The state rested Monday morning in the case of the Minneapolis man charged in the 2016 beating death of an international University of Wisconsin-Stout student, followed by the defense in the afternoon. Closing arguments were set for Tuesday morning.
In a trial that started in Dunn County Circuit Court on April 10, Cullen Osburn, now 28, is charged with felony murder and aggravated battery resulting from an altercation involving Hussain Saeed Alnahdi, 24, that took place outside a pizza restaurant on Main Street in downtown Menomonie around 2 a.m. on Oct. 30, 2016. Alnahdi died in an Eau Claire hospital the following day as a result of traumatic brain injuries.
Over the course of five days, the jury of six women and eight men heard the testimony of a variety of law enforcement officers, medical experts, and witnesses, friends and acquaintances on both sides, and members of Osburn’s family who were with him on the night of the incident. They were also presented with video evidence from inside the Abbey Bar and outside Heroes Welcome on Main Street as well as dash-cam video of the scene outside Topper’s Restaurant from two Menomonie police squad cars.
Nina Simonette said she passed between Osburn and Alnahdi on the sidewalk outside Topper’s after bar close on Oct. 30. Admitting that she didn’t see everything that took place, Simonette said she did turn around when she heard a man say in a loud voice, “What did you say?” and another man reply, “Nothing”, before she said she thought he was punched by the first man and went down.
Osburn’s sister, Mariah Hughes, said she was sitting on a couch inside Topper’s and looking at her phone while waiting for a pizza order with her brother, Deonte Hughes, and two other friends. Osburn was standing outside the restaurant. She said she heard Deonte say that someone was “grabbing on” Cullen outside, but didn’t look until she heard something hit the window.
Outside, Mariah said she saw their friends William Hall and Joshua Sims with a person on the ground who was bleeding from his nose. When she asked Deonte what happened, she said he told her not to worry about it. Mariah was interviewed by MPD Investigator Dan Westlund who asked her if she would call Osburn and let him know that Westlund wanted to talk with him.
Assistant Attorney General Robert Kaiser showed screenshots of several texts received by Mariah several days later from her brother Cullen instructing her to “tell them [law enforcement] you didn’t see anything” to which she replied, “Cullen, I’m no lying.” She told defense attorney Christopher Zipko that her brother was an “idiot” and that she told him she “didn’t want the spotlight on me.”
Westlund testified that during his interview with Mariah Hughes on Nov. 3, she received several calls from Osburn trying to get information from her about what she was saying to the police and that she hung up on him.
A short time later
Viewing early morning video from Oct. 30, 2016 showing Osburn sporting a red bandana around his neck, a Kwik Trip clerk confirmed that he had come into the store on South Broadway around 2:24 a.m., bought a pack of cigarettes and asked to use the store’s phone. She heard him say, “No, man. Come get me. I need a ride.”
According to the testimony of a Fredrick High School student Derek Steele, 17 years old at the time, he and a friend had come to Menomonie that night to check out a fraternity party at UW-Stout. As they left town around 2:30 a.m., his friend wanted to stop at Kwiktrip to get something to eat.
While he waited in his truck, Steele said an unknown man with a red bandana approached and told him he had just punched somebody who was bleeding out and needed a ride to campus.
Describing the man as angry and anxious to get out of there, Steele said no. In his statement to investigators, Steele said the man told him, “He’d have to [expletive] punch me, too, if I didn’t give him a ride.”
Video surveillance at the Motel 6 in north Menomonie showed a dark vehicle pulling up to the main entrance and two men — subsequently identified as Osburn and Deandre Robinson, a friend he encountered when at Kahootz, a downtown Menomonie bar — entering the premises. They were seen paying in cash as they checked in.
Andrew Lepak, the front desk manager, testified that there also were two women in the car. About 15 to 20 minutes later, the video shows a bare-chested Osburn — still wearing a red bandana around his neck — in the lobby where he purchased items from a vending machine.
Lepak said Osburn told him that his friend had brought women for him, but he was not attracted to African American women. Lepak said Osburn “drunk” boasted to him about his expensive watch and Cadillac, then reenacted the punch as he told Lepak he had gotten into a fight with a bouncer at one of the bars downtown earlier that night and gotten thrown out.
Called as a defense witness, Deonte Hughes, said that from inside Topper’s, he saw his brother, Cullen, being grabbed the collar by Alnahdi outside the restaurant. Running outside, he said Osburn told him, “The dude won’t let me go.” A man wearing green, Hughes said, was trying to separate the two men and he saw Alnahdi land on the sidewalk.
Hughes said he didn’t remember telling Westlund during an interview that he had depicted Osburn as punching with his hands in fists during the altercation outside Topper’s. Or that he told him, “Cullen, stop. What’s going on” as his brother ran down Main Street.
Warrant, photos, final witness
After Osburn was arrested in Minneapolis, it was learned that he asked Deonte to get his iPhone and other items from a secret compartment in his 2014 Cadillac he had parked in his grandmother’s garage to prevent it from being repossessed while he was in custody. In the meantime, a search warrant had been served on the property, Hughes said that when he saw the warrant paperwork on the windshield, he didn’t want to touch it.
MPD Investigator Kelly Pollock said that before going to see Alnahdi in the hospital in Eau Claire, she visited the scene. After taking photos of the puddle of blood where Alnahdi was found, she measured the width and height of the ledge on which Alnahdi was placed by the bouncer after being escorted from the Abbey bar.
Shortly after Alnahdi passed away, Pollock photographed his face and both hands, none of which showed any visible injuries. She also noted that there was no blood on the front or sleeves of the orange jail jumpsuit he was wearing as a costume.
Zipko called Evan Walters to recount what took place when he encountered his friend Alnahdi outside Toppers a couple of hours after Walters left a party hosted by Alnahdi and his roommates at their house on 12th Avenue. Walters said he later went out again to get something to eat at California Burrito on Main Street, but it was closing down for the night.
Dressed in a military style camouflage costume, Walters said he was heading to Topper’s where he saw Alnahdi standing outside smoking a cigarette. Stopping to talk with him, Evans said they were approached by someone who appeared to be “upset and angry” and whose attention seemed to be focused on Alnahdi.
Evans said he couldn’t make out what was being said and tried to get between the two men. He remembered being pushed to the ground. Getting up, he saw Alnahdi also on the sidewalk, but the unknown man had left.
District Attorney shared transcripts and audio recordings that demonstrated conflicting reports given by Walters in past interviews with investigators.
Osburn declined the opportunity to take the stand. A verdict in the case could come as soon as Tuesday.