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Kayleigh Slusher Murder Trial

Sara Lynn Krueger

Sara Lynn Krueger, accused of murdering her 3-year-old daughter Kayleigh Slusher, took the stand for the first time Wednesday to testify about being a victim of abuse and what happened before and after her daughter was found dead.

While defense attorney Jim McEntee is depicting Krueger as a victim of abuse, prosecutors say she chose drugs and a man over her daughter’s welfare.

During a full day of testimony in Napa County Superior Court, Krueger described abandonment by her mother, molestation by a boyfriend’s father, being struck by Kayleigh’s father and being threatened by boyfriend Ryan Scott Warner, who is also accused of murdering Kayleigh.

Krueger, 27, and Warner, 29, are being tried at the same time but with separate juries.

She met Jason Slusher – Kayleigh Slusher’s father – at a drug house when she was 16. The two began to date and Krueger told Slusher about a man who had molested her. When the man called, Slusher answered the phone, called him a “pedophile” and told him to leave her alone, she said.

“He saved me,” Krueger said. Their intimate relationship became more serious and, at age 17, Krueger moved in with Slusher at his parents’ house.

Slusher is 10 years older than Krueger. At that time, he was in his mid-20s.

When Krueger became pregnant with Kayleigh at age 19, Slusher spent the first seven months of her pregnancy in jail, she said. He had slammed her arm in a car door, she said.

“He was very jealous,” Krueger said. “He always was accusing me of cheating on him.”

Slusher would call her names and tell her that no one else would want her, Krueger told the court.

Slusher was physically violent only when he was coming down off methamphetamine, Krueger said. Although she had stopped using meth when she became pregnant, Slusher still used occasionally and that’s when they would have problems, she said.

One time, after they had broken up, she said, Slusher punched her in the back of the head just a few feet away from Kayleigh, then dragged her into the street by her hair.

Slusher was arrested again in June 2013 after leading the police on a high-speed chase, Krueger said.

That same summer, while Slusher was in jail, Krueger reconnected with Warner on Facebook and, when he was talking about killing himself, moved him into her apartment. Krueger knew Warner from when she was a teenager – the two of them had a brief relationship in the summer of 2005 when Warner was staying with family in Napa. Krueger admitted that she thought she had been in love with Warner and that the two of them were “inseparable” that summer.

They also used meth together for the entire summer, she said. After Warner started dating her cousin, Krueger said she avoided him. They didn’t begin talking again until they connected on Facebook in 2011.

From that time on, Krueger said that she and Warner would talk periodically when Krueger’s relationship with Slusher wasn’t going well.

Deputy District Attorney Kecia Lind showed Krueger a photo of Warner tattooed and without a shirt, asking if it was one of the photos that was on his Facebook when they had connected.

Krueger said that Warner looked about the same when he moved in with her, he just had more tattoos. Lind left the photo at the stand. Krueger turned it over and pushed it away from her with a look of disgust.

She didn’t know that Warner was still using meth, she said, but when he pulled out a pipe the same night that he moved in, she couldn’t help herself.

“That’s a trigger for me,” she said. “If I see it, I can’t say no.”

Lind then asked if Krueger thought that she was as good of a mother when she was high.

“I wasn’t my 100 percent, no,” she said. “I’d say I dropped down to a 75.”

Although Warner had got her started using drugs again, Krueger said that he didn’t physically abuse her the way that Slusher did and he took on a loving, step-fatherly role for Kayleigh. The two did argue, though, mostly about “getting clean,” she testified.

Krueger was ready to quit, but Warner didn’t want to, she said. During one of their fights, she said, he slammed a door on her hand. She still doesn’t know, she said, if it was on purpose or if it was an accident. Warner had said it was an accident, she testified.

A few weeks later on Jan. 27 – days before she found Kayleigh dead – the two of them had another argument about getting off of drugs, Krueger said.

