Erik Sackett makes his preliminary hearing appearance in La Crosse County Circuit Court Wednesday. Sackett is charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the June 3 death of his former girlfriend, Erin Somvilai, whose body was found June 17 in a Vernon County lake.
Erin Somvilai took coffee and doughnuts to the house of her former boyfriend, Erik Sackett, who is accused of killing her, on June 3 and became upset that his current girlfriend was there, according to a La Crosse police investigator’s testimony Wednesday.
That is the scenario the 38-year-old La Crosse man described when police interviewed him on June 6 in connection with Somvilai’s disappearance, Capt. Shawn Kudron testified during the first part of a preliminary hearing on the first-degree intentional homicide charge against Sackett in La Crosse County Circuit Court.
An angler found Somvilai’s body June 17, partially floating, in a shallow Vernon County lake. Vernon County sheriff’s deputies contacted the La Crosse Police Department, which sent three investigators to the scene.
Somvilai’s body, weighted down with two concrete blocks tied to her torso with a chain and a yellow rope, was “significantly decomposed as well as significantly bloated,” Kudron testified. She wore “no undergarments or shoes” and was clothed only in a summer-type dress, he said.
Identification was made from tattoos and a wrist bandage Somvilai was known to be wearing, he said.
Sackett, who faces a life sentence if convicted on the felony charge, was charged on Aug. 9 in La Crosse County instead of Vernon County, based on authorities’ belief that he killed Somvilai in La Crosse and took her body to Vernon, Kudron said.
The investigation began when Somvilai’s father, Mark Bushek, reported her missing on June 4 because family members hadn’t heard from her or been able to contact her since early the previous day, Kudron said. The 35-year-old Somvilai, also known by her maiden name of Bushek, had left her vehicles, keys, prescription medications and cigarettes at her apartment at 435 Rose St. in La Crosse, which was unlike her, her father told police.
Sackett, who is being held in the La Crosse County Jail on $1 million bail, told police the last time he had been at Somvilai’s apartment was June 2. He didn’t see her again until between 9 and 10 a.m. the next day, when she arrived at his house with the coffee and doughnuts, intending to pick up belongings she had left there, Kudron testified in response to questions from Assistant District Attorney Susan Donskey.
Angry at the presence of Sackett girlfriend Kelly Malszycki, Somvilai left, although she called later, very distraught and possibly under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Sackett told police.
Malszycki told police she heard Sackett say “something to the effect of ‘now you’re going to bribe me?’” Kudron said.
Sackett went to Somvilai’s apartment for a time and came back, saying that “she had broken windows and cut her wrist” and that she intended to accuse him of rape, Malszycki told police, Kudron said. Sackett then told her he was going back to Somvilai’s apartment.
That, along with a neighbor’s statements and video evidence that Sackett had been at Somvilai’s apartment several times for a total of several hours on June 3, undercut his statement that he hadn’t been there since the day before.
Neighbor Irina Gebhardt also told police that her father, James Borden, was visiting her and stayed overnight. Borden was awakened about 11 p.m. by scratching noises on the floor and a loud thump, Kudron said.
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Police also gathered data from Somvilai’s cellphone that indicated it had been in her apartment about 3 p.m. June 3 but near the La Crosse/Vernon County line at 11:39 p.m., Kudron said. Police have not recovered the phone, which the data indicate was in the vicinity of Sackett’s residence on the morning of June 4.
An Amish man who was out with horse and buggy told investigators that he had seen a pickup between 12:30 and 1:30 a.m. June 4 near a dock on Runge Hollow Lake, a 39-acre body of water with a maximum depth of 15 feet in Vernon County. Sackett’s grandfather owns a cabin near the lake.
Video evidence indicates that a pickup similar to Sackett’s headed toward Vernon County late June 3 and returned to Somvilai’s apartment after 2 a.m., Kudron said.
Police who went to her apartment found that windows were not smashed, as Sackett had claimed, Kudron said.
Searching Sackett’s house after obtaining a warrant on June 17, police found concrete blocks similar in size and shape to the ones tied to Somvilai’s body, Kudron said. Cadaver dogs detected smells of human remains in Sackett’s truck and Somvilai’s apartment, he testified.
When Donskey asked whether police had determined a possible motive warranting the charges, Kudron said Sackett was on extended supervision resulting from a sexual assault case. That supervision included the stipulation that “he was not to have relations with a female unless his probation officer knew about it and agreed,” Kudron said.
Malszycki told police that Somvilai threatened to tell the probation official about her relationship with Sackett, Kudron said.
Under cross-examination by Sackett’s attorney, Christopher Zachar, Kudron said police found no signs of a disturbance in Somvilai’s bedroom but that a piece of glass was on the living room floor.
Zachar suggested, and Kudron concurred that the cellphone data can be imprecise, so that the location of Somvilai’s cellphone could have been as far as 15 miles from the lake, or other locations, such as Coon Valley or Westby.
Kudron confirmed that records confirmed texts from her phone to Sackett’s, threatening to kill herself and that she had a bandage on her wrist.
Zachar asked Kudron whether the body showed signs of obvious trauma, to which the investigator replied no.
The hearing was continued until 11 a.m. Oct. 17 because the medical examiner who is to testify was not available Wednesday and that is the earliest date available for all the parties.
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Robert Hattle, 59, of 939 Adams St., was charged Aug. 29 with substantial battery, fourth-degree sexual assault, resisting an officer and disorderly conduct. Hattle grabbed a woman's buttox and threw her to the ground at Kornfest on Aug. 18, then pulled away from an officer when placed under arrest and actively fought being handcuffed, according to the complaint.
Ryan Kohls, 36, of N1473 Breidel Coulee Road, was charged Aug. 28 with operating while intoxicated and with a prohibited alcohol concentration, both fourth offenses. On Aug. 26, Kohls was pulled over and registered a 0.12 preliminary breath test, according to the complaint.
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