After nearly a month of hearing testimony, the dual juries in the Kayleigh Slusher murder trial found both the mother and her boyfriend guilty of first degree murder and assault on a child causing death. Jurors also found the special allegation that the murder involved the infliction of torture to be true in both cases.
“I don’t want any outbursts from anyone in the audience,” Judge Francisca P. Tisher told the packed courtroom prior to the first verdict being read just before noon in Napa County Superior Court on Tuesday.
Defense attorney Jim McEntee held his arm around his client, Sara Lynn Krueger, 27, while the guilty verdicts were read. She turned her head toward the gallery once – her watery eyes squinting at the audience. Krueger’s family members who had attended closing arguments last week were not present.
After Krueger’s verdict was read, the jury deciding Ryan Scott Warner’s fate revealed an identical finding – guilty on all charges. He shook his head and appeared to mouth the word “Wow” as he looked on at the jury.
“We know this case is a tragedy and the trauma you’ve experienced from being a juror on this case may stay with you for years,” Tisher told jurors before excusing them from their duties. A doctor with Napa County Health and Human Services planned to debrief them in the afternoon.
Tisher set sentencing for July 27. Both defendants face possible sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Krueger is being held on $10 million bail and Warner is being held without bail.
Deputy District Attorneys Lance Hafenstein and Kecia Lind, who prosecuted the case, both said they were grateful for the juries’ verdicts.
“These verdicts are a message to our community that our children are to be treated with love, patience, and respect,” Hafenstein said in a press release. “What was done to Kayleigh Slusher by these two defendants was simply inhuman. She was taken from us much too soon.”
“Kayleigh Slusher did not deserve the fate she met at the hands of those who were supposed to protect her,” added Lind. “We are relieved that justice was served today, and hope that the result of this trial will help to bring some closure to those who knew and loved her.”
Although the gag order placed on the case was lifted on Tuesday, neither defense attorney responded to media inquiries as of 3 p.m.
Kayleigh’s grandmother, Robin Slusher, declined to comment on the trial.
Several jurors also declined to comment. One female juror noted that the case was still “too raw” to discuss. A male juror, who was smoking a cigarette outside the courthouse, said that he’s just glad the trial is over.
The 30 jurors assigned to the Krueger and Warner trials viewed numerous graphic images during the course of the trial, including crime scene and autopsy photos.
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Krueger and Warner, 29, were accused of murdering Krueger’s 3-year-old daughter, Kayleigh Slusher, in their Napa apartment in 2014. Their trials have been heard simultaneously and in the same courtroom but by different juries for the majority of four weeks.
Kayleigh, whose body was found with 41 visible injuries as well as multiple internal injuries, was beaten to death, Hafenstein said in his closing argument last week.
He accused Krueger of ignoring her daughter’s medical needs in the days leading up to her death in January, 2014, in her apartment at 2060 Wilkins Ave.
“Kayleigh died because of what was done to her and what was not done for her,” he told the jury, citing testimony by a pathologist.
Warner’s defense attorney, Mervin C. Lernhart, Jr., said there was no evidence that Warner had anything to do with the abuse that Kayleigh suffered or that he even knew about it.
In his closing statement, McEntee, said that Warner likely inflicted the fatal blow to Kayleigh’s abdomen while Krueger was sleeping on Jan. 30, 2014.
McEntee conceded that Krueger was using methamphetamine in the days prior to her daughter’s death, but her attachment to Kayleigh was too strong for her to have inflicted serious injuries, he said.
Police discovered the child’s chilled corpse lying on her bed after being asked to make a welfare check. She had apparently died two days before, with Krueger and Warner putting her body in a refrigerator freezer, before taking her out and fleeing Napa.
The jury hearing the Krueger case reached a verdict on Thursday afternoon after a day of deliberation, but the verdict was not announced until Tuesday morning. The Warner jury began deliberating late Thursday, then broke at mid-day Friday for the Memorial Day weekend, before resuming Tuesday morning.
In order for a defendant to be found guilty of first degree murder, prosecutors must prove that he or she intentionally killed someone and that the killing was premeditated and with malice aforethought – meaning that the killing was either deliberate or done recklessly with extreme disregard for human life.
In this case, prosecutors argued that Krueger and Warner should have known that repeatedly – and forcefully – beating Kayleigh and then not providing her with medical attention would eventually result in her death. Hafenstein said that each blow to Kayleigh’s body was another decision made by defendants and, therefore, the killing was premeditated.
If either jury had rejected first degree murder convictions, jurors had the option of convicting Krueger and Warner of second degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.
Because jurors also found the special allegation that the murder was intentional and involved the infliction of torture to be true, the death penalty could have been applied in this case, according to California law. The DA’s Office, however, announced last year that they were not seeking the death penalty for either Krueger or Warner.