In another twist in an already unusual case, a Lakeville mother chose on Wednesday to serve up to eight months in prison rather than six years of probation for hiding her two teenage daughters from their father for more than two years.
It’s a sentence the father says leaves him in fear for the girls.
A jury found Sandra Grazzini-Rucki guilty in July of six counts of felony deprivation of parental rights. Judge Karen Asphaug sentenced her Wednesday to six years probation and annual stints of 15 days in jail until 2022, to be served on the anniversary that her daughters were found.
Instead, after the hearing when the courtroom was cleared, Grazzini-Rucki chose to execute a prison sentence in lieu of the probation and jail time. She could serve up to 233 days in prison, but with good behavior she will likely be released from the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Shakopee after five months. Another court hearing will need to be held to finalize that sentence.
When she’s released she will not be on probation or under any monitoring. That worries her ex-husband, David Rucki.
“In my mind, you want a level of accountability to be held on top of her,” he said. “I fear she’ll see this as a victory for her.”
That’s not how he felt Wednesday morning when he left the Dakota County courthouse, where he gave an impassioned plea for Asphaug to give Grazzini-Rucki “the highest sentence permitted.”
“Sandy no longer understands what it means to be a parent, and therefore I don’t think she understands what she’s taken from me, or more importantly, my children,” he said.
Asphaug said she was “deeply affected” by Rucki’s statement before ordering the probation and jail time for Grazzini-Rucki.
“He described the defendant’s actions as annihilation of a family,” she said. “Truer words have never been spoken.”
One of Grazzini-Rucki’s attorneys, Stephen Grigsby, said she chose prison to get the sentence over with rather than stretch it out over six years.
Grazzini-Rucki will also have to pay $10,000 in restitution and two fines of $944 — a dollar for each day that each of her daughters were missing.
Days after the girls ran away in April 2013 in the midst of a tumultuous divorce between their parents, Grazzini-Rucki and her friend Dede Evavold drove them to a horse ranch near Herman, Minn.
The ranch was run by Doug and Gina Dahlen, who were sympathetic to Grazzini-Rucki’s claims that the family court system failed her children.
The Dahlens and Evavold also face felony charges of deprivation of parental rights for allegedly helping to hide the girls.
Before they disappeared, the sisters, now 18 and 16, repeatedly accused their father of abuse, but a court-appointed psychologist concluded that Grazzini-Rucki had brainwashed them, and a judge granted full custody to David Rucki.
The girls moved back in with their father around Christmas and returned to school. Rucki said Wednesday they are still readjusting to being back home.
After Wednesday’s sentencing, one of Grazzini-Rucki’s attorneys, Michelle MacDonald, read a letter she said her client wrote the night before the hearing. Grazzini-Rucki expressed no regret or remorse for hiding her daughters, instead defending her actions.
“Now I’m paying the price for doing what any loving parent would do for their children, protect them from harm,” MacDonald read.
Television and still cameras captured the sentencing, more than a year after the state Supreme Court ordered in 2015 that judges must allow cameras into sentencings and other post-conviction proceedings “absent good cause” that those hearings should be closed.