Accused Croatian war criminal pleads not guilty in Minneapolis court

  • Article by: JIM ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 12, 2014 - 11:20 PM

He denies lying about his past on immigration documents.

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Jdenko Jakisa

Photo: Washington County Sheriff's Office,

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On a fall day in 1993, Nevenka Elezovic, a 62-year-old Serbian woman, was gunned down in a hail of AK-47 bullets while standing in front of her bedroom window in a war-scarred town near the Croatian border.

More than 20 years later in a courtroom in Minneapolis, Zdenko Jakiša, the man who was tried and convicted in absentia in Elezovic’s slaying, pleaded not guilty to charges that he lied on immigration documents for failing to disclose that killing and other crimes when he came to the United States as a declared refugee in 1998 with his wife, Anna.

The couple, who arrived under the sponsorship of a local church, operate a taxi service from their home in Forest Lake. Jakiša, 45, was arrested by federal authorities last week.

After an hourlong hearing in U.S. District Court on Monday that focused mostly on whether he should be released pending a trial set for July 14, he was freed on a $25,000 bond and ordered to comply with more than a dozen conditions that ensure he appears in court and poses no risk to the public.

Mike Plotnick, a special agent with the Homeland Security Investigations unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has been investigating Jakiša for four years in a case that has taken him all the way to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Plotnick testified Monday as to how Jakiša, a neighbor of Elezovic, had opened fire on her apartment, where a Bosnian Muslim man and a 12-year-old boy also lived. The man and boy raced to Elezovic’s side and, seeing her dying, fled out a back window, Plotnick said.

Once outside, they were confronted by Jakiša, an imposing man standing 6-feet-5. He allowed the boy to flee, but took the man back to his residence where he robbed and assaulted him.

After a standoff with police, Jakiša was arrested. But Plotnick said Jakiša later pulled out a hand grenade at the police station and threatened to pull the pin. Jakiša was eventually tried for his crimes, but never showed up at court. The original judge who tried the case withdrew fearing threats to her life, Plotnick said.

When applying as a refugee, Jakiša had acknowledged his service in the Yugoslav People’s Army, which was compulsory in the days of Communist rule, Plotnick said. But he never admitted to later being a member of the Croatian Defense Council (known as the HVO), or for being charged and convicted in Elezovic’s death or multiple crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the conflict there in the 1990s.

He was also indicted on a charge of “moral turpitude” in Bosnia, a legal term in U.S. immigration law encompassing a number of crimes that can lead to deportation. He is accused of lying both when he applied for refugee status and when he applied for lawful permanent residence, or his green card.

During most of the hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Janie Mayeron on Monday, attorneys argued over whether Jakiša should be released pending his July trial.

Prosecutor Ann Marie Ursini, pointing to Jakiša’s long criminal history in his homeland and after he arrived in the United States, argued that he was a safety threat and a flight risk.

In addition to several drunken-driving convictions and arrests for assault and resisting arrest, she said, Jakiša has a history of threatening behavior, including instances where he told a Forest Lake police officer, a Washington County deputy, his probation officer and a bouncer at a local bar that he would kill them.

But Reynaldo Aligada Jr., Jakiša’s public defender, pointed out that federal investigators have had Jakiša on their radar since 2010, and took no steps to take him into custody. Jakiša has been alcohol-free for seven years, he added, and both his green card and passport were confiscated during a search of Jakiša’s house stemming from a drug investigation in January. The house was searched again in mid-April, two weeks before Jakiša’s arrest, and he did not flee during that interval, Aligada argued.

Mayeron told Jakiša the allegations of lying on his application to immigrate and his history of violence “give me great concern” before spelling out more than a dozen conditions of his supervised release.

 

Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039

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