BUFFALO, Minn. – Dressed in orange and green prison garb, Christopher Besser apologized to his family in a Wright County courtroom, almost incomprehensible as he sobbed.
“I’m sorry for all the pain and suffering I have caused you,” he said. “Ultimately, I know there is nothing I can say or do to relieve your suffering. I’ll never forget what I have done, the lives I have taken from you, the pain I have caused you.”
Wright County District Judge Katherine Mottl sentenced the 22-year-old St. Michael man to 60 years in prison for shooting his older brother and their father, an Elk River police officer.
Rather than serve two life sentences, Besser pleaded guilty to second-degree intentional murder for the May 9, 2015, killings of 49-year-old Todd Besser and 27-year-old Blake Besser at the brothers’ home in St. Michael. Besser’s family approved the plea bargain.
“Normally in cases like this we would have the victim’s family on one side of the courtroom and the defendant’s family on the other, but today they are one and the same,” Mottl said. “This has been as overwhelming as the act was horrible.”
About 30 people attended the sentencing, including family members, friends and several Elk River police officers, nearly all of them in tears.
Besser’s aunt, Amy Nickoloff, spoke on behalf of his mother who lives in North Carolina.
“You needed help, and I didn’t know how much or how much you were suffering,” Nickoloff said. “I support you, Chris. I forgive you, Chris. And I love you.”
In other victim impact statements, Besser’s family stressed the importance of forgiveness. In her statement, Todd Besser’s widow, Gwen, described her grief as a life sentence.
“In one quick second you silenced a voice we could depend on,” she said. “You took away my dreams, my world and the love of my life.
“He did nothing to deserve this. None of us did. The only thing he was guilty of was loving you,” she said. “Christopher, your dad loves you, I love you, and we forgive you.”
In her remarks, the judge expressed sympathy, especially to family and friends in attendance.
“I wanted to come up with a way to tell you things were going to be different in the future. I can’t do that,” she told Christopher Besser. “This has been as overwhelming as the act was horrible.”
Prosecutors said Besser was angry with his father’s expectations of him and “just lost it,” shooting him in the back of the head with a hunting rifle kept in the home.
Besser waited for his brother to return home and shot him in the kitchen. He tried to wipe the prints off the rifle before putting it back and walking out as Blake Besser lay dying, on the phone with police, the judge recounted.
Besser was arrested at a QuikTrip in nearby Monticello less than an hour later. He called 911 from the store and explained what he did, according to the criminal complaint. He said that he shot his brother because he didn’t want to leave a witness.
Blake Besser’s girlfriend of almost seven years, Laure Zumbusch, said she hasn’t been able to forgive Christopher as quickly as the rest of the family.
“It’s too hard to talk about,” Zumbusch said. “It’s going to take some time, but eventually I’ll get there.”
Todd Besser was a 16-year veteran of the Elk River police force who had just completed a four-year stint as a liaison officer in the city’s public schools.
“I keep mulling over how this could’ve happened, something must have set it off,” said Jan Eriksen, Besser’s maternal grandmother. “This is the kind of thing you read about in the paper. It’s not supposed to happen to your family.”
Staff writer Karen Zamora contributed to this report.
Zoe Peterson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune. firstname.lastname@example.org