In chronological order, the five cases that Gaertner said made the biggest impression on her during her 26 years with the Ramsey County attorney's office:

• Prosecution of the killer of Shelby Pavlacky, 1989. The first case in Minnesota in which DNA evidence was presented to a jury. Gaertner was an assistant county attorney when she won a first-degree murder conviction against Brent Nielsen for sexually assaulting and strangling Pavlacky, 17. "I have kept in regular contact with Shelby's mother, Vicky," Gaertner said.

• Prosecution of John Patrick Murphy for tax evasion, 1993. Again, Gaertner was an assistant county attorney when she and her boss, Tom Foley, prosecuted Murphy, who had carried out a 15-year retaliation spree against judges and others who handled criminal cases against him. "We got our tires slashed twice by him," Gaertner said. "Do I need to say more?"

• The civil commitment of Dennis Linehan, 1995. The first case pursued under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act passed in 1994. Gaertner had been elected county attorney but put on her trial hat again. Linehan has been locked up almost continuously since 1965, after he kidnapped and killed Barbara Iversen, 14, of Shoreview.

• The exoneration of David Sutherland, the only person cleared of rape charges in Minnesota because of a prosecution-led DNA review, 2002. Sutherland also had been convicted of two murders, and he remains in prison.

• The prosecution of the killers of St. Paul police Sgt. Jerry Vick, St. Paul police officer James Sackett and Maplewood police Sgt. Joe Bergeron. "When a police officer dies, the whole community feels the loss," Gaertner said.