The first week of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s criminal trial has ended at the Dakota County Judicial Center in Hastings. I have been in the court for the entire trial over the past four days and I’ve been present longer than any other member of the media who is covering the trial.
I am taking detailed notes of every legal development, along with documenting the atmosphere in the courtroom and the behavior of the key participants. The current estimate from the judge is that the jury will begin deliberating on the facts of the case on Tuesday.
I will be back in the courtroom on Monday morning when the trial resumes, and I will be in the courtroom if and when, the jury reaches a decision on a verdict.
This case is about the disappearance of two sisters, Samantha and Gianna Rucki, who ran from their home during a custody dispute and divorce proceeding involving their parents, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and David Rucki.
David Rucki, was awarded full custody of all five of his children in November 2013, while two of his daughters remained missing. On November 18, 2015 – 944 days after they disappeared – the girls were found living on a ranch in northern Minnesota by law enforcement, headed by the Lakeville Police Department.
Rucki was reunited with his daughters days after they were found and they live with him at the family’s home in Lakeville.
The girls’ mother, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, had been charged with eight felonies related to their disappearance, but yesterday two charges were dismissed against Grazzini-Rucki. The trial will focus on the six remaining felony criminal charges she faces for deprivation of parental rights involving the disappearance of Samantha and Gianna Rucki.
Courtroom antics from Stephen Grigsby
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s attorney, Stephen Grigsby, seems more interested in re-litigating the custody and divorce proceeding between Grazzini-Rucki and David Rucki, than he is in providing evidence to establish Grazzini-Rucki’s affirmative defense to the criminal charges.
Judge Karen Asphaug told Grigsby that Grazzini-Rucki’s criminal trial “is not a process to collaterally attack the custody proceeding.”
Grigsby’s performance in the courtroom and the Dakota County Judicial Center in Hastings has been filled with dramatics.
On the first day, Grigsby was heard yelling and swearing at Grazzini-Rucki during a break in the trial.
On the start of the second day of the trial, Grigsby did not come to court with printed copies of court documents the attorneys would be discussing that morning. After Grigsby said he did not have “copies with [him]”, a visibly stunned Judge Asphaug asked Assistant Dakota County Attorney Kathryn Keena to share her documents with Grigsby. Keena then moved her seat closer to Grigbsy, who then switched seats with a student certified-attorney who is assisting Grigsby during the trial.
Grigsby then moved a chair close to Keena and they both used Keena’s paperwork to discuss the admissibility of the court documents with the judge.
On the third day of the trial, Grigsby yelled during the trial for a mistrial to be declared, in response to a question asked by Keena. The judge removed the jury from the room and admonished Grigsby for blurting out his request for a mistrial in the presence of the jury. The judge took a brief recess and later denied Grigsby’s request for a mistrial.
During the recess, Grigsby was heard boasting in a loud voice in the hallway he has “asked for many mistrials – none have been granted.”
During the first days of the trial, it was disclosed that Grigsby had issued subpoenas to compel the testimony of Samantha and Gianna Rucki – who the judge described as “children.
Lisa Elliott, who serves as the attorney for David Rucki and Samantha Rucki, appeared in court to argue the subpoenas had not been properly served on either girl. More importantly, Elliott added that making the girls testify in open court would cause the children to experience additional trauma. The girls would be seeing their mother for the first time in over three years said Elliott and the spectacle of testifying in front of the public and strangers was inhumane.
Judge Asphaug said the subpoenas for Samantha and Gianna were properly served and they would be required to comply with the subpoenas. Judge Asphaug asked Grigsby, “how are we going to minimize the trauma?”
Grigsby, who was seen smirking when the judge said the subpoenas were properly served on the children, offered a cold and unemotional response: “I don’t know it it’s within the scope of my mandate to be concerned about anything other than the verdict.”
An agreement was later reached between the attorneys that Gianna Rucki would not testify, but Samantha Rucki would be required to testify in the trial.
