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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Woman's death ruled a homicide

DEER RIVER, Minn. -- Itasca County authorities say the death of a woman found in her Deer River home Wednesday has been ruled a homicide.

Sonya Ann Smith, 43, died “as a result of multiple traumatic injuries due to assault,” the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office reported Friday. Officials said interviews and forensic evidence collected at the scene have led them to believe Smith’s death was not a random attack, and that they do not believe there is an ongoing threat to public safety.

Sheriff Vic Williams said authorities are not releasing additional details about possible suspects or what kind of weapon was used in the attack as the investigation continues. He said they hope to have more information available early next week.

The case remains under investigation by the sheriff’s office with assistance from the Deer River Police Department, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Ramsey County medical examiner.

Authorities received a 911 call just before 9 a.m. Wednesday about Smith’s death in her home in the 500 block of Fifth Street Southeast.


DULUTH -- It took him nearly 13 years to admit it, but before a full St. Louis County courtroom, Joseph John Couture testified Friday that he beat and stabbed Trina Louise Langenbrunner to death on Sept. 3, 2000.

Couture, 42, of Cloquet, pleaded guilty to intentional second-degree murder, first-degree aiding and abetting aggravated witness tampering, and aiding and abetting first-degree arson.

Judge Dale Harris accepted the plea agreement reached between the defendant and the St. Louis County Attorney’s Office and immediately sentenced Couture to nearly 40 years in prison.

Under terms of the plea agreement, Couture was sentenced to 386 months in prison on the murder conviction and 86 months in prison for the witness-tampering conviction, to be served one after the other. He was sentenced to 129 months in prison on the arson conviction, to be served at the same time as the murder conviction.

Langenbrunner, a 33-year-old mother of three, last was seen hitchhiking in the area of Brookston Road between 1:30 and 2 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2000. Couture was a neighbor of Langenbrunner at the time. The victim’s beaten and stabbed body was discovered off a rural road in southern St. Louis County.

The arson charge was related to the burning down of the home of a witness’s relative.


MOORHEAD, Minn. – A Winnipeg man faces criminal charges in Clay County court after prosecutors accused him of driving here from Canada to have sex with a 15-year-old West Fargo, N.D., girl who was reported by her mother as a runaway.

Samuel Juliann Viviezca Seneres, 27, was charged Thursday with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony.

According to a police report, the girl’s mother contacted West Fargo police Feb. 28 to report her daughter missing. During the search for the girl, Facebook photos of her and a man in a hotel room in their underwear were discovered.

The girl was found two days later. She told investigators she met the man on an adult website, that she lied about her age to get on the website, but later told Seneres she was 15.  

The girl told investigators she had sexual intercourse with the man on two occasions at the Grand Inn in Moorhead.

The police report says officers eventually identified Seneres as the man in the photos, and confirmed with border agents that he had crossed into the U.S. on Feb. 21 and returned Feb. 24. Seneres told police he and the girl were just friends and denied knowing she was under 18.

A warrant has been issued for Seneres’ arrest.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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