Cristian Nunez was fueled by jealousy and hatred when he killed a New Richmond mother and her 10-year-old daughter before setting a fire in an attempt to burn the evidence, a St. Croix County jury heard Monday.
But St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Ed Minser’s argument left out key details, said Nunez’s defense attorney, Brian Smestad. He rejected prosecution’s portrayal of the killings as a “crime of passion.”
Smestad said Bradford and Nunez did have the on-again, off-again relationship Minser described, but the two were never in love and had both been seeing other people.
“You’ll have to take that for what it’s worth,” Smestad told the jury.
Rather, he called on jurors to take note of what he said would be an “astounding” lack of evidence connecting his client to the crimes. That contrasted with the DNA evidence and other incriminating pieces Minser said prosecution would be presenting.
A jury of nine women and five men heard those competing claims during opening arguments in the case of Nunez, who is charged in St. Croix County Circuit Court with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of arson in the Sept. 2, 2015, deaths of 30-year-old Courtney Bradford and her daughter, Jasmine Bradford. Nunez, who allegedly stole Bradford’s SUV, driver’s license and credit cards as part of the crime, is also charged with auto theft and identity theft.
Nunez was arrested Sept. 3, 2015, in El Paso, Texas. Prosecutors said law enforcement tracked the 38-year-old’s digital footprint there after he allegedly drove Bradford’s SUV to Des Moines, then caught a flight to Chicago on his way to Texas.
Nunez, who wore headphones to take Spanish translation during proceedings, wore a gray-and-black checkered shirt and black slacks at Monday’s hearing.
Minser unfurled the state’s case to the jury, saying Nunez “brutally murdered Courtney and Jasmine Bradford. When I say brutal, I mean brutal,” he said, outlining in detail how mother and daughter were found dead of dozens of stab wounds.
The first witness called in the trial, New Richmond volunteer firefighter Jeffrey Rothmeier, was the one who found Jasmine’s body after firefighters were called to the 1400 Hallewood Blvd. home at about 12:30 p.m. Sept. 2, 2015. A preliminary search turned up no victims, Rothmeier said, but firefighters were sent back into the house after it was learned a girl living there had been absent from school that day.
Rothmeier said he went back in, walked through about 6 inches of standing water in the basement — coming from a melted water line — and went to a couch, where ceiling tiles had fallen.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Nieskes asked the firefighter what he saw when he pulled back the tiles.
Rothmeier took a long pause before giving his response.
“A victim,” he said, before wiping a tear.
Asked to describe the victim, Rothmeier paused again before answering.
“I determined it was a child,” he said.
Smestad probed Rothmeier’s activities during his search, including whether he saw and handled a gas can found floating in the basement water. Rothmeier said he saw the can but didn’t touch it.
Fellow New Richmond firefighter Jonathon Haffner also testified Monday. He described how his search of the home during the fire call turned up the discovery of Courtney’s body.
Haffner said he found her room disheveled, with the bed stripped and a pile of clothes on the floor.
“Once I picked up the pile,” he said, “there was a body.”
Courtney’s former fiance, Adam Norwig, also testified Monday. The Hastings man said he was the first to call 911 once he and his son arrived at the Bradford home. Norwig said he and Courtney had the boy in common and they were supposed to take him to the doctor that day before going to meet the boy’s kindergarten teacher.
Those plans came to an end once he pulled into the driveway. He said he noticed the home’s overhead garage door open and Courtney’s SUV missing. He also noted Courtney hadn’t been answering her phone that day — an unusual development, he said, for a woman he knew to be quick to pick up calls.
“That’s why I was surprised,” Norwig said. “I was running late and she never called me.”
So when he and his son entered the home and smelled gasoline and smoke, he quickly got the boy out and went outside to call 911. He said he wanted to know if anyone had called in a fire at the house.
He said police later arrived and asked if anyone else lived with the Bradfords. Norwig said Nunez lived there from “time to time.”
Tuesday’s testimony was expected to include St. Croix County sheriff’s investigator Shawn Demulling and New Richmond Police Chief Craig Yehlik.
The case is expected to run through Dec. 20. The jury will be winnowed down for deliberations after alternates are released.