To lesson the trauma Samantha Rucki would endure by having to testify in her mother’s criminal trial, her testimony was taken in a small conference room and was live-streamed into the courtroom for the jury.
Samantha Rucki arrived at the courthouse in Hastings before 1PM yesterday and was in a conference room on the second floor as she waited for her attorney, Pat Elliott to arrive.
Grigsby walked into the conference before Samantha’s attorney had arrived, in an attempt to question Samantha about her testimony. Grigsby was instructed to leave the conference room and a Dakota County Sheriff’s Deputy guarded the door to prevent unauthorized access until Samantha’s attorney arrived minutes later.
An agreement was also reached to prevent Sandra Grazzini-Rucki from being in the conference room during Samantha’s testimony. Grigsby took testimony from Grazzini-Rucki, who waved her rights granted by the Confrontation Clause found in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to confront any witnesses in her criminal trial.
Judge Colleen King remained in the courtroom, while Judge Ashaug, Grigsby, Keena, and a court reporter participated in the conference with Samantha during her testimony. Samantha’s attorney and her grandmother (David Rucki’s mother), were also in the conference, but were not shown on the video during Samantha’s testimony.
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki showed no emotion during her daughter’s testimony. Her attorney gave Grazzini-Rucki a box of tissues while Samantha was testifying, but Grazzini-Rucki never took a tissue.
Samantha’s testimony lasted around 20 minutes.
Grigsby then called Sandra Grazzini-Rucki to testify in her own defense at her criminal trial. Her testimony started at approximately 3:30 PM and ended roughly 45 minutes later. Her testimony will resume when the trial begins on Monday morning.
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s problem with the truth
The defendant – Sandra Grazzini-Rucki – is not required to testify in her own criminal trial. It is the responsibility of the Dakota County Attorney’s Office to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Grazzin-Rucki is guilty of crimes for which she has been charged.
Grazzini-Rucki does not dispute the basic facts of the case that she was involved in the disappearance of her daughters. Grazzini-Rucki is claiming an affirmative defense: she “believed the action taken was necessary to protect the child from physical or sexual assault or substantial emotional harm.”
In an interview with the Lakeville Police Department on June 30, 2016, Samantha Rucki told police that her father was not abusive to her, nor did David’s daughter witness her father be abusive to any of her siblings. Samantha repeated this during her testimony yesterday.
Before Grazzini-Rucki testified, she was required to raise her right hand and swear she would tell the truth during her testimony. As Grazzini-Rucki was taking her oath in the courtroom, I was reminded of the numerous times Grazzini-Rucki swore she would tell the truth in court, but later lied.
In a court hearing in June 2013, Grazzini-Rucki testified in court that she did not know where her missing daughters were living. Again at court hearings in September 2013, Grazzini-Rucki denied knowing where her missing children were living.
Grazzini-Rucki has tremendous credibility issues and has a documented record of lying under oath in court. I expect her testimony on Monday to be filled with the same unfounded accusations that caused her testimony yesterday afternoon to be confusing and simply not believable.
During her testimony yesterday, Grazzini-Rucki continually made eye contact with Caroline Rice, a family court opponent, and Michael Rhedin, who has been described in court documents as Grazzini-Rucki’s boyfriend. From their seats in the courtroom gallery, Rice and Rhedin appeared to be coaching Grazzini-Rucki on her facial expressions during her testimony.
Grazzini-Rucki, a former Mrs. Minnesota contestant, has been dressed differently in her criminal trial than she has in previous court appearances. Known for wearing designer clothes, Grazzini-Rucki has instead worn a series of very bland outfits, including what appeared to be a male plaid button-down short sleeve dress shirt and khaki pants in court yesterday.
Trial continues Monday
Grazzini-Rucki’s criminal trial is scheduled to resume on Monday with her taking the stand to continue testifying. Additional witnesses may be called, but the expectation is that the jury will begin deliberating on Tuesday.
Please check back to Missing in Minnesota for additional updates on Grazzini-Rucki’s criminal trial and follow Missing in Minnesota on Twitter for live updates throughout the day.