Sandra Grazzini-Rucki drove her two oldest daughters to a western Minnesota horse ranch, promising to see them in a few days, but instead left them there for more than two years while the girls’ father frantically searched for them, prosecutors said in opening statements in the widely watched custody case.
Grazzini-Rucki didn’t contact her daughters and stopped checking in with their quasi guardians nearly a year before police found the girls in 2015, said Assistant Dakota County Attorney Kathryn Keena Tuesday in a Hastings courtroom.
The Lakeville mother of five stands charged with eight counts of deprivation of parental rights for her alleged involvement in the April 2013 disappearance of her daughters, Samantha and Gianna Rucki, then 14 and 13. .
The girls ran away in the midst of their parents’ bitter custody and divorce battle.
In his opening statements, Stephen Grigsby told jurors that his client, Grazzini-Rucki, was only saving the girls from an abusive father and a disruptive home life.
“This was to protect them from harm,” he said.
Grigsby told the jury that David Rucki, the girls’ father, was a “difficult” man and “terrorized” his family. During the custody dispute, the girls and their siblings were placed in the care of their two aunts.
The April night the girls ran away, Samantha called and told her mother their plans.
“They begged their mother not to put them back in that situation,” Grigsby said. “And she didn’t.”
David Rucki, the state’s first witness, spent less than an hour on the stand; his testimony focused on his divorce from Grazzini-Rucki and the custody dispute.
Rucki said he believed his ex-wife had something to do with the girls’ disappearance, but that he didn’t know Doug and Gina Dahlen, the owners of the horse ranch. The Dahlens and Grazzini-Rucki’s friend Dede Evavold also face felony charges and will testify in court.
During cross-examination, Grigsby asked Rucki if he ever “terrorized” his family.
“No,” Rucki said.
Grigsby then brought up Samantha’s interview with police last month, in which she told authorities that her mother never called or picked them up from the ranch. The attorney’s office added two new charges against her mother last week.
Under questioning, Rucki denied pressuring his daughter to speak with police.
The trial will resume Wednesday with more prosecution witnesses.
Karen Zamora • 612-673-4647