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The murder trial in the 2022 mass stabbing on the Apple River continued Monday with the question that's dominated the trial's first six days: What sparked the fatal confrontation between Nicolae Miu and a group of young people floating down the river?

Miu, of Prior Lake, is standing trial in St. Croix County Circuit Court, charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the July 2022 incident near the Sunrise Bridge in Somerset, Wis. He's also facing four counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide in the stabbings of four others that day. He faces the possibility of life in prison.

On Monday, echoing the first week of the trial, the prosecution and its witnesses said Miu's alleged comment about "looking for little girls" sparked the melee that ended in the fatal stabbing of Stillwater teen Isaac Schuman. The defense — which continued to point out that no witnesses mentioned that alleged comment to police investigators — blamed the group of teens and young adults for taunting Miu as a "pedophile" and "predator."

After the prosecution argued the incident escalated when Miu punched a blonde girl who was taunting him, the defense intimated the fault actually lay with a large group in Schuman's party then attacking Miu, leading to the stabbing.

"One thing you heard over and over from the witnesses you interviewed was it turned physical when Nicolae punched the blonde girl, right?" St. Croix County District Attorney Karl E. Anderson asked an investigator from the county's sheriff's office.

"Chaos ensued when the punch was thrown," replied the investigator, Andrew Dittman.

But the defense attempted to question why Schuman's group confronted Miu in the first place. Defense attorney Corey Chirafisi hammered at Owen Peloquin of Afton, a rising senior at Stillwater High School when he went on the tubing trip on July 30, 2022.

Peloquin testified his group was floating on the Wisconsin river when they spotted Miu, then 52, alone in the knee-deep water. One in the group shouted that Miu, of Prior Lake, was a "raper."

"He was looking really weird, and we were kids," Peloquin testified.

Chirafisi intimated Peloquin's group was responsible for the escalation because they were recording it on cellphones, and that they easily could have floated past Miu instead of accosting him.

Throughout the trial, Miu's attorneys have consistently questioned the prosecution's witnesses about their behavior that day, portraying them as unnecessarily antagonistic toward Miu.

Several in Schuman's group testified they heard Miu say he was "looking for little girls," blaming that comment for starting the confrontation. But Chirafisi has pointed out the "little girls" comment wasn't captured on video and that witnesses didn't mention it to police after the incident.

On Monday, Peloquin testified Miu saying "something about little girls" sparked the confrontation.

Judge Michael Waterman talked with two of the opposing attorneys in a sidebar on Monday.
Judge Michael Waterman talked with two of the opposing attorneys in a sidebar on Monday.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

"Couldn't really make out fully what he said, but I heard him say something about little girls, and that didn't sit right with any of us," Peloquin testified. "We were screaming at him, 'Pedophile, get out of here!' 'You're a weirdo!' What a normal person would do."

But Chirafisi continued to insinuate it was Schuman's group that instigated the fatal confrontation.

"It was all so quick," Peloquin replied. "We were just young kids that were curious what was going on, and we wanted to see it finish what we were seeing."

"You wanted to see it finish because it was on tape, right?" Chirafisi questioned. "Jawahn Cockfield was videotaping this entire thing, isn't he? You wanted to see how this tape played out."

"I wouldn't say we ever did it just for, like, a camera, like a video," Peloquin said, adding that his group observed Miu talking with two young women and didn't want to leave them alone because "he scared us."

Chirafisi showed stills from a video of the confrontation, showing several in Schuman's group surrounding Miu, pointing and chanting at him.

Chirafisi: "Do you believe your actions there with the rest of your friends are taunting him?"

Peloquin: "It could be considered that, yeah."

Chirafisi: "Would you agree the more you guys are calling him names — pedophile, predator — the higher the temperature is getting? Meaning the more aggravated people are getting?"

Peloquin: "I don't know other people's feelings ... By the end, I was in complete shock because I saw a bunch of people stabbed."

Also Monday, the surgeon who tended to A.J. Martin, one of the victims who survived, testified the case stood out from all previous trauma incidents he'd worked on.

"I've not had a patient with that large of a penetrating wound previously," said the surgeon, Brian Myer.

Martin had previously testified that he told the surgeon he was going to die. Martin's heart stopped for nine minutes on the helicopter en route to the hospital, and then again in the hospital. He spent 27 days in the hospital and had multiple follow-up surgeries.

The trial before St. Croix County Circuit judge R. Michael Waterman was slated to last two weeks, though Waterman said Monday the trial was ahead of schedule.