LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — A jury on Thursday acquitted a La Crosse man accused of killing his former girlfriend and disposing of her body in a lake.
Jurors deliberated for about five hours Thursday before finding Erik Sackett, 39, not guilty of first-degree intentional homicide in the death of 35-year-old Erin Somvilai, the La Crosse Tribune reported.
Her body was found in a Vernon County lake near Sackett’s family cabin in June 2018, nearly two weeks after her family reported her missing. Police said Somvilai’s body was weighted with concrete blocks. A fisherman discovered her body.
Sackett would have faced a mandatory life sentence if convicted.
“We believe that the jury got it right, but obviously we understand that there is a family on the other side of this that’s grieving, that still misses and loves their daughter, friend, sister, very deeply,” defense attorney Chris Zacher said. “We’re aware of the fact that nobody wins at the end of this.”
Somvilai’s family filed out of the courtroom in silence.
In closing arguments, La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke accused Sackett of throwing Somvilai away like “garbage.”
Gruenke pointed to Sackett’s interview with police as evidence of his guilt, saying he lied instead of admitting he was with Somvilai on June 3, 2018, the day he was accused of killing her in her La Crosse home. Surveillance shows Sackett’s truck going to and from Somvilai’s apartment four times between June 3 and early June 4, 2018, Gruenke said.
“That’s what it looks like when somebody is guilty and trying to get away with it. Deny, deny, until you’re caught and then say, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s true,'” Gruenke said.
Zachar said Somvilai suffered from major depression and had been expressing suicidal thoughts for months prior to her death, but authorities wanted a villain and turned to Sackett with “tunnel vision.”
“Mr. Sackett was targeted because he’s what you might call a ‘usual suspect.’ He’s been convicted of a crime. He’s on supervision. He wasn’t entirely forthcoming with police and we told you that up front,” Zachar said. “They assumed that this guy’s a dirtbag, so he must have done it.”
Sackett was convicted of attempted second-degree sexual assault and sentenced to six years in prison in 2012. He was released from prison in October 2017 on extended supervision.