NEW ULM — Jurors did not believe Scott Engelbrecht’s testimony that he accidentally shot his stepdaughter after he thought she shot his wife.
The jury took under four hours to find Scott Engelbrecht, 60, of St. James, guilty of murder in the June 16, 2018, deaths of Joyce Engelbrecht, 67, and Rachel Linder, 43.
Scott Engelbrecht was found guilty of first-degree and second-degree murder, as well as assault for pointing a gun at his stepgrandson.
The first-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
The verdicts came around 8 p.m. Thursday following four days of testimony.
Engelbrecht did not show any emotion as the verdicts were read. One juror and some of Joyce Engelbrecht’s family members were crying.
Sister Lin Henriksen did not miss a minute of the four-day trial.
“I wanted to see justice and I think I saw it today,” she said. “He finally got what he deserved.”
Scott Engelbrecht took the stand Thursday morning and said he accidentally shot his stepdaughter after he believed she shot his wife.
Scott Engelbrecht told jurors in Brown County District Court that he was asleep when his stepgrandson, Dillion Mathias, awakened him in his St. James home.
“He was really frantic,” the defendant said. “He said his mother had just shot my wife. I just couldn’t comprehend that she could do that.”
Engelbrecht testified Mathias gave him a rifle that had been stored in a basement closet and pointed him to ammunition sitting on a dresser.
“He had a gun that he handed to me and said Rachel still had a gun and I should protect myself,” Engelbrecht said.
He said he told Mathias to call 911 when he saw his wife shot in the living room and Linder then came in, grabbed a handgun from the kitchen and ran outside.
Engelbrecht said he chased Linder because he feared she would shoot his neighbors.
“I was scared Rachel was going to shoot somebody,” he said.
He said he fired warning shots as Linder ignored his yells to put the gun down.
As Linder neared a neighbor’s house, Engelbrecht said he fired at the house, hoping the sound of the bullet hitting the wall “might get her to stop the situation.”
She reportedly then turned toward him.
“I seen something in her hand, so I fired,” Engelbrecht said. “I wasn’t really trying to hit her.”
She fell over on the top of a neighbor’s steps.
“I wanted to check to see if she was just playing possum,” he said. “I didn’t want her hurting anybody else.”
As he walked up the steps, Engelbrecht said a bad ankle caused him to stumble. He fell against the wall of the house and the shotgun went off, he said.
“It was an accident. I was just trying to protect everyone else in the neighborhood,” he said.
He fell back off the steps and blacked out. When he regained consciousness, he approached a police officer who had arrived. Engelbrecht denied making any admission to the officer.
Engelbrecht’s story contradicted early testimony from Mathias and St. James Police officer Jonathan LeClaire.
Mathias said he heard his mother yell, “You shot her, you bastard” before coming upstairs and seeing Engelbrecht standing near his fallen grandmother with a shotgun.
LeClaire said shortly after he arrived, Engelbrecht told him either “I did it” or “I shot her.”
Engelbrecht also denied testimony given Tuesday by a former jail cellmate claiming Engelbrecht confessed to him. Engelbrecht said he heeded his attorneys’ warnings not to talk about his case because there are “jailhouse snitches looking to improve their cases.”
Engelbrecht largely stuck to his story under cross-examination, although he said he fired three warning shots, whereas he had previously mentioned only two shots.
Engelbrecht acknowledged he had been arguing with his wife the night she died, but he claimed the argument had concluded.
It was their 17th anniversary and Joyce had made him a special dinner. But he was too sick to eat and just wanted to sleep.
“I was really upset that she couldn’t see how sick I was,” Engelbrecht said.
But then she reportedly felt his forehead, realized he had a fever, brought him cold medication and let him sleep.
The defendant also acknowledged he had had conflict with Linder about the condition she was keeping the house that he owned but in which she was residing.
But then prosecutor Matthew Frank, from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, asked Engelbrecht: “Do you hate Rachel?”
Engelbrecht responded: “No, I loved her like a daughter.”
Frank also questioned Engelbrecht about the multiple guns that investigators found on the bed in which Engelbrecht said he had been sleeping. Engelbrecht said the guns were in the same basement closet as the rifle he used and he did not know how they got on the bed.
In closing arguments, public defender Steve Bergeson suggested Mathias put the guns on the bed in a plot to frame his grandfather. The defender said Mathias could have shot his grandmother, told his stepgrandfather his mother did it, gave his stepgrandfather one of the guns and placed the other guns on the bed after his stepfather left the house in pursuit of his mother.
“The government hasn’t ruled out reasonable doubt that someone else pulled the trigger on Joyce,” Bergeson said.
Calling Mathias a “twice convicted felon with motive,” Bergeson noted that Mathias received an inheritance after the deaths of his mother and grandmother.
“Dylan had a plan: Get rid of Grandma. Make it look like Grandpa did it. Easy Street,” Bergeson said.
As for Linder’s death, Bergeson contended: “The government hasn’t ruled out the possibility that it was all an accident.”
Lead prosecutor Erin Rivka Eldridge, also from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, called the defense’s account of the shooting unconvincing.
“You’re entitled to rely on your common sense. And the defendant’s story makes no sense,” she said.
Eldridge painted Engelbrecht as a man fed up about his wife giving his money away to others, including his stepdaughter who was living rent-free in one of the houses he owned.
“He wanted to take back control — control of his money and control of his houses,” she said. “He wanted them dead.”
Lin described her sister Joyce as a “loving, caring person who helped anybody who needed help.”
“I just wish the whole world knew a wonderful person had her life taken,” she said.
While the shootings occurred in Watonwan County, the case was tried in Brown County after Judge Stephen Ferrazzano approved a change of venue over concerns about finding impartial jurors.