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Michael S. ZABAWA





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: February 2, 2007
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1982
Victims profile: Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son, Alec, 13
Method of murder: Shooting
LocationWaseca County, Minnesota, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole March 2009
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Man Sentenced To Life In Prison For Waseca Murders

Mar 13, 2009

An Olmsted County Judge sentenced a Minnesota man to life in prison with no possibility of parole for killing a father and son in their home in Waseca, Minn. in 2007.

Friday, a jury found Michael Zabawa, 26, guilty on all 12 felony counts, including two first-degree murder counts, in connection with the shootings.

The courtroom was packed with relatives and supporters of the Kruger family as the jury foreman read the verdict. Zabawa's aunt and uncle were also there. They have attended the entire trial.

Jurors got the case Thursday evening and deliberated for about 4 hours. They resumed deliberations Friday morning and reached a verdict within an hour of meeting. The jurors were sequestered in a hotel overnight.

Judge Joseph Bueltel began the sentencing hearing shortly after the verdict.

Bueltel sentenced Zabawa to two consecutive life sentences, with no possibility of parole for the Feb. 3, 2007, shooting deaths of Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son, Alec, 13.

Zabawa was also sentenced to 216 months for shooting and injuring Tracy Kruger's wife, Hilary.

During the trial, jurors watched a videotape of state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents interrogating Zabawa five hours after the shootings. In the first three hours of the interrogation, Zabawa denied entering the Krugers' home, but eventually said he went in, looking for help after his truck got stuck in a ditch outside.

Zabawa said after he entered the house, he was confronted by Tracy Kruger in the hallway of the second floor. He said the two struggled and Tracy Kruger pumped the gun.

"That's when I turned around and grabbed it, grabbed it so he wouldn't do anything," Zabawa said to investigators. "Then I got it away from him and it went off."

Zabawa said that's when he went downstairs to leave. He said he saw the Kruger's 13-year-old son, Alec, when he dropped the gun and it went off again.

"I didn't know it hit him," he said.

At that point, Zabawa said he left the house and stole the Kruger's SUV.

Hilary Kruger also testified during the trial.

She told the jury she was shot first as she lay sleeping with her husband. She said Tracy Kruger tried to pull the mattress up to protect them, only to be shot. He fell to the floor, she said, and "he was not responding in any way and I could see his face was speckled."

She told jurors how she watched as her son was also killed.

Jurors heard a 911 call for help from Alec Kruger. Throughout the call, Hilary Kruger could be heard moaning in pain in the background.

"Please come to our house. I don't know what's wrong, but something is happening. Someone's been shot, please hurry, please hurry," Alec Kruger said during the 911 call. He had time add that his mother and father had both been shot before another shot rang out and the line went dead.

Hilary Kruger also testified she could not identify the shooter because it was dark, saying she only saw the silhouette of a tall, thin person wearing a winter hat and holding "a long gun like a rifle or a shotgun."

The trial was moved to Olmsted District Court because of pretrial publicity in the Waseca area.


Evidence comes to light at hearing

Bloody clothes, hair, keys among investigators’ finds

By Dan Nienaber -

September 15, 2007

Bloody clothes and shoes investigators say they found in Michael Zabawa’s bedroom in February are among a list of things Zabawa’s attorneys want kept from a jury.

There were blood-stained gloves and clothing, including a jacket that had been stuffed behind a shelf, Waseca County Deputy Doug Gerdts said during testimony at a pre-trial hearing Friday. A pair of shoes with treads matching the tracks left near the Kruger house south of Waseca and between a stolen pickup and Zabawa’s mobile home in Matawan were found in the bedroom’s closet.

A hair investigators suspected belonged to one of the victims and a set of keys matching the make of the stolen pickup outside also were taken from the room during the search, Gerdts said.

He was the deputy in charge of getting several search warrants approved by a judge after three members of the Kruger family were found shot in their home on Feb. 3.

Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son 13-year-old son, Alec, were dead when the first deputy arrived minutes after Alec called 911. Hilary Kruger, Tracy’s wife and Alec’s mother, is still recovering from the wounds she received in the shooting. The Krugers’ younger son, Zak, was staying at a friend’s house the night of the slayings.

