THIEF RIVER FALLS, MINN. – Jedidiah Troxel spoke the first words at his murder trial Tuesday — its final day — just before being sent to prison for life.
When asked by Judge Donald Aandal whether he had a reply to statements from his victim's family, Troxel said, simply, "No."
In a case that has riveted this town of 8,700, Troxel, 32, of Crookston, was found guilty by a jury Tuesday of three counts of first-degree murder involving criminal sexual conduct in the brutal stabbing of Tanya Kazmierczak. By law, the only penalty is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
"You have your life left," Aandal told Troxel, "but it's your soul that is in jeopardy. What you do with that is up to you."
The sentence came three weeks to the day after jury selection began here, the seat of Pennington County, and a little more than 14 months after Kazmierczak's half-naked body was found in the mud near the Red Lake River by a fisherman.
Troxel used to live in the mobile home park where Kazmierczak, 40, resided with her husband, Jeff, and their children, Jordan, 21, Matthew, 19, and Katelynn, 14. It was there that an all-night party ended early on Aug. 25, 2012. Tanya Kazmierczak was last seen talking with Troxel near his car, prosecutors said.
A search conducted by friends, relatives and police the rest of that day turned up nothing. Then, just before noon on Aug. 26, her body was found near Smiley Bridge southeast of town.
No weapon, no motive
She had been stabbed 22 times in the chest and 37 times total, an autopsy showed. A 3- to 4-inch gash had opened her windpipe, Ramsey County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Michael McGee testified. Defensive wounds on her arms showed she died fighting her attacker.
Troxel was the only serious suspect, police said. His semen was found during a sexual assault swab as part of Kazmierczak's autopsy, and her blood was found on the gearshift of his car.
A murder weapon never materialized, nor did a motive. Troxel's defense team of Kip Fontaine and Scott Collins argued Tuesday that the DNA evidence against Troxel proved only that he had sex with Kazmierczak, and not that he raped and killed her.
They declined to discuss the verdict.
Jeff Kazmierczak, as he had done many times during the trial, held his face in his hands Tuesday as pictures of his wife's body flashed on screens in court. They were just some of the many brutal images jurors have viewed during the trial. Jeff Kazmierczak has been trying to protect his family, particularly his youngest child, Katelynn, from not only the gruesome photos, but from the scrutiny of the small town's rumor mill.
"I've been fortunate to be able to shield [Katelynn] from it as best as I could," Jeff Kazmierczak said.
As he spoke, Troxel was being led out a back door of the courthouse to a waiting police vehicle. For a short moment, the killer and the man whose wife he murdered were separated by seven stairs.
What her daughter lost
Katelynn Kazmierczak never spoke in court, but she penned a statement that was read by her brother, Matthew.
In it, the 14-year-old said exactly what losing her mother meant to her — not having her there for proms, dates, wearing makeup for the first time, the "birds-and-the-bees talk every parent ruins" and her eventual wedding day.
"All of these were stolen from her," Katelynn wrote in the third person. "Her mother was buried on her 13th birthday."
After the verdict, Jeff Kazmierczak said he and his family are "looking to get back to something we can call normal."
That family includes a 4-month-old grandson whom Tanya Kazmierczak never met.