MINNEAPOLIS -- Tina DeAnn Leja was found guilty Saturday of second degree murder, second degree assault and being an accomplice after the fact in the July 5 killing of Bobbie Holder.
The Holcombe native's knees buckled slightly and she clutched her attorney's hand tightly as Hennepin County Judge Thor Anderson read the verdicts. She was found not guilty on one charge, conspiracy to commit second degree assault.
Leja kept her head bowed and made no sound audible as she heard the verdict and as she was later led away, still in the custody of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Department.
Members of her family, including her father, mother, a brother and sister sat silent and still in the courtroom.
"We're glad she's alive and we're sorry for what happened to the Holder family," said Leja's father, Elroy Leja, after the verdict.
Tina Leja's sister, Tammy Leja, who assisted the defense team as an intern studying to be an attorney herself, loudly called for the family to be left alone.
Members of Holder's family were visibly pleased with the verdict. A a cheer could be heard from them as elevator doors closed, but they said little to members of the media afterwards.
"I was really scared (about an acquittal), but thank the Lord," said Michelle True, the mother of Bobbie Holder's 15-month-old son, Lucas, who was in the courtroom when the verdict was read.
"We are pleased with the jury's verdict. This was a horrific murder," said Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, the equivalent of a district attorney in the Wisconsin system.
"Leja lured Bobbie Holder to her boyfriend Tequila Smith's home so that Tequila Smith and his brother Chaka could attack him. In addition to assisting in the murder, Leja attempted to hide the crime by driving to Wisconsin and burying Bobbie Holder's torso, and then disposing of the other body parts. Our prosecutors James Keeler and Andrew Winter did an excellent job in presenting the evidence of Leja's involvement in Bobbie Holder's death and the concealment of the crime," Klobuchar said.
Klobuchar's confidence in the evidence notwithstanding, the verdict was no sure thing for the prosecution.
Holder was murdered July 5 by Darnell "Tequila" Smith, 25, and his brother, Chaka Smith, 17, according to testimony. Holder went to Darnell Smith's residence after being told on the phone by Tina Leja, 27, that Darnell Smith was not there and he could come over.
In fact, Leja knew Smith was there, and Holder was murdered when he arrived. He was shot twice and stabbed about nine times. His body was then dismembered.
Leja and a man named Andre Parker, 30, who has pleaded guilty to aiding an offender, then drove the torso to Wisconsin, where it was buried in the back yard of property owned by Elroy Leja, who discovered it a day later.
When the crime was discovered and Chaka Smith arrested, Leja fled with Darnell Smith, first to Montana, then to Mississippi.
Leja maintained that she lived in fear of being killed by Darnell Smith, with whom she became involved in a romantic relationship when he was in Stillwater prison and she was a prison guard. Leja said she had no idea Smith was planning to assault Holder when she talked with him on the phone and was too frightened after the murder to do anything but what Darnell Smith said.
Leja's claims of coercion were supported even by prosecution witness Parker, who also expressed fear of being killed by Darnell Smith, who was described as a leader of a Gangster Disciples gang in the Twin Cities.
The jury did not accept Leja's defense, though, and found her guilty of the three most serious charges after about nine hours of deliberations that began Friday afternoon.
Leja could be sentenced to a maximum 62 years in prison, though that is unlikely. Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence of 12 1/2 years for second degree unintentional murder. The Smith brothers have both been indicted for first degree intentional murder and face life in prison in convicted.
Leja gambled and lost in her criminal case. She
was offered a plea bargain in which she would plead guilty to aiding an offender, with a maximum penalty of 20 years and a recommended sentence of about 6 years. But her attorneys said at the start of the trial that the defense position had not changed on the offer and they were ready to proceed with trial.
Anderson ordered a pre-sentence investigation. A sentencing date has not been set.
Chaka Smith is scheduled to go on trial Feb. 19. Darnell Smith is to go on trial Feb. 25. Andre Parker is to be sentenced March 11.
Reach Mark Gunderman at firstname.lastname@example.org.