Outside the house, Zabawa’s truck was found in one ditch and a truck owned by the Krugers was found in another ditch. A pickup truck from a neighbor’s house had been stolen. Zabawa, 25, became a suspect after investigators went to his mobile home in Matawan. They found the stolen truck nearby and tracks leading to Zabawa’s front door.

Zabawa’s team of attorneys is questioning whether information from some of the searches that were done, and the statement that Zabawa gave to police before he was arrested, should be admissible at trial.

Christine Funk, Zabawa’s lead attorney, also has requested a change of venue, something Assistant Minnesota Attorney General William F. Klumpp said he wasn’t going to challenge. It would be hard to argue that the murders, which have resulted in both community outrage and support for the survivors, haven’t had an impact on any potential jury pool that could be drawn from Waseca County, Klumpp said.

Funk requested the trial be moved to Duluth, or at least a location north of the Twin Cities, because the murders have garnered the heaviest media coverage in southern Minnesota. Klumpp argued that Rochester would be better because it’s far enough away from Waseca, but close enough to be accessible for witnesses.

During the hearing that lasted all day Thursday and stretched through Friday morning, the two teams of attorneys questioned Michael Anderson of the Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension and Waseca County detective Trevor Kanewischer. They were the investigators who interviewed Zabawa after the murders.

Zabawa had been brought to Waseca’s city offices for questioning after he was found at his home the morning of Feb. 3. He wasn’t officially arrested until after noon that day.

According to transcripts and recordings of the interviews, Zabawa never asked for an attorney. During the hours of questioning, he eventually admitted to going to the house to ask for help, then shooting Tracy during an altercation before accidentally shooting Alec and Hilary.

Anderson testified Hilary told investigators she was the first victim shot. She said Tracy was shot next while trying to block the blast with a mattress and Alec was shot after he called 911, Anderson testified.

Raj Saker and James Martin, Zabawa’s two other attorneys, repeatedly asked Anderson and Kanewischer if Zabawa would have been free to leave before he was arrested. They were building on their argument that Zabawa was coerced into giving the statement.

The investigators hesitated to directly say Zabawa was in their custody but did acknowledge they joined Zabawa during trips to the bathroom and outside to smoke a cigarette.


Michael Zabawa Charged with 6 Counts of Murder

July 2, 2007

(KAAL) --- The man accused of killing two members a Waseca family has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder.

According to published reports a Waseca County grand jury issued a 12-count indictment against Michael Zabawa.

That includes six counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of 40-year-old Tracy Kruger and his 13-year-old son, Alec of Waseca.

The grand jury listened to testimony from Wednesday until this morning.

After deliberating for about 90 minutes, they returned with the 12-count indictment.


Lessons learned in girl's slaying helping Waseca area deal with Kruger shootings

The break-in that left two dead reminded many of Cally Jo Larson's death in 1999. In some ways, it moved the community to action.

By Warren Wolfe - Star Tribune

February 11, 2007

WASECA, MINN. - It was a horrendous murder, an intruder breaking into the house and leaving a path of destruction and grief in his wake.

That was almost eight years ago, and the people of Waseca wrapped their arms around Connie Larson and her family after a burglar raped and killed her 12-year-old daughter, Cally Jo.

Now, the community faces a similar heartache. Nine days ago, an intruder entered a rural home just outside Waseca, shooting to death Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son Alec, 13 -- like Cally Jo, a seventh-grader.

"It's all happening again -- terrible sorrow and confusion and rage.

"People here are enfolding that family with love and concern. Waseca learned how to do that because of Cally Jo," Larson said.

The Krugers' funeral will be held Tuesday. Kruger's wife, Hilary, 41, remains in critical condition. A second son, Zak, 10, was not at home at the time of the shootings.

Michael Zabawa, 24, a farmworker living about 15 miles south of the Kruger home, has been charged with second- degree murder. Larson attended Zabawa's arraignment last week.

"When I heard the news, I was right back there -- April 20, 1999 -- living in fear, anger, confusion. For a few days it was awful," said Larson, a social worker with Minnesota Valley Community Action working with low-income clients.

