WALKER-A 25-year-old Coon Rapids man faces criminal charges of kidnapping, sexual assault and murder in connection with the death of 5-year-old Alayna Jeanne Ertl of Watkins.
Zachary Todd Anderson was arraigned Tuesday morning on charges of second-degree murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of kidnapping and theft - all felonies.
Anderson, wearing an orange, jail-issued jumpsuit with his hands and legs in shackles, appeared before Judge David Harrington in Cass County District Court in Walker. He showed no emotion during the proceeding as he sat next to a public defender, Jay Sommer, during his arraignment.
Attending the arraignment on the third floor of the court house were a handful of Cass County employees and several media outlets. One woman, who asked not to be identified, said she knows Alayna's family and was there to observe the arraignment for them, as they were not in attendance.
Harrington set unconditional bail at $2 million and conditional bail at $1 million after he listened to the attorneys' recommendations.
Cass County Assistant Attorney Benjamin Lindstrom requested Harrington set a $3 million unconditional bail and a $2 million bail with conditions. Lindstrom said the bond recommendations are "extremely high," but are appropriate due to the heinous crime, one in which evidence shows the girl was sexually assaulted and her body was disposed of.
Lindstrom said the facts of the crime are "unsettling" as Anderson had little criminal history before Alayna's murder.
Sommer noted Anderson has no criminal background history as an adult and said he would like to see a more reasonable bond set.
Sommer told the court Anderson has lived in Minnesota his whole life and his parents are from the Blaine and Rogers areas. Sommer said he went over Anderson's rights and the charges against him before the court appearance and Anderson understood them.
After bond was set, the judge scheduled Anderson's omnibus hearing for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 10.
Sommer said he will not be the public defender in Anderson's case. He said he was not sure who would be taking over the case.
The case against Anderson began about 10 a.m. Saturday, when the Meeker County Sheriff's Office received a report of a missing child.
According to the criminal complaint, Alayna's parents said Anderson had played softball with the the little girl's father Friday night. After playing softball, Anderson and the father went out with friends and then the father came home at 2:30 a.m. and Anderson arrived at the residence between 3:30-3:45 a.m. Saturday. The two visited until 4 a.m. and the father retired for the night, the complaint stated. Alayna's parents were not identified in the criminal complaint.
The complaint stated Alayna had fallen asleep on the couch and her mother carried her to her room at 2:30 a.m. The mother indicated to officers that her daughter sleeps with a pink Princess Elsa blanket from the Disney movie "Frozen."
At 8 a.m. Saturday, both Alayna and Anderson were gone. The Ertl parent's white GMC Sierra truck also was missing with the father's cellphone inside.
Deputies canvassed a neighborhood searching for Alayna. They also contacted the family's cell phone provider to try to locate the whereabouts of Anderson. When Alayna was not located during the search, the Meeker County Sheriff's Office contacted the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to request assistance with the investigation. An AMBER Alert was issued at 1:12 p.m. Saturday.
Just before 2 p.m. Saturday, the Cass County Sheriff's Office dispatch center was contacted by Anderson's father. His father told Cass County officials he believed his son was the subject of the alert that had been sent out statewide. He stated his son had called earlier in the day and wanted to have permission to go to the family's cabin at 4926 Iroquois Loop Trail S.W., Motley, in the Wilderness Park Homeowners' Association in Cass County. Anderson's father gave officers permission to enter his property and residence to aid in their search.
Cass County sheriff's deputies proceeded to the residence and observed the white roof of the stolen truck, which was visible in a ravine at the southwest end of the property. The vehicle had been pulled into the ravine and into a brushy/wooded area in an apparent attempt to conceal its location, the complaint stated. The vehicle was unoccupied. Officers then approached the residence to look for Anderson and Alayna. Due to exigent circumstances concerning the welfare of the child, officers made entry into the unsecured residence. Officers announced their presence and swept the residence searching. Nobody was discovered in the residence. However, in plain view, officers observed a single-shot 20-gauge shotgun on the kitchen table with multiple 20-gauge rounds spilled about. Officers also observed numerous 12-gauge rounds but no 12-gauge shotgun. Also on the table was an apparent suicide note with apparent blood on the upper corner, the complaint stated. The keys for the truck also were on the table.
Searching for Alayna
More law enforcement arrived and officers observed recent foot traffic leading past the residence into the woods to the north, as well as to the woods to the southwest of the truck. The K-9 units from Cass County and Baxter Police Department began to search the two areas where it appeared there had been recent foot traffic going into the woods. Deputies and another K-9 unit began to search the area past the truck. At 4:23 p.m. officers made contact with Anderson who was in knee-deep water in a swampy area. Officers observed Anderson to have fresh lacerations to his left wrist. Anderson was arrested without incident. He was read his Miranda warning at that time and was asked the location of "the girl" and he initially responded, "What girl?" the complaint stated.
Anderson was led out of the swamp and placed into a squad car. Investigators from the BCA spoke with Anderson who indicated, when asked, that the child was hidden in the swamp under some debris. Anderson agreed to show officers the approximate location of where she was hidden. He walked with officers to the edge of the swamp and pointed in a general direction indicating she was "over there."
Officers were able to observe areas of freshly trampled swamp grass and began to search in that vicinity. An investigator followed the trampled grass for 80 yards away from the location, where he observed the corner of a pink blanket sticking out from under some brush in knee-deep water. He pulled the blanket out and discovered that it was a pink Disney blanket consistent with the blanket described by Alayna's mother. The blanket did not appear to have been in that location very long as it did not have signs of deterioration. Officers continued to search the area and discovered the girl's deceased, naked body completely submerged in the water and hidden under some brush and other debris, the complaint stated.
The investigation also revealed Anderson was observed at 8:30 a.m. at a convenience store in Browerville and on video surveillance, entering the store alone and purchasing a bottle of water. He is shown to be wearing a softball type uniform. He subsequently appears in video surveillance obtained from a common clubhouse at Wilderness Park. He is seen entering, and subsequently exiting, the clubhouse wearing the same softball type uniform as he was wearing in the convenience store video.
During a search warrant executed at the residence on Iroquois Loop Trail, officers discovered wet clothing. The clothing included a pair of apparent softball uniform pants consistent with the pants Anderson was wearing in the surveillance video. Officers also discovered wet shoes and socks.
The initial findings of the autopsy indicate 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 reveals evidence of a sexual assault, including sexual penetration.