Knapp found guilty of first degree murder
PLYMOUTH CO. — Less than two hours after closing arguments Tuesday morning, the jury in the first degree murder trial of Thomas J. Knapp, 84, of Merrill, came back with a verdict of guilty.
Knapp was found guilty of first degree murder, a Class C felony, in the shooting death of his stepson, Kevin Juzek, on May 10, 2020, at the family’s home at 20139 Echo Road, rural Merrill.
The jury also found Knapp guilty on the following counts:
Count 2 - Willful injury, causing serious injury, a Class C Felony;
Count 3 - Willful injury, causing serious injury, a Class C felony;
Count 5 - Domestic Abuse Assault causing bodily injury, a serious misdemeanor;
Count 6 - Domestic Abuse Assault causing bodily injury, a serious misdemeanor.
The jury found Knapp not guilty on Count 4, Domestic Abuse Assault, while using or displaying a dangerous weapon, an aggravated misdemeanor.
The charges in counts 3-6 are for acts against Darlene Knapp, Juzek’s mother and Knapp’s wife.
The charge of first degree murder carries a mandatory life in prison without parole.
Third District Court Judge James N. Daane thanked the jurors for their service before dismissing them from the courtroom.
Sentencing has been set for 11 a.m., Friday, Oct. 7, in Plymouth County District Court.
Knapp will continue to be held at the Plymouth County Jail, and bond has been revoked.
Daane opened Tuesday’s proceedings with instructions to the jury followed by closing statements by both sides.
In his closing statements Tuesday, Plymouth County Attorney Darin Raymond included a PowerPoint presentation.
Raymond said, “The Jury Instructions tell you in several places to consider the evidence using your ‘reason’ and ‘common sense,’” he said. “With all of the jury instructions the most important thing we ask you to do in your consideration of the evidence and deliberations is to use your good reasoning and common sense in applying the evidence to law.”
Raymond proceeded with the PowerPoint to walk jurors through the sequence of events that led to the beating of Darlene Knapp and the shooting of Juzek, both by Thomas Knapp.
Jurors again heard the two 911 calls by Darlene for help for her son.
Kevin staggered to the living room, where he collapsed on the floor. Knapp followed, and according to Raymond, said “You’re not dead yet,” and then shot Kevin again, this time in the chest, which was a lethal injury which resulted in his death.
They heard a portion of the interview between Plymouth County Deputy Scott Dorhout and Thomas Knapp at the law enforcement center.
In that interview, Knapp talked about electronic noises Kevin used to bother him, and that his wife came to his bedroom that morning saying she wanted a divorce.
“You can tell by statements about Kevin, although never using his name, he uses words such as ‘worthless’ to ‘a son of a bitch’ and more, being pretty venomous throughout. I don’t think you ever hear from him a single word of remorse or regret,” Raymond said.
Knapp told Dorhout the gun he used was under the bed, “in case you need it if robbers come in or something.”
Raymond continued that Knapp had choices that morning, and that he got the shotgun out from under the bed “with malice.” He also noted, there was no self defense instruction from the judge in the instructions, and the evidence not only shows malice but premeditation.
Defense attorney Wendy Samuelson turned the jury’s attention to several of the jury instructions.
“The heart of this case lies in this element,” she said. “The shooting was done solely by reason of sudden, violent and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation.”
As far as the gun, it was already in the bedroom as Kevin held the door shut. “We don’t know if it was loaded or not,” Samuelson said.
She reminded the jury members that the incident occurred in the beginning weeks of the pandemic, and the family members had not been to town for about six weeks.
Samuelson also referred to the interviews by law enforcement officials.
“Tom’s statements to law enforcement don’t show premeditation. They show the continued influence of this serious altercation ... that he faced being told he was being kicked out of his house ... Kevin holding him prisoner in his room,” Samuelson said. “He was still agitated when interviewed at the scene and at the station.
“You can consider those statements just as if Tom had testified and made those statements here in court,” she continued.
It was also noted the defendant decided not to testify.
“The defendant is not required to testify, and no inference of guilt shall be drawn from that fact,” Samuelson said. “The burden of proof remains upon the State to prove the guilt of the defendant.”
Raymond returned to podium to give a final word to the jurors.
“I submit that Thomas Knapp did commit first degree murder with malice and deliberation,” Raymond said. “You must hold the defendant accountable and find him guilty on all counts.”
Following the closing arguments, and with final instructions, the jury members went to the jury room to begin deliberations shortly after noon, and reached a verdict before 2 p.m., on Tuesday.
Jury selection began Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 9:30 a.m., and continued into Wednesday. Opening statements were presented by the prosecution and defense that afternoon.
The jury heard testimony from witnesses Thursday and into Friday morning, with both the prosecution and defense resting their case about noon.