A Chisago County jury on Tuesday convicted Eric J. Coleman of third-degree murder in the drunken snowmobile crash that killed 8-year-old Alan Geisenkoetter on Chisago Lake.
It took the jury just four hours to reach a unanimous decision in an emotional case that changed state law long before the trial began.
Coleman was found guilty on all seven counts, including drunken driving and vehicular homicide, nearly a year after hitting the second-grader at 60 miles per hour while the boy set up a fish house on the frozen lake with his family. He died a few days later.
Flanked by relatives outside the courthouse, Alan Geisenkoetter Sr. called the verdict bittersweet.
“There’s a possibility that [Alan] gave his life to save countless others,” he told reporters. His wife, Eleanor Geisenkoetter, said she was relieved by the decision but pained by the process.
“It’s been awful, nothing I wanted to relive,” she said, wiping away tears.
On Jan. 26, Coleman plowed through the Wyoming, Minn., family’s ice fishing camp, injuring Alan Geisenkoetter Sr., and dragging little Alan about 100 feet. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was removed from life support five days later.
Coleman’s blood alcohol level was 0.165 three hours after the crash, more than twice the legal limit, prosecutors said. He had been charged with drunken driving three other times, had his license revoked and had an ignition-locking system placed on his vehicle.
“He has left a dark spot in our family’s lives,” Alan’s grandmother, Marybeth Lonnee, told the Star Tribune this summer. “He took a boy full of love, full of happiness, full of curiosity.”
That boy loved the outdoors and anything that ran with a motor — boats, lawn mowers, leaf blowers and electric mixers. Alan always vacuumed the house when he came to visit, Lonnee said.
During the trial, prosecutors accused Coleman of driving recklessly in the dark, without any “regard for human life,” according to Fox 9 news.
Coleman, 45, of Chisago City, testified in court that he is an alcoholic and conceded that he was guilty on all other charges, but not of murder. Defense attorney Mike Berger, who fought for an acquittal on the murder charge, told the court, “It is a bridge too far that he developed a depraved mind,” according to Fox 9 news reports.
“It’s a tough situation,” Berger told the media following the verdict. “This is something everybody, the Geisenkoetters and Mr. Coleman will struggle with the rest of their lives … At least it provides some closure for all the families.”
Even before its resolution, the case had big implications for Minnesota drivers.
In August, state lawmakers passed “Little Alan’s Law,” a measure that banned people convicted of driving drunk in a motor vehicle from operating a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle or boat. It closed a loophole in state law.
Under the new law, people convicted of a DWI while driving any vehicle, or those who refuse a field sobriety test, will lose their licenses and be prohibited from operating recreational vehicles for a year.
Additionally, first-time DWI offenders operating a snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle or boat will now be subject to the same chemical usage assessment, conditional release and plate impoundments as those caught driving drunk on the road.
Coleman’s release conditions were revoked after the jury read the verdict. He is being held in the Chisago County jail.
Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 7. The third-degree murder charge carries a recommended sentence of 12½ years in prison.