Judge gives Swatara man close to 30 years in prison for murder
"She was full of life. She was a great listener, a great friend, a great mom. Full of life,” Michelle Mae’s mother told the Dispatch in 2019 about her daughter. “She wanted to see her kids go off to school or get married and have babies. It was something that she was looking forward to because she knew how much I loved being a grandma.”
AITKIN — A 36-year-old Swatara man was sentenced Tuesday, June 1, to nearly 30 years in prison for the strangulation death of a 35-year-old Outing woman in Aitkin County District Court in Aitkin.
Joshua Karjala was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder in the death of Michelle Mae. Unintentional murder is causing the death of a human being without intent to effect the death of any person, while committing or attempting to commit a felony offense other than criminal sexual conduct in the first- or second-degree with force.
The second-degree murder charge with intent was dimissed.
Judge David F. Hermerding sentenced Karjala to 330 months — or 27 1/2 years — in the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud, where he will serve two-thirds of his sentence before being released on probation. He was given credit for 660 days already served in jail.
The sentencing comes after Karjala pleaded guilty to the murder charge in an amended criminal complaint. Mae was reported missing when her family had no contact with her after Oct. 3, 2019. Upon discovering the location of Mae’s black 2004 Jeep Liberty on Oct. 4, an investigation was started and searches began. On Oct. 5, Karjala was arrested for violating his probation and taken into custody.
Karjala was charged Nov. 7, 2019, with felony second-degree murder in connection to Mae’s death.
During the plea hearing, Karjala talked about the night of Mae’s death. According to court transcripts, the court acknowledged Karjala didn't have a perfect recollection of everything that happened that night and was not making any claims he was innocent.
Karjala stated around the night of Oct. 2, 2019, Mae came over to his house and they used drugs and engaged in what he called rough sex, including him choking her.
“At a certain point I realized that she was ... not responding to me. I said something to her, and she did not respond. At that point I, I panicked. I sat her up and tried to revive her … she didn’t seem to be breathing at that point. I panicked. I laid her down at the edge of my bed, after sitting her up and shaking her. ... I assumed at a certain point that the police would be coming to my house because Michelle had a safety net and stuff in place, that if she didn’t call her friend at a certain time her friend was instructed to call the police. Apparently this is something she does,” Karjala said, according to court transcripts.
Karjala continued, “... I assume the police were going to be coming to my house. I grabbed all my drugs and I tried eating them. I ate probably roughly 2 grams of meth laced with ecstasy, and I blacked out. ... When I woke up I panicked. I tried hiding her body. I picked her up and I put her in her jacket and tried moving her ... away from the bed and she fell to the floor. ... I decided to move her without her jacket because it was impossible to do so with the jacket.
“I brought her to my back bedroom and lowered her down through a trapdoor with the intention of hiding her because I didn’t want ... cops to see her. ... I ended up dropping her slightly into the hole with the trapdoor. ... A couple days later I finally moved her into the final place where she was found by police.”
Karjala admitted to intentionally choking her, but not with the intent to cause her death. He said he had no recollection of the other injuries and bruises to her body.
Mae: a daughter, a mother, a sister
Mae is survived by her children, Michael Kroll, Dominick Kroll and Serenity Krebsbach; her parents, Donald Imgrund and DeAnne (Chris) Evanson; siblings, Sarah (Charlie) Young, Joseph Imgrund and Jonathon Larson; and many more friends and family.
In 2013, Mae suffered the loss of her 4-month-old son Tobbie Krebsbach to meningitis.
No matter how difficult things were for Mae, she remained a positive person who people were drawn to, her mother told the Dispatch in 2019 . Her charisma shone in her work as a bartender and server at various area restaurants and bars, including the Pickled Loon Saloon in Outing, and as a retail merchandiser with Driveline Retail Merchandising.
“She was full of life. She was a great listener, a great friend, a great mom. Full of life,” Mae’s mother said in 2019. “She wanted to see her kids go off to school or get married and have babies. It was something that she was looking forward to because she knew how much I loved being a grandma.”