“I told him to pack up his stuff and get out of my house … because I was done arguing; I wanted to get clean; he didn’t want to get clean,” she said. Warner pushed her against her bedroom door, punched two holes into the door just inches from her face and threw an abalone shell against the wall, Krueger said. He threatened her that if she called the police to get him out that he would have his friend come “handle” her, she said.

During cross examination, Lind questioned Krueger about text messages she exchanged with Warner after she told him to leave.

“If you wanted Mr. Warner out of your home so bad, can you explain to me why you sent him a text message … that said ‘I’m so sorry. I really hope you’re home when I get home.’”

“I don’t remember that,” Krueger replied.

“You wanted more from Mr. Warner than he was willing to give, is that right?” Lind asked.

“I did, but we didn’t argue about that …” Krueger said.

Lind pointed out more text messages that Krueger sent Warner. In them, Krueger apologized again to Warner and told him that she was upset because she had wanted to “cuddle” with him the night before.

The next day, Krueger texted Warner that she must be the “stupidest girl on the planet” since he obviously doesn’t care about her and that, if that’s true, he should let her go so she could move on.

“I just want to feel loved,” said one part of the text, according to Lind.

Lind also questioned Krueger about her sleep schedule the week Kayleigh died. In phone calls Krueger made to family and friends while she was in jail, Lind said, Krueger said that she hadn’t slept much in the days leading up to Kayleigh’s death. In her testimony, though, Krueger said that she had slept not only the morning before Kayleigh was found but in the days leading up to it as well.

Krueger testified Wednesday that she slept nearly every night or at least every other night while using meth, but that Warner would stay up three or four days at a time.

Lind asked Krueger if this was a defense tactic – letting the jurors think that Warner had more time with Kayleigh when she wasn’t around.

Krueger denied the Lind’s interpretation.

Krueger said that before Kayleigh’s death she had noticed several bruises on her including the bruise on her forehead, bruises on her back and two small bruises on her chin. She knew Kayleigh had fallen off her bike earlier that week, causing the chin injuries, and the back injuries were from Warner spanking her, Krueger said.

After sleeping for 12 hours, Krueger said that she woke up around 4 p.m. Jan. 30 to find Kayleigh dead. She said that she noticed a bruise on Kayleigh’s butt before Warner quickly took Kayleigh’s body from her and placed Kayleigh in her room. Warner said that she shouldn’t call the police because he was afraid they would think he did something to Kayleigh, Krueger said.

“I asked him what happened, why she had a bruise on her butt and he told me that she was in time out the day before … (and) he spanked her,” Krueger told the court. “He said he didn’t think it was that hard but apparently it was and I told him that a spanking on the butt isn’t gonna kill her…”

Krueger said she was convinced that Kayleigh had been poisoned by the cleaning solution she thought she drank and that it killed her.

Warner must have put Kayleigh’s body in the freezer while she was asleep, she said, and when she woke up early on Saturday morning (Feb. 1, 2014) and realized that she was in there, she took her out and tucked her into her bed under her “favorite” blanket.

Krueger said that Warner had her phone and told her she had to wait to call the police until they were out of town. The two then got a ride to the bus terminal in Vallejo and took BART from the El Cerrito del Norte Station into San Francisco. Krueger said that when she got her phone back and saw that it was “blowing up” with messages from friends and family she knew Kayleigh’s body had been found. She decided she needed to go back to Napa, she said, but Warner continued to delay them.

They headed to the beach to finish some marijuana that Warner had on him, walked around Golden Gate Park and then ended up at the San Francisco International Airport, where they planned to sleep until they could get transportation back to Napa. They ended up back at the El Cerrito del Norte Station on Feb. 2, 2014, where they were picked up by BART police and handed off to Napa Police.

On Feb. 1, 2014, Napa Police made a welfare check on Krueger’s east Napa apartment where they found Kayleigh’s dead body, chilled from having been stored in a freezer compartment. A pathologist testified last week that the child had suffered numerous injuries and had died from lack of medical treatment.

The trial before Judge Francisca P. Tisher is now in its third week of testimony, and it continues on Thursday morning.

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Maria Sestito is the former Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She now writes for the Register as a freelancer.