WALKER, Minn. -- A northern Minnesota judge has ruled that investigators improperly questioned the man accused of kidnapping and killing Watkins 5-year-old Alayna Ertl last August, deciding his first statement to investigators is inadmissible at any trial he might face.
Zachary Todd Anderson, 26, formerly of Monticello, has been indicted on murder, kidnapping, sexual assault and other charges related to the girl from the small town about 25 miles south of St. Cloud. The ruling from Cass County District Court Judge Jana Austad means that jurors can't hear what Anderson told investigators after three times telling them he didn't want to answer their questions.
Austad, in the same ruling, upheld the charges against Anderson by denying a defense motion to dismiss the 19-count indictment.
Still to come could be a motion from Anderson's defense that would seek to block from trial any evidence that investigators gained from the comments Anderson made in the now-banned first statement.
In that first statement, after Anderson had been read his Miranda rights and three times said he didn't want to talk, he told investigators where they could find Ertl's body.
The 5-year-old had been taken in the early hours of Aug. 20 from her family home. Anderson had stayed the night at that home after playing softball and going out with Ertl's father.
Ertl's body was found later the same day in a swamp near Anderson's family cabin near Leader.
Court records indicate that Anderson had slashed his wrist and was standing in knee-deep water when investigators encountered him in the woods outside the cabin.
Austad's ruling said that agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension read Anderson his rights to remain silent and heard him three times say he didn't want to talk to them.
Investigators then talked to Anderson about the need to bring Ertl home to her family. Investigators weren't sure at that point whether Ertl was still alive, according to Austad's order.
Investigators asked Anderson about the cut to his wrist and whether he needed medical attention. They then told Anderson that he could help bring Ertl home, and that people make mistakes but that doesn't make them a monster.
"I don't know anything," Anderson said.
The agents spent a few minutes urging Anderson to help find the girl. Then an agent asked Anderson a question.
"Is that little girl out here in the swamp or do we have to drive somewhere else to get her?"
"In the swamp," Anderson said quietly.
The agents asked Anderson twice more what he said and then asked if he could take the officers to where she was.
Anderson asked for a cigarette and then led officers to Ertl's body, according to court records.
An autopsy determined that Ertl died from strangulation and other evidence of blunt force trauma to her head, according to court records.