A Chisago County man, Aaron Schnagl, was found guilty of third-degree murder Friday evening for providing the cocaine that killed Danielle Jelinek.
In a related decision, the jury found him not guilty of concealing her body, which would have meant a stiffer prison sentence had he been convicted of that.
The verdict came about three hours after attorneys concluded their final arguments in a Chisago County courtroom, but four weeks after testimony began. Schnagl, now 31, admitted in court that he was a high-volume drug dealer. He is serving time in Rush City prison on a previous drug conviction.
“I’m really quite pleased,” prosecutor Nick Hydukovich said of the verdict. “It was an exceptionally long and difficult process.”
Defense attorney Melvin Welch said the verdict was a “mixed bag” but that Schnagl was relieved the jury rejected concealment — known as an “aggravating factor” — which could have meant 25 years in prison.
Before the jury deliberated, Hydukovich said in his final argument that Schnagl was protecting his livelihood as a drug dealer when he dumped Jelinek’s body in a pond after providing her with the cocaine that killed her.
“She was a woman whose enthusiasm for life was off the charts. To the defendant, she was just a crack whore,” Hydukovich said, quoting Schnagl himself from a letter he had written an acquaintance from jail.
Welch countered that Jelinek, 27, caused her own death after a night of drinking, drugs and sex at Schnagl’s house in Chisago Lake Township on Dec. 8, 2012.
“God rest her soul, Miss Jelinek used a lot of stimulants,” Welch said. “She was a liberated gal, she had all the opportunities anyone would want, but she was living a double life.”
Jelinek, of Oakdale, was missing for five months until her body was found in May 2013 in the pond, about 400 yards from Schnagl’s house. An autopsy showed cocaine and alcohol in her body.
Hydukovich told jurors that phone records showed Schnagl had arranged a cocaine buy in Minneapolis earlier on the day that Jelinek disappeared. After Schnagl’s business partner picked up the cocaine from the seller, Schnagl and Jelinek went to the partner’s house to get it, Hydukovich said.
“Cocaine played a substantial role in bringing about her death,” he said.
Hydukovich said Schnagl disposed of Jelinek’s body in the pond and then returned to his house, where he began a frantic effort to hide evidence because he knew the “legal consequences” of being caught with cocaine and other drugs.
If Schnagl hadn’t caused Jelinek’s death, Hydukovich said, he would have immediately notified police of her disappearance and wouldn’t have made excuses about being “extremely” drunk and confused the next day.
“He knows the death of Danielle Jelinek means the death of his [drug-dealing] business if he doesn’t get rid of the evidence,” Hydukovich said.
Welch told jurors that Hydukovich and co-prosecutor Ryan Flynn withheld evidence throughout the trial, produced unreliable witnesses and failed to tell the true story of Jelinek’s party life.
“Why can’t they tell you that a week before this happened she was stumbling drunk, falling down?” he said to jurors. He added that he couldn’t do justice to his client, Schnagl, “if I let you have this perfect picture of Miss Jelinek.”
Welch argued that despite her party habits Jelinek was “the belle of the ball,” vivacious and beautiful. Schnagl had been “romantically involved” with her for more than two years and wouldn’t have hurt her, Welch said.
“They built a case up that’s built on false evidence, false testimony,” he said of the prosecutors.
Hydukovich, in his rebuttal, said Welch was trying to distract the jury from evidence that Schnagl had caused Jelinek’s death, “directly or indirectly.” Either way, Hydukovich said, it would mean that Schnagl was guilty.
A sentencing date will be set Monday.