The Kayleigh Slusher murder trial is wrapping up this week as one set of jurors begins to deliberate and another gets ready to hear closing arguments.
Sara Lynn Krueger, 27, and Ryan Scott Warner, 29, are accused of killing Krueger’s 3-year-old daughter, Kayleigh Slusher, in their Napa apartment back in 2014. The last three weeks of testimony in their cases have been heard simultaneously by Judge Francisca P. Tisher but with separate juries for each defendant in Napa County Superior Court.
Jurors assigned to Krueger’s case went into deliberations following closing arguments on Wednesday afternoon. Jurors assigned to Warner’s case will hear closing arguments on Thursday.
The first verdict to come back will be sealed until both verdicts have been reached.
Deputy District Attorney Lance Hafenstein began closing arguments on Wednesday morning by apologizing to the jury for traumatizing them.
Hafenstein called the abuse Kayleigh suffered an “unspeakable evil” before pulling a child-sized mannequin out of a black garbage bag.
“This is the size of the person we’re talking about,” he said, noting that Kayleigh was “totally unable to fend for herself.” Earlier in the trial, Hafenstein had put the same-size mannequin in the freezer section of a refrigerator taken from Krueger’s apartment. Kayleigh’s body had been put in the freezer before it was placed in her princess bed, according to testimony.
“Sara Krueger is a defendant who gave as good as she got,” Hafenstein said. Yes, she was a victim of domestic violence committed by Jason Slusher, Kayleigh’s father, and no, she was no stranger to violence and threats, he said. But Krueger had a short fuse herself and, according to Slusher’s mother, Robin Slusher, had hit Kayleigh’s father with a 2x4, Hafenstein said.
During the trial, jurors heard a jail phone call of Krueger getting angry and yelling at her mother.
“That’s Sara Krueger,” Hafenstein said.
Krueger, who had previously been described as a good mother, started to distance herself from her parenting role when Warner moved in during the summer of 2013, Hafenstein said. On the first day he moved in, she began using methamphetamine again, he said.
It was her choice to move Warner in – someone who had no job or car and was suicidal, Hafenstein told the jury. She knew he had used meth in the past, she could’ve asked him if he was still using before moving him in, he said.
Multiple people had told Krueger that they got “bad vibes” from Warner, but she refused to do anything about it, Hafenstein said.
“How many times did you hear that word in terms of defendant Warner in this case?” he said. “Bad vibes. No effect.”
Hafenstein went through each of his witnesses’ testimonies and showed how many opportunities Krueger had to get help for her child. In addition to concerned grandparents, she also had concerned friends and neighbors, he said. She had taken Kayleigh to get medical care before, so she knew how to get it for her when her daughter was feeling sick thanks to a blow to her abdomen that would eventually lead to infection and death, he said.
Kayleigh’s body has been the most important piece of evidence in this case, Hafenstein said.
“It speaks volumes about what was done to her,” he said. There were 41 visible injuries on her body in addition to a healing rib fracture, bruising on the front of her spine, 12-inches of necrotic small intestine, a burst hematoma and an infection in her abdominal cavity.
As he showed photos from the crime scene as well as Kayleigh’s autopsy, Kayleigh’s grandmother – in the courtroom for the first time since being called to the stand – could be heard crying. Krueger herself faced away from the photos toward her attorney, Jim McEntee.
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These injuries occurred over time and would have caused Kayleigh pain, Hafenstein said. Knowing that Kayleigh was in pain, Krueger did not seek medical attention for her despite knowing how, he said.
“Kayleigh died because of what was done to her and what was not done for her,” he said, quoting earlier testimony by Dr. James Crawford-Jakubiak.
After Kayleigh’s death, Hafenstein said Krueger and Warner tried to clean up the scene, planned to get rid of Kayleigh’s body and then left her in the apartment while they got out of town. The duo not only bought ice cream at Target while Kayleigh was dead in the apartment, but they also found their way to San Francisco, smoked some marijuana and went to the beach.
“They’re out for a weekend jaunt on the tram – snuggling, smiling,” he said. “It’s almost inhuman.”
Krueger acted this way due to a dissociative episode she was experiencing after finding Kayleigh dead in the bathroom, McEntee told jurors during his closing argument.
McEntee said Warner must have inflicted the fatal blow to Kayleigh’s abdomen while Krueger was asleep between 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. Jan. 30, 2014. He estimated that her time of death would have been at about 10 a.m.
The trial isn’t about whether or not Kayleigh suffered, he said. It’s about who killed her.
“What do we know about Mr. Warner? We know that he seemed to be obsessed with this child,” McEntee said. Warner was fixated with Kayleigh’s bathroom habits and insisted on potty-training her even though she was already potty-trained, he said. He was a “leech” who was using Krueger, who was desperate and needy, for a place to stay, McEntee said.
If Krueger was truly “evil” and killed her daughter, she would have blamed everything on Warner from the start to “cover her tracks” but she didn’t, McEntee said.
Methamphetamine wouldn’t have turned Krueger into a monster capable of killing her daughter, McEntee said. Her attachment and devotion to Kayleigh was too strong, he said.
“If Ms. Krueger broke the law in this case, it was because of her negligence,” McEntee said, asking jurors to clear her of all charges.
But, according to Hafenstein’s argument and rebuttal, it doesn’t matter whether or not Krueger actually hit Kayleigh because there was no way that she didn’t know that Kayleigh was being abused in their 600-square-foot apartment.
Hafenstein offered three theories: Krueger inflicted all the injuries, both she and Warner shared in inflicting the injuries, or Warner inflicted all of the injuries and she aided and abetted him.
In all three cases, he said, Krueger should be found guilty.
Jurors were given instructions and were given the rest of the afternoon to deliberate. Prosecutors are seeking a guilty verdict for both the first-degree murder charge and assault causing death of a child as well as a special allegation that the murder was inflicted intentionally and involved torture.
If convicted, Krueger could face life in prison without the possibility of parole. The DA is not seeking the death penalty.
If jurors seek to convict Krueger on lesser charges, the possibilities for count one are second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Possibilities for count two include assault by force likely to cause great bodily injury and simple assault.