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Man facing charges in death of Watkins girl appears in court

Zachary Todd Anderson

The 25-year-old Coon Rapids man—who is facing the possibility of life in prison in connection with the August death of 5-year-old Alayna Jeanne Ertl—appeared Wednesday in Cass County District Court in Walker.

Zachary Todd Anderson appeared with his public defender Corey Allen Harbott for an omnibus hearing in front of Judge Jana M. Austad. An omnibus hearing is to determine the evidence of the case, which includes testimony and to discuss any issues relating to a fair and expeditious trial, as stated under the Minnesota Court Rules.

Cass County Attorney Christopher Strandlie is prosecuting the case.

In October, Anderson was indicted by a Cass County District Court grand jury and arraigned on 19 criminal charges, including eight counts of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree intentional murder, four counts of kidnapping, two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of theft of a vehicle and two counts of interference with a dead body.

In court Wednesday, the defense made an oral motion to have the grand jury transcript released. Strandlie stated this is normal in cases where a grand jury is convened.

"The defense has a right to have the transcripts, but since the grand jury is confidential, they need to ask the court to have them released," Strandlie stated.

Austad scheduled a contested omnibus hearing for Anderson for 1:30 p.m. April 12. A contested omnibus hearing is a pretrial hearing that deals with the admissibility of the evidence.

The case against Anderson began about 10 a.m. Aug. 20, when Meeker County Sheriff's Office received a report of a missing child. According to the criminal complaint, Anderson was at Alayna's house the night before and stayed overnight and when the girl's parents woke up Alayna and Anderson were gone, as well as their GMC Sierra truck.

Later that day, authorities tracked down Anderson and Alayna at Anderson's family's cabin at 4926 Iroquois Loop Trail SW., Motley, in the Wilderness Park Homeowners Association in Cass County.

Cass County sheriff's deputies, among other law enforcement officers, swept the area and found Anderson, who was in knee-deep water in a swampy area, the complaint stated. Anderson eventually told investigators where Alayna was hidden and officers found the girl's deceased, naked body completely submerged in the water and hidden under some brush and other debris, the complaint stated.

The initial findings of Alayna's autopsy indicated the cause of death was homicidal violence due to strangulation with other evidence of blunt force trauma to the victim's head. The forensic examination of the victim also revealed evidence of a sexual assault, including sexual penetration.