MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Jury selection begins today in Willmar' teen's murder trial
WILLMAR, Minn. -- Jury selection begins today in the murder trial of a teen accused of killing an elderly Willmar woman last July. Prosecutors believe 19-year-old Brok Junkermeier intended to rob 79-year-old Lila Warwick and the incident ended with him stabbing and strangling her in her Willmar home. Also charged in the case is Warwick's grandson 18-year-old Robert Warwick who police believe was the mastermind behind the robbery and killing. His trial has not yet been scheduled. A third suspect, 16-year-old Devon Jenkins of Willmar, pleaded guilty to one count of unintentional 2nd degree murder and was given a suspended 15-year prison sentence and placed in a juvenile facility until he's 18. Jenkins admitted knowing about the plan and was with Junkermeier on the day of the murder but said he didn't think he was serious and admitted he should have tried to stop him.
A massive 61-vehicle pileup in Mendota Heights on Highway 55 was triggered by two cars that lost control and a semi that jackknifed in an attempt to avoid them. The Minnesota State Patrol says just one person had to be hospitalized with minor injuries as a result of the crash. The accident shut down the highway's westbound lanes for roughly two hours yesterday afternoon.
If you're one of the many Minnesotans eligible for tax breaks under the recently approved tax bill, and you haven't already filed, officials are asking you to hold off until April 3rd. That includes those who qualify for the working family credit--that was a federal conformity item expanded for 2103. There's a mortgage insurance deduction, you would qualify if you took it on your federal return. There is also mortgage debt forgiveness and a deduction for educator expenses. Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans says the cuts also apply to tuition deductions and certain student loans. You can find out more about qualifications at the Revenue Department's website. Frans says about one in 10 filers in Minnesota should benefit from the tax cuts this year.
A bill that would prohibit e-cigarette sales to minors, and prohibit using them wherever regular cigarettes are banned is headed to the Minnesota Senate floor. The legislation cleared the Senate Commerce committee Monday. No word yet on when the bill will be heard in the full Senate. In the House the proposed legislation doesn't go as far. It would allow for restrictions in state-owned buildings and leave it to local governments to decide whether to go further.
It's safe to say that residential real estate in Minnesota is a seller's market right now. Chris Galler of the Minnesota Association of Realtors says transactions and new listings were down in February while the median sales price increased eight-point-six percent. He says it's a positive for a seller and it's a positive for anybody who is not looking to sell because that means prices are recovering for communities. Galler says although we have homes to sell, we have a lot of homes that people aren't interested in at a price point that they're at today. Galler says people aren't going to put their homes on the market until they find a home they want to move into. He expects pending and closed sales to pick up once the weather gets warmer in late March and April.
A Minnesota House Republican has proposed the creation of a Data Practices and Personal Data Privacy Legislative Commission, which would review legislation impacting data practices, data security, and personal data privacy. Representative Mary Liz Hoberg of Lakeville sponsored the bill, and says she believes navigating the balance between and individual's right to privacy and public good is best done after weighing all the options and thoughtful consideration by people with knowledge in the data privacy arena. No increased funding is included in the legislation, and existing House budget dollars of approximately $29,000 will pay for the commission's work.
MNsure will offer an extension to Minnesotans that have tried to sign up for coverage through the health care exchange but are unable to complete the process by the deadline on March 31. Anyone nationwide that hasn't signed up for health care coverage by that date will be charged a penalty of a minimum of $95, but interim CEO Scott Leitz says those that have tried to sign up but ran into technical glitches, Minnesotans who have emailed MnSure to discuss enrollment problems, or who has phone records that show an attempt to sign up will be granted the extension. Leitz says MNsure is working with six private health insurance companies who sell their plans on the marketplace to ensure anyone who has started the enrollment process before the deadline can still obtain coverage.
The push is on by several groups who want to allow people over the age of 21 to be allowed to carry guns on the campus of the University of Minnesota. Called "Allow Campus Carry," supporters say people legally permitted to carry a gun anywhere else shouldn't be banned on campus. The Minnesota College Republicans, Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow, Young Americans for Liberty and the Minnesota Republic newspaper are behind the four-day awareness effort.
Acting Robbinsdale Police Chief Jim Franzen says former Chief Steven Smith quit over the weekend due to his arrest in Coon Rapids in a prostitution sting. Franzen says Smith allegedly used the website Backpage.com to solicit sex in February. According to police records, the former chief was exchanging text messages with an officer posing as a prostitute, and he agreed to pay 150-dollars for sexual acts. City officials in Robbinsdale were unaware of his arrest last month until he resigned on Saturday.
Minnesota Power is being threatened with a lawsuit by the Sierra Club for what the environmental group says are nearly 13-thousand violations of the federal Clean Air Act. The violations over the past five years have been at the Clay Boswell, Taconite Harbor, and Syl Laskin coal plants. The Sierra Club has notified the utility of its intention to file a civil lawsuit.
Algae might be able to disrupt the spread of invasive zebra-and-quagga mussels in the Great Lakes. Wayne State University biologist Donna Kashian says preliminary tests show that algae produce chemicals which might discourage the invasive mussels from spawning. Zebra-and-quagga mussels have caused widespread environmental damage in the Great Lakes since the 1980's, when they began arriving in the ballast tanks of incoming foreign ships. Kashian and researcher Jeffrey Ram are now trying to determine how the lake algae telegraphs their chemical releases. Knowing that could provide new strategies for controlling the mussels, so toxic chemicals would not have to be used.