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Day 1: Erik Sackett trial

Erik Sackett, accused of first-degree intentional homicide in the killing of Erin Somvilai, walks into the courtroom Monday for the first day of his trial before Judge Elliott Levine at the La Crosse County Courthouse.

The trial of the La Crosse man accused of killing a La Crosse woman begins Monday in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

Erik Sackett, 38, will be in front of Judge Elliott Levine as a jury hears evidence and weighs whether to find him guilty of a single charge: first-degree intentional homicide.

Jury selection begins at 8:45 a.m. Monday, and the trial is scheduled to last two weeks.

Sackett mug

Sackett 

Erin (Bushek) Somvilai 2018

Somvilai

Sackett is accused of killing Erin Somvilai — also known as Erin Bushek — last year at her home in La Crosse, then disposing of her body in a Vernon County lake, according to the complaint.

During the trial, the public will not be allowed to display signs, buttons or clothing memorializing Somvilai anywhere in view of the jury. The jury will be sequestered and forbidden from discussing the case before deliberations.

Prosecutors are prohibited from bringing up Sackett’s criminal history, which includes a 2012 conviction of attempted second-degree sexual assault using force, battery and criminal damage to property in Vernon County after a jury found him guilty of assaulting a woman in 2011.

At the time Somvilai went missing, he was on extended supervision which prohibited him from having relationships without his probation agent’s knowledge and permission.

Somvilai was reported missing June 4, 2018, by her father, Mark Bushek. Bushek went to her Rose Street home to find her vehicles, keys, purse, prescriptions and cigarettes inside, but no sign of his daughter.

La Crosse police began a search for her, visiting Sackett on June 6. According to the complaint, Sackett told investigators at that time he had last seen Somvilai on  June 3 at his home on Oak Drive in La Crosse. During the investigation, police found Sackett had been to her apartment several times June 3 after two witnesses reported seeing him there and surveillance video showed a truck matching the description of his vehicle driving down her block, according to the complaint.

Somvilai’s body was recovered June 17 in Runge Hollow Lake in Vernon County — the same lake she had been to with Sackett while he was visiting his family cabin. She was tied to two concrete blocks with ropes and a chain and was wearing the same sun dress her neighbor had seen her in June 3 and no undergarments.

Sackett was arrested Aug. 8 after a pathologist found Somvilai died of homicidal violence and charged Aug. 9 by La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke.

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Tim Gruenke

Gruenke

Gruenke is expected to argue Sackett killed Somvilai after an argument over their relationship, which Sackett described as a friendship to police.

According to the criminal complaint, Somvilai was upset with Sackett after finding him in bed with another woman the morning of June 3. Sackett’s truck was seen on surveillance driving to Somvilai’s apartment four times between 10:45 a.m. June 3 and 2:23 a.m. June 4.

An Amish man also saw the truck in an area near the lake in Vernon County at about 1:30 a.m., according to the complaint.

While Somvilai’s cellphone was never recovered, records show she texted Sackett for about 20 minutes June 3, saying she loved him and was upset that he broke off their relationship. She also texted another man at 2:30 p.m. saying the house was ransacked and there was broken glass everywhere. Her last phone call was to Dr. David Onsrud at 2:30 p.m. and lasted three minutes.

However, cellphone tracking showed her phone was in the area around her home at 7:15 p.m. June 3, in southern La Crosse County near Vernon County at 11:39 p.m. and in Sackett’s neighborhood at 9:28 a.m. June 4, according to the complaint. Sackett’s phone went back and forth between Somvilai’s residence and Vernon County June 3 before it was turned off at 7:29 p.m. It was turned back on at 4:44 a.m. June 4.

The defense is expected to argue Sackett is innocent and Somvilai, who was mentally ill, was instead killed by her doctor and employer, Onsrud.

Attorney Christopher Zachar

Zachar

According to a motion filed by the defense, Onsrud, a former employee at Mayo Clinic Health System, had a sexual relationship with Somvilai, who was his patient, as well as an employee with Independent Living Choices taking care of his disabled son. The defense alleges that he paid her up to $1,000 per session to dress provocatively and tie him up, and he provided her with prescription medication including Adderall, Sackett’s attorney Christopher Zachar said.

The trial is also expected to focus on the concrete blocks found tied to Somvilai’s body.

Police determined that the concrete blocks found in Sackett’s residence and with Somvilai’s body matched, and they were discontinued in 2002, according to the complaint.

Zachar said in a motion hearing that an FBI analyst examined the blocks and concluded they were chemically different than those found on Somvilai, and a hair found on the rope around Somvilai’s waist did not match Sackett.


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Jourdan Vian can be reached at jvian@lacrossetribune.com or follow her on Twitter at @Jourdan_LCT.

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Reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering crime and courts for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218 or jvian@lacrossetribune.com.

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