"Right now, the Kruger family really can't function," she said. "For now, all they can do is breathe in and breathe out."

After the Kruger killings, school, church and community leaders "immediately knew what to do," Larson said: "Protect the family, help the children and give us all a way to show we care."

The day after the shootings, pastors at Grace Lutheran Church, where the Larsons and Krugers are members, called in classmates of the Kruger children to help them talk about the horrific event.

"The community is reeling right now, just as we were after Cally Jo died," said the Rev. Roger Haug, Grace Lutheran's senior pastor.

He is ministering to Kruger relatives. "We're concentrating on them and on the children in the community," he said. "But adults, too, are meeting in small groups to talk about our fears, our anger and how important we are to each other."

School officials pulled out their "Cally Jo" file and met the day the Krugers died, preparing to help students last week. Round Bank in Waseca set up a Tracy Kruger Family Benefit Account, collecting donations and letters for the family.

Some financial support may come from the Cally Jo Children's Fund, set up by Larson primarily to help crime victims and their families. Since 2000, the fund has given out $34,150.

"We do learn from past tragedies like Cally Jo's death," said Patrice Abbe, executive director of the Waseca Area Foundation, which administers the fund. "I think we're better prepared. We know more about what to do and what not to do -- but that doesn't make it any easier.

"Being able to take action helps, but it's still such a shock. You don't ever recover."

From Cally Jo's death, law-enforcement officials learned how to better protect the Kruger family, said Brad Milbrath, chief deputy at the Waseca County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the killings.

"It's difficult to shelter the family because the press and all their friends want to talk with them," he said. "Maybe someday they'll want to talk, but not now. It's a big family, and right now they're pretty distraught."

Moving through grief

It will take several years for relatives and friends of the Krugers to begin feeling "sort of normal," Larson said. "Our first two or three years we just went through the motions. We were numb."

After Cally Jo died, police briefed Larson regularly, through the arrest of Lorenzo Sanchez 10 months after Cally Jo's killing, as well as his confession and guilty plea a year later.

For Larson, becoming an activist helped. She worked for successful passage of tougher state penalties for sex offenders and a system to track them. Since 2001 she has served on the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission.

Larson also joins counselors helping schoolchildren in other communities after suicides or other deaths of classmates.

Her daughter Contessa, 29, is attending college and raising a 12-year-old son in Rochester.

And daughter Jayme, 24, who at 16 found Cally Jo's body that day in 1999, graduated from college in criminology and psychology. She has worked with victims of crime and domestic abuse in Duluth and plans to marry this summer, then go to Africa with the Peace Corps.

Guilty plea is called helpful

"I still have people who recognize me as Cally Jo's mom, and I'm proud of that," Larson said. "But I feel like I'm turning some sort of corner with my life."

What might help the Kruger family most in coming months would be admission of guilt by the killer, Larson said.

"The pain will not end. The loss can't be undone. But hearing the guy take responsibility, express remorse -- realize that he gets it, that he did something terrible -- that's what helped me start to heal," she said.

"For now, all we can do is support the Kruger family, be really good neighbors for each other and hug our kids."



Man charged in Waseca murders

February 6, 2007

A Matawan man was charged Monday with murdering two people and injuring a third with a shotgun after breaking into their rural home.

Michael S. Zabawa, 24, was charged in Waseca County District Court with two counts of second-degree intentional murder. Bail was set at $2 million.

Zabawa is accused of breaking into the home of Tracy and Hilary Kruger early Saturday morning and killing Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son, Alec, 13. Hilary Kruger, 41, was wounded in the upper torso and remains in critical condition at North Memorial Hospital.

According to a criminal complaint, Zabawa entered the Kruger home after his pickup truck got struck in a nearby ditch.

Zabawa told police that Tracy Kruger confronted him with a shotgun after he entered the home and that Kruger was accidentally shot during a struggle for the weapon, the complaint says.

He also said the gun accidentally discharged and wounded Hilary Kruger and then went off again after he dropped it, striking Alec Kruger.

Hilary Kruger gave investigators a different account of what happened. She says she told her son to call 911 after her husband had been shot, and that the shooter went downstairs and came back upstairs to shoot them.

