Defiant convicted murderer curses victims' families

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2008 - 10:44 PM

A jury convicted Dontaro Riddley for two execution-style murders outside a Minneapolis bar last April. As he was escorted out of the courtroom, he cursed his victims' families.

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Renee LaClair, a friend of murder victims Richard Christianson and Michael Trinity, talked about the guilty verdict against Dontaro Riddley, announced Tuesday. Riddley faces a life term in prison for the crimes.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Dontaro Riddley cursed the families of his two victims Tuesday shortly after he was convicted of killing the men on their two-block walk home from a neighborhood bar in north Minneapolis last April.

Riddley sat quietly as Hennepin County District Judge Philip Bush read four guilty verdicts in the execution-style slayings of Richard Christianson, 35, and Michael Trinity, 43. But when prosecutors and defense attorneys tried to set a sentencing date to accommodate the victims' families, Riddley erupted. "I want to make the sentencing date, not them. It's my sentencing date," he said, cursing the family.

"Donny, don't," several members of his family urged, but he continued until Bush ordered him removed. Riddley continued swearing as he left. "[Expletive] your family."

The courtroom was packed with family, Riddley's as well as family and friends of the two victims. Sentencing was set for March 19, but there's no leeway: Riddley will get life without parole because he was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder.

The defense argued that Riddley didn't shoot the men and that two friends who were with him that night concocted a tale to let him take the fall. Mattea Thurman and Deonsae D. Guilmant, who have a child together, have been convicted on related charges. Both testified against Riddley.

He confessed to friends

Some of the most compelling testimony came from two women who are friends of all three. Thurman, Guilmant and Riddley went to their home in the Camden neighborhood after the killings and disposed of evidence in the alley trash.

Guilmant and Thurman then went back to the scene, called police and said they had found two bodies. They were immediately taken in for questioning. Riddley went back to the women's home and told them he had shot two men, the women said.

Another witness, Robert Schluter, testified that he was stopped on his way home from Waldo's Bar that night by three people. He couldn't identify them, but he said he was made to remove his shoes and kneel down. He said a gunman in a black hoodie put a revolver between his eyes but let him go.

About 11 p.m., the bodies of Trinity and Christianson were found, barefoot, in the alley behind 4743 N. 6th St. Police said the men, chosen at random, had given up their wallets before they were forced to kneel to the ground and were each shot once in the head.

According to the women to whom Riddley confessed, he shot Trinity because he believed he was moving to pull out a badge or gun. He said he shot Christianson so he wouldn't leave a witness. Witnesses said Riddley was wearing a black hoodie that night.

After the verdicts, Renee LaClair sobbed as she clung to Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Charles Gerlach. The two men were living at her house the night they were killed. "There's a big load taken off everyone's shoulders," she said. "This has been a nightmare for everyone involved."

Waldo's Bar now Rachael's

In north Minneapolis, bartender Russell Rotzien leaned over the bar at Rachael's, formerly Waldo's, to hear a visitor announce the verdict. "I couldn't imagine that it would have been anything else," he said. "It's a good thing."

Rotzien was tending bar the night Christianson and Trinity were gunned down and remembers the numb feeling that enveloped him days after the killings. "I kept seeing their faces," he said.

Christianson was a Waldo's regular, Rotzien said. The two came in that night for a drink and watched the Wild game. "I remember them saying they had to leave because they had to work in the morning so I told them I would see them next time," Rotzien said.

News of the killings shocked the bar's regulars, he said. "We're a neighborhood bar and families come in here," Rotzien said. It's a place where everyone knows everyone's face, if not their name, and they watch out for one another, he said.

"[The shooting] was so ridiculous. So unnecessary," he said.

City Council President Barbara Johnson came to court for the verdict. She lives in and represents the area. "It was just so senseless and violent, just obscene," she said. "I'm glad the verdict was what it was. It will give some comfort to the community."

Gerlach, who prosecuted the case along with Alan Harris, said, "The jury heard our story and made an appropriate decision."

Defense lawyers Michael Holland and Jane Imholte had little to say about the verdict. Their client had been offered a deal by prosecutors in which he would have been eligible for release with good behavior after 36 years. He declined.

Staff writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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  • Bartender Russell Rotzien was working the night Christianson and Trinity were murdered.

  • Michael Trinity

  • Richard Christianson

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