"We have a monster walking amongst us," Carolyn Kirk said Thursday, minutes after a jury returned a not-guilty verdict in the trial of Richard H. Ireland Jr., who was accused of brutally murdering Kirk's brother, Mark Shemukenas, more than 33 years ago.

The case, reopened in 2008 when St. Paul police got a federal grant to reinvestigate some cold cases, went to the jury shortly before noon Wednesday.

Defense attorney Lenny Castro said Ireland's reaction was "just thank-yous, a few tears, a lot of weight off his shoulders," Castro said.

Ireland, who had served 13 months in jail before being freed after the verdict, did not want to comment.

Castro said Thursday that he understands the family's anger.

"I can't imagine how difficult it was for that family to have to relive this," he said. "Yet I believe from the bottom of my heart that Mr. Ireland was innocent, is innocent, and a certain set of circumstances placed him at a bad place at a bad time."

Members of the victim's family were not appeased.

"It was that lost evidence, I know it, not a doubt in my mind," Jim Crider, Kirk's nephew and a cousin of Shemukenas, said before taking his sobbing aunt into his arms.

Crider was talking about swabs taken from various parts of the victim's body by the coroner. A former employee of the St. Paul police crime lab said he found seminal fluid on two of the three swabs. That evidence was lost some years ago, so it could not be tested for DNA.

"He is absolutely in no way innocent," Kirk said of Ireland. "That was his DNA. That scissors was on the bloody bed next to the knives that murdered my brother."

Of her brother, Kirk said, "He was a kind, gentle, loving person. He was a talented artist. He was probably kind to this murderer and this murderer did THIS to him."

Shemukenas, 30, had been bound and tortured and had bled to death. He likely was killed on May 10, 1977; his body was found the next day.

Ireland's DNA was found on the scissors, but it was a mixture that could have come from as many as 16 people, Castro told the jury in his closing argument on Wednesday.

A thumbprint found on a cabinet in the kitchen was matched to Ireland in 1983. At that time, he told police he didn't know the victim and hadn't been to his apartment in the 1900 block of Chelton Avenue in St. Paul's Hamline-Midway neighborhood. He told investigators the same thing in 2009.

Castro acknowledged in his closing argument that Ireland may have had a one-night stand with Shemukenas at some point, but he doesn't recall it.

Castro, who drove Ireland to transitional housing Thursday evening, said: "It's days like this that just reinvigorate you to do what we do. Just reinforces my faith in the jury system and in the justice system."

Pat Pheifer • 612-741-4992