The medical examiner says both Tracy and Alec Kruger died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Zabawa lives with his family in Matawan, about 15 miles from Waseca. His mother tells KARE 11 she's shocked by the allegations and her thoughts are with the Kruger family.

Zabawa's criminal history includes a gross misdemeanor theft conviction and two DWI charges.

At Waseca Junior High School, most of Monday was dedicated to Alec Kruger. Students made hundreds of posters with messages to Alec, and they created a memorial around his locker.

"It's difficult because when you deal with 7th and 8th graders, everybody grieves in a different way," says principal Bill Bunkers.

To help them grieve, students were encouraged to express themselves.

"You've got to get your emotions out and talk with others," says Steve Luther, a Waseca police officer and school liaison officer.

The Kruger's other son was not home at the time of the shooting.

Snowmobile races at this weekend's Sleigh and Cutter Festival on Clear Lake in Waseca will be held in memory of Tracy and Alec Kruger. The Krugers helped organize those races each year.


Farm worker held in slayings of family in Waseca

Authorities said the suspect's statements "put him in the house" at the time of the killings near Waseca of 2 family members.

By Anthony Lonetree and Joy Powell - Star Tribune

February 06, 2007

WASECA, MINN. -- The man arrested in the shooting of a couple and their 13-year-old son early Saturday near Waseca, Minn., did not know the family, authorities said Sunday afternoon.

Husband and father Tracy Kruger, 40, and Alec Kruger, 13, were killed when an intruder broke into their farmhouse shortly before 3:30 a.m.

Hilary Kruger, 41, wife and mother, remained in critical condition Sunday at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, according to authorities and friends.

Investigators identified the suspect as Michael S. Zabawa, 24, of Matawan, Minn., who worked at a hog farm in Waseca County. Chief Deputy Sheriff Brad Milbrath said Zabawa "gave us statements that put him in the house."

Milbrath said the suspect got his pickup truck stuck in a snowy ditch in front of the Krugers' home.

He then stole the Krugers' Ford Explorer to try to pull out his pickup, but again became stuck.

At some point, Milbrath said, the suspect broke into the Krugers' house, where Tracy Kruger confronted him.

Authorities had said Saturday that Alec Kruger called 911 at 3:23 a.m. to report an intruder. The dispatcher heard gunshots and the line went silent.

The three victims were shot on the second floor of the house, Milbrath said.

Preliminary indications are that the shotgun used belonged to the Krugers, he said. Hilary Kruger was shot in the upper torso; Milbrath wouldn't say where the others were shot.

The Krugers' youngest son, Zak, a fourth-grader, was spending the night at a friend's house and now is with relatives, authorities said.

They wouldn't say anything about a possible motive, whether anything was taken from the house or whether the suspect was drunk or high.

The arrest stunned Zabawa's employers and co-workers on the Woodville Township hog farm.

Peter Zimmerman, an owner of the family farm, said Zabawa was a responsible and skilled swine technician who had worked at the farm since July, caring for newborn piglets. Zabawa was mechanically inclined and was willing to stay late to fix whatever needed it, Zimmerman said.

"He was an ordinary, run-of-the-mill guy who showed up on time, did the work, did a good job, got along with his co-workers, and was just kind of a quiet guy," Zimmerman said. "We didn't have any reason to think badly of him."

He said he never saw indications of mental problems or violence in Zabawa.

"It really is out of character," Zimmerman said.

"Both my wife and my daughter have worked with him in the past at my operation," Zimmerman said. "They've never had any problems with him, had no trouble working with him. We have quite a few employees, and there was never anything about him that was brought to my attention, or that would really give me reason to worry."

At a news conference Sunday, Milbrath said the suspect went to the Krugers' neighbor's house and stole an old farm pickup, which he drove to his home -- about 15 miles from the Krugers'.

Authorities traced the pickup truck in the ditch outside the Krugers' home to the suspect and took him into custody about 7:30 a.m. Saturday. They also found the Krugers' neighbor's truck, and got a warrant to search it.

Milbrath said the suspect's previous offenses include mostly traffic violations and a gross misdemeanor theft charge.

The investigative reports will be turned over to the Waseca County attorney's office today for charges.

