The Minnesota man convicted of aggravated battery in the death of an international UW-Stout student claimed that he was himself the victim of a jury that was biased against him.
Instead, Cullen Osburn, 28, found himself facing a prison sentence on Friday when he appeared in Dunn County Circuit Court. Before Judge Rod Smeltzer could proceed with the sentencing hearing, however, he needed to rule on a defense motion filed on July 6 in which Osburn’s attorney, Christopher Zipko of St. Paul, accused a juror of impropriety and asked that the verdict be impeached.
Following a seven-day trial, a jury of six men and six women on April 17 acquitted Osburn, 28, of one count of felony murder. But they did find him guilty on the lesser charge of aggravated battery that resulted from an early morning altercation involving Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, 24, outside a pizza restaurant on Main Street in downtown Menomonie on Oct. 30, 2016. Alnahdi died in an Eau Claire hospital the following day as a result of traumatic brain injuries.
After the verdict was delivered, the defendant was heard to say to Zipko: “I want a retrial” and “I didn’t do it.”
In his motion, Zipko claimed that in an interview with a Twin Cities TV station, one of the jurors talked about “gang symbols” made by Osburn after the verdict was read. Since Osburn claims mixed race heritage, Zipko said racial bias played a part in the verdict and asked for an evidentiary hearing into the jury’s deliberations.
Smeltzer, however, agreed with Dunn County District Attorney Andrea Nodolf that there was no basis to grant the defense’s motion. Had the requested hearing been granted and bias found, Osburn would have been eligible for a new trial.
Osburn was sentenced to eight years in the Wisconsin prison system — four years of initial confinement, followed by four years of extended supervision — in addition to $268 court costs, $250 fee for a DNA sample, and no contact with the victim’s family. He will receive credit for the 548 days he has served in Dunn County Jail. As a condition of his probation, Osburn is also prohibited from entering Dunn County.
Victim’s family ‘speaks’
Engaged by Alnahdi’s family, attorney Luke Wagner read a victim impact statement from them translated from Arabic:
About his decision to leave his job to finish his education in the United States, they wrote: “Our son Hussain was different from the rest of his peers. He always had great passion in his life and believed that he should pursue his dreams to reach his goals in his career in education.
“He came out of his hometown with a weak knowledge of English and a heavy accent, but soon became part of the community of the city of Menomonie that he loved and who loved him. …On a quiet night, we received a call from one of his friends who said that a quarrel had broken out between our son and a passerby, and it was only a few hours before we received the news of his death from his wounds.
“It was a disaster for his entire family, especially his mother who was preparing a care package for him at the time. Instead of sending a care package, she received a shipment from the United States of his corpse and the few remaining belongings of her deceased son.”
Nodolf noted that Osburn has a long history of violence and shared details of the 31 previous criminal convictions on Osburn’s record, nine of them for domestic abuse and violation of no contact orders.
Noting Osburn’s seeming inability to learn from his mistakes and the need to protect the community, the D.A. requested a sentence of seven years in prison, followed by three years of extended supervision.
Zipko pointed out that at least half of his client’s convictions were traffic related and stated that Osburn’s past was irrelevant to the facts at hand. He called the incident outside Topper’s restaurant “a tragic event, not a senseless act of violence.”
He asked Smeltzer to consider imposing the lowest possible amount of initial confinement.
Before sentencing, Osburn exercised his right of elocution and shared his side of the story at great length with Judge Smeltzer. After expressing his condolences to Alnahdi’s family and friends, he declared, “I am innocent” and claimed that what happened to him could have happened to anyone. “If I wasn’t innocent, do you think I’d want a trial?” he said, later noting, “I am a good man.”
Osburn said he came to Menomonie for the first time that night to visit his sister who is a student at UW-Stout and to show his younger siblings a good time: “I didn’t come here for problems… I came here for my little sister.”
Recounting his version of what took place outside Topper’s, he said, “All of a sudden, I got tugged on my shirt and getting pulled down and not quite understanding what’s going on. …I didn’t touch him. The facts show I didn’t hit him. If I would have hit him, there would have been some kind of critical damage or however that scientific stuff works.”
About the issues in his relationships with the women in his life from ages 18 to 22, Osburn said, “I’m not a good guy. I admit I lie, I cheat.”
The reason he didn’t take the stand during the trial, Osburn said, is because of the way he speaks. “Some people call me a wannabe… a ‘whigger’. I was raised in a different culture.”
As to his sentence, Osburn told the judge, “No matter what happens to me, I’m going to shine. …When all is said and done, God loves me… and everybody in this room.”
After nearly an hour, Smeltzer said before rendering his decision, “I must admit that’s the longest elocution I’ve heard from the defense. You did good. …You have a right to maintain your innocence. But what we have here is a jury that determined that you were guilty of aggravated battery.”
Following the hearing, Nodolf said, “At least it’s a prison sentence, so I certainly think that was justified. It just doesn’t feel like enough, but I understand the court sentence. I am confident that he’s a menace to society… with over 30 convictions. This was not an isolated incident; past behavior speaks otherwise.”
Observing that he’s sat through hundreds of sentencing hearings, Zipko referred to the length of Osburn’s sometimes rambling elocution: “I don’t know what in the world to make of that one. He got everything he wanted to say out.”