Defense questions evidence testing in resort murder case
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension previously stated shell casings and bullet fragments recovered from the scene would be destroyed as part of the agency’s DNA testing procedures.
BRAINERD — Arguments over evidence in a pretrial hearing for a Crow Wing County murder case came to a head Thursday, Jan. 13, as the prosecution accused the defense of “holding the state hostage.”
Appearing before Judge Erik Askegaard via Zoom from the Crow Wing County Jail, 29-year-old Cameron Jay Moser, along with his public defenders Carly Vosacek and Jordan Olsen, argued destroying the evidence in question would limit his rights. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension previously stated shell casings and bullet fragments recovered from the scene would be destroyed as part of the agency’s DNA testing procedures.
Moser faces a felony charge of second-degree murder with intent but not premeditation stemming from an October 2021 incident at Cozy Bay Resort, north of Merrifield. Crow Wing County sheriff’s deputies responded to a shooting complaint there, and after a 90-minute standoff, Moser surrendered an “AR-style” rifle and silver revolver and was arrested.
After Moser was taken into custody, members of the Crow Wing County Tactical Response Team found a dead woman lying at the end of a hallway in a cabin at the resort with a large pool of blood under her head.
That woman was 46-year-old Bethany Anne Bernatsky, a standout horse trainer and lakes area native who’d recently returned home to stay at the resort as she recovered from cancer treatments. Bernatsky died as a result of gunshot injuries and the manner of death was determined to be homicide by a medical examiner.
On Oct. 20, 2021, Judge Matthew Mallie ordered Moser to submit to an evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial after Olsen disclosed his intent to rely on mental illness or deficiency as a defense at trial. Thursday’s hearing was set to review the status of that evaluation, which is complete and to which attorneys on either side indicated they had no plans to issue objections.
Much of Thursday’s discussion focused on a defense motion seeking to delay evidence testing until the BCA could show it was necessary to destroy the evidence in the process. Vosacek argued without prior determination shown by the BCA of that necessity, Moser’s due process rights would be violated.
Assistant Crow Wing County Attorney Janine LePage argued the BCA already made its case on this point, stating it sent notices of its intent to test the cartridge casings and bullet fragments and confirmed testing would destroy the whole sample, making any future testing impossible.
Vosacek said the state was misstating the defense’s issue with the evidence testing, noting they wanted more specific information on why destruction was necessary.
“This testing prohibits my client from having rights down the line should he need to get this sample tested down the line,” Vosacek said.
The prosecution said they would request an affidavit from the BCA on its operating procedures to justify the testing.
Urging both counsels to attempt to come to a solution before the next hearing, Askegaard outlined a schedule of submissions to be completed by March.
Mental health evaluation
Askegaard asked if either side planned to file an objection to the evaluation of Moser’s mental condition as they had seven more days to file.
The state and defense both stated they had no objections to the mental health examination. Vosacek requested copies of the medical evidence used as part of the evaluation.
“The report is offering an opinion that would be admissible (in court),” Vosacek said. “Anything used to substantiate an opinion is discoverable and should be disclosed.”
The judge agreed with Vosacek and stated evidence used to support the mental health evaluation would likely be released to both parties — under confidential seal — following an official request from the defense.
Moser’s expected to appear in court again on March 10.