Wright County Attorney Tom Kelly announced Thursday, July 21 that a Grand Jury convened this summer to review the shootings of two men in St. Michael has returned an indictment on Christopher Besser, with two counts of first degree murder in the shooting his father, Officer Todd Besser, and brother, Blake.In May, Kelly told Twin Cities media outlets at a press conference he would ask for a Grand Jury to be convened to review the case. He pointed to two instances where Christopher Besser stopped and considered his actions – first before removing the gun from a gun cabinet and placing three rounds in the chamber, then while sitting at the kitchen table before Blake, his brother, entered the home – as solid grounds for asking the state to consider the higher charge.
“I think we have a sufficient basis to ask for that, and I think it would behoove us to do so,” Kelly said at the time. “I can’t think of a more tragic, sad situation that has brought us here. Imagine the phone call [Todd’s wife received] – your husband has been killed, your oldest son has been killed, and your youngest son is in jail for killing both of them. How do you even wrap your brain around that?”
County attorneys cannot, under Minnesota Law, charge accused suspects of first degree, premeditated murder without the Grand Jury indictment.
Minnesota does not have the death penalty in place. The maximum penalty for a criminal convicted of first degree, premeditated murder can receive is life imprisonment.
“I would like to note the importance of citizens who participate in Grand Jury proceedings and the individual sacrifices they make when they carry out this important function in our criminal justice system,” Kelly said in a statement released Thursday. “I appreciated their time and commitment to hearing this case.”
Christopher Besser made his first appearance on the first degree murder indictments Wednesday afternoon, July 22. He and his attorney, Kevin Tierney, of the public defender’s office, were told by Judge Kathleen Mottl that bail is set at $2.5 million. Besser remains in custody at the Wright County Law Enforcement Center jail, north of Buffalo. His next appearance is set for Tuesday, July 28 in Wright County District Court.
The Grand Jury also did return charges of second degree intentional murder, the original charges put in place by the county attorney’s office.
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‘I just lost it’
Christopher Besser, now 22, is accused of shooting his father and his older brother with a hunting rifle Saturday, May 9 at approximately 7 p.m. in the boys’ St. Michael home.
Besser and his brother, Blake, 29, had a “strained” relationship, Kelly said in his statement to media. Wright County Sheriff’s Office staff confirmed police had been called to the house in the 4500 block of Mayfield Avenue Northeast a “couple of times” before the shootings Saturday, once for a suicide attempt. Authorities would not comment on which of the three brothers (the third Besser brother, Derek, is overseas serving in the military and not involved in this incident) was threatening to take his own life.
Chris Besser and his father, Todd, argued Saturday night prior to the killings, according to Kelly’s statement and the criminal complaint filed in court. Kelly said shortly after the argument – which happened between Besser’s arrival at 6:30 p.m. and the 911 call by Blake at 7:06 p.m., Chris went to the gun cabinet and pulled out a rifle commonly used in deer hunting. Christopher loaded three rounds into the rifle.
Chris went downstairs and found his father working on his computer. He fired one round, and killed his father “instantly.”
“His firearm was in its holster,” Wright County Lt. Sean Deringer told media.
Christopher then went back upstairs, Kelly said, and sat at the kitchen table with the “rifle between his legs.” He knew his brother, Blake, was still at the home. Blake entered the home from a garage door into the kitchen area, and Christopher shot him in the lower chest/upper abdomen.
Blake was able to place a 911 call after he was shot, the complaint states. As he spoke, he dropped the phone, moaned, and fell to the ground. He was found by deputies at the scene, deceased.
Christopher, who did have alcohol in his system at the time, drove his car from the home and eventually wound up at the Kwik Stop in Monticello, where he asked to use a phone. “I ended up killing my father and brother,” he told the dispatcher. “I just lost it.”
During the conversation with the 911 dispatcher at the Wright County Communications Center, Christopher Besser told her that he and his father “just didn’t get along,” and that his father expected things from him, the complaint said. He told the dispatcher he had left the murder weapon at the house in St. Michael.
He was arrested at around 8 p.m. without incident, less than an hour after the shootings, the complaint states.
During transport to the Wright County Jail, Christopher asked if his brother, Blake, survived the shooting. “I’m guessing not” he said, according to the complaint. “I sympathize with the fact that I did that.”
At around 10 p.m. Saturday, May 9, Christopher waived his Miranda right and made a statement to investigators, admitting to the two shootings.