From the opening prayers Sunday morning at Grace Lutheran Church in Waseca, the tragedy was revisited often by the Rev. Roger Haug, senior pastor, and the Rev. Dan Doering, the church's associate pastor, who rewrote his sermon to try to answer the question: "Why does God let this happen?"

Doering said he hasn't slept since he heard the news, and he was still at a loss. "I need to say, I don't know why stuff like this happens."

But what he did know, he said, was that "Tracy will rise again. Alec will rise again. We will see them again."

Haug said that he'd talked to Hilary Kruger's boss earlier in the day, who told the pastor that Hilary "was alert -- or at least awake."

Haug later said he'd learned that a doctor had said Saturday that the first 24 hours would be essential to Hilary's recovery, and that if she did survive it would be a "miracle."That's occurred," Haug said. "It's a miracle. She's alive."

Tracy Kruger's former vocational-education teacher, Ward Ask, was at church Sunday morning. He was remembered as a "tremendous kid" who turned into a tremendous man.

Ask said he's taught hundreds of kids, yet maintained connections to only a dozen or so former students and was proud to count Tracy among them.

Tracy Kruger and his brother, Tony, who is a member of Grace Lutheran, co-owned a construction company.

Before that, Tracy Kruger ran an auto body shop near Waterville, Ask said. Four years ago, Ask's son had gotten in a minor car accident, and Kruger patched the car up.

Sensing that Ask's son, then a college student, might be short on money, Kruger refused to take any payment for the work, Ask said.

"Fixed it for free," Ask said. "That's just the kind of guy he was."

Tom Anderson of Byron, Minn., had known Tracy Kruger for the past couple of years. Both were snowmobile aficionados and Kruger knew everything there was to know about vintage snowmobiles.

Anderson said of the family, "I've never seen a group of people who got along so well together. This guy was just so easygoing; took the time to talk to his family; never loud, never pushy.

"I'm extremely shocked," Anderson said of the shooting. "It really hits home, you know, the old cliche, the good die young."


Suspect charged in Waseca double murder

February 5, 2007

Waseca, Minn. — (AP) - A southern Minnesota man charged Monday with killing a father and his son and injuring the mother of the family said the slayings were accidental and happened after he was confronted by the father, who he said was wielding a shotgun.

Michael S. Zabawa, 24, of Matawan, was charged in Waseca County District Court with two counts of second-degree intentional murder. Bail was set at $2 million.

Zabawa is accused of breaking into the rural Waseca home of Tracy and Hilary Kruger early Saturday morning and killing Tracy Kruger, 40, and his son, Alec, 13. Hilary Kruger, 41, was wounded in the upper torso and remained in critical condition Monday afternoon at a Twin Cities hospital.

According to a criminal complaint, Zabawa admitted that he broke into the Kruger's rural home but said Tracy Kruger confronted him with a shotgun and that Kruger was accidentally shot during a struggle for the weapon.

He also said the gun accidentally discharged and wounded Hilary Kruger and then went off again after he dropped it to flee, striking Alec.

Police believe the shootings happened after Zabawa's vehicle went into the ditch and became stuck outside the Kruger home. Zabawa went to the Kruger residence, got into their SUV and tried to pull his vehicle out of the ditch, but when that didn't work he went into the house, where he was confronted by Tracy Kruger, the complaint said.

Hilary Kruger, however, painted a different picture for police, according to the complaint.

She told an officer that her husband was shot by a tall, thin man with a long gun and that she told Alec to call police after her husband was shot upstairs.

She said the shooter then went downstairs and then came back up again and shot her and Alec, the complaint said.

Another officer who responded to the 911 call found a shotgun leaning against an upstairs bedroom door and spent and unspent shotgun shells littering the floor at the top of the stairs.

He found Alec dead in a bed while Hilary Kruger also lay on a bed, critically wounded. Tracy Kruger was found dead on an upstairs floor.

Zabawa was arrested hours later at his home in Matawan.

Zabawa was charged with shoplifting in 2001 in Freeborn County and drunken-driving in Steele County in 2004 and Waseca County in December 2006. In 2004, he was convicted of felony theft and criminal damage to property in Lake County, according to state court documents.



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