” she said of seeing Kevin shot.

On cross examination, defense attorney Wendy Samuelson asked if Kevin helped around the house. Darlene said he did.

“During (cancer) treatments, Tom took you to treatments?” Samuelson asked.

Darlene said he did.

Referring to the morning in question, Samuelson asked if Thomas said anything when Darlene came to the bedroom.

“No, he just let me have it,” she said.

After Darlene left the courtroom, Raymond said the state rests its case.

Shortly after, the defense also rested its case.

The jury was then instructed by Judge James Daane to not discuss the case with anyone, and to keep an open mind until the case is submitted to them. They were then dismissed from the courtroom.

The case was to resume at 9 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 13.

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