Sept. 21, 2016, Dakota County, Minnesota: A sign posted outside the courthouse by a religious group read. “When will the suffering end?
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was sentenced today for her role in assisting her teenage daughters, who ran away from their paternal aunt, and the influence of their abusive father, in April 2013. A jury found Sandra guilty of 6 charges of felony deprivation of parental rights after Judge Karen Asphaug suppressed 75% of defense evidence. Sandra raised the affirmative defense, meaning her actions were taken to protect her children from imminent harm. The evidence suppressed supported claims of abuse. Other evidence was withheld from Sandra and her attorney by the State. Many claim this was a “rigged trial”.
Prosecuting Attorney Kathryn M. Keena sought an aggravated sentence against Sandra, which meant she would be given a much harsher sentence than what guidelines allow. Aggravated sentences are usually reserved for severe crimes like deviant sexual crimes, terrorism and repeat offenders. Keena had to drop her motion for aggravated sentencing because the charges did not meet the legal standards. Sandra has no prior criminal history and has complied with all the terms of her release while out on bond. She also has credit for 133 days spent in jail. Keena Drops Aggravated Sentence
However, Judge Asphaug found a way to manipulate the legal system in order to give Sandra a much harsher sentence. The sentence includes 6 years of probation, double the usual sentence – Judge Asphaug ruled that paternal aunt Tammy Love is also a “victim” in this crime. In addition, Judge Asphaug stretched out the sentence over 6 years to include a 15 day sentence every year, commencing on November 19th when the runaway Rucki girls were found. Guidelines say the most time a defendant can serve for what Sandra is charged with is one year and one day but Judge Asphaug found a way to lengthen the sentence for 6 years. Taxpayers will bear the financial burden of this unnecessary expense; and a bed in jail will be taken by Sandra who poses no risk to society, while a more serious offender is denied what they deserve.
Judge Asphaug also ruled that Sandra must pay several heavy fines. The law states that if the fines are not paid the judge can order additional penalty, which may include jail time. The fines include: $10,000 restitution to the Crime Board to cover costs for reunification therapy with an abusive father (reunification therapy is controversial, and not widely approved of by psychologists), undetermined costs to pay for therapy for the children, and two $944 dollar fines plus $80 court fees. Not to mention the costs for probation. Court records indicate that Sandra is currently receiving state aid, she was formerly employed as a flight attendant until jailed and extradited to Minnesota. With 6 felonies on her record, Sandra will certainly have difficulty finding employment, and have difficulty maintaining employment if forced to go to jail for 15 days every year plus other restrictions imposed by the terms of release. That being said, it would be very unlikely that Sandra could afford the fines, which may result in further jail time beyond her sentence. Judge Asphaug also ordered Sandra to sentence to serve, and if she does not comply, she would face additional jail time beyond her sentence. In effect, an aggravated sentence was imposed on Sandra by Judge Asphaug and Prosecutor Keena, who found a way to manipulate the legal system to exact a punishment that goes well beyond the guidelines for this crime.
Kathryn Keena admitted in court that she “made a promise” to S. Rucki and said to the teen that she “will not request any additional jail time and will keep that request”. Judge Asphaug interrupted and said the “Court did not engage in promises” and she is “learning of it for the first time today“. Making a “promise” with a vulnerable, traumatized teen is unethical and an abuse of power. It also gives the appearance that Keen bribed S. Rucki to testify – meaning she told S. Rucki that if you testify against your mother, I “promise” not to seek any additional jail time for her. Kathryn Keena unapologetically broke her promise to S. Rucki today. Keena has taken her place in the long line of Dakota County court officials who have violated the trust, and exploited the Rucki children.
Another interesting moment at sentencing was the lengthy “victim impact” statement read by David Rucki that included, “the woman in court today is not the woman I married 25 years ago – the woman I married suddenly became who she is now, a convicted felon“. Rucki elaborated about the pain he experienced in the 944 days his teen daughters went missing.
The police reports, CPS reports, witness statements, need for repeated reunification therapy because the children showed signs of fear towards Rucki (and raised abuse allegations) and even a letter from Dr. Gilbertson to the Court all illustrate the pain, terror and abuse Rucki inflicted on Sandra and the children. To believe that Sandra alienated not only her children but alienated so many people to turn against David Rucki is not only improbable but ridiculous.
When David is talking about his pain, and eliciting public sympathy, consider this…
“G was interviewed on 11/23/15. She reports dad was always screaming at mom. Neighbors called the house the ‘Scream House’. She thought her home situation was normal as she didn’t know any different… Her dad would stalk the house when they were with mom. He showed anger like ‘I’m gonna kill you’. She got no hugs growing up…” Rucki CPS Reports
“There are two prevailing emotional themes that these children speak to: One is fear of being in the presence of their father given what they allege to he being an angry and violent person. A second theme is anger over his alleged mistreatment...It is my opinion that the children’s fear issue needs to be addressed directly, and that can happen when there is exposure to the specifically feared object, situation, or person, i.e. father…
I would work with Mr. Rucki to have him present a certain structure and accounting of his own behavior while the family was intact that would acknowledge the volatile family history and express his empathy for the children’s painful memories..” Dr. Gilbertson Letter to GAL Julie Friedrich – Feb. 6, 2013
“Q (Kelli Coughlin): So how has it been since you’ve been back home?
A. (S. Rucki) I work 40 hours a week.
A. Otherwise I am in my room or I am out.
Q. Do you feel secluded?
A. I am going to move out as soon as I can start driving and get money saved up. I can’t be around this anymore.” Kelli Coughlin, Lakeville PD, interview with S. Rucki
Dakota County and the State of Minnesota has not only sentenced Sandra but their ruling has condemned every abused woman, and every abused child in family court. A clear message is being sent – if you talk about abuse, you will not be believed and you may lose custody, lose your home, lose your career and your freedom. This tragedy could have been prevented had Judge Knutson and the family court system appropriately responded to the concerns of abuse, and intervened early on. Instead the court’s actions enabled abuse to continue to the point where the home was so unsafe that 4 out of 5 children threatened to run away and two succeeded in running away.
After sentencing, attorney Michelle MacDonald (Sandra’s family law attorney) read a statement that Sandra had prepared ahead of time. The statement said, in part, “For the last 5 years, I have had to endure the loss of my children (all 5 are named). They alone are my world…And now I’m paying the price for what any parent would do for their children – protect them from harm.”
Sandra is now in custody; ironically it is only behind bars that she is truly safe from David Rucki. Sandra is expected to appeal.