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Nunez trial Day 3: El Paso cops, arson investigator, medical examiner testify

El Paso (Texas) Police Department officer Joseph Valenzuela points out Cristian Nunez in the courtroom while testifying in the 38-year-old man's double-homicide trial. (RiverTown Multimedia photo by Mike Longaecker)1 / 2
Ramsey (Minn.) County Medical Examiner Michael McGee testifies Wednesday during the trial of a man accused of murdering a New Richmond woman and her daughter. (RiverTown Multimedia photo by Mike Longaecker)2 / 2

HUDSON -- Cristian Nunez made it to within two miles of the Mexican border, police from Texas said Wednesday in the third day of the New Richmond man’s double-homicide trial.

Nunez, who prosecutors say killed a 30-year-old New Richmond mom and her 10-year-old daughter, remarked that he could see beyond America’s southern border during a ride with a detective after he was arrested.

“That’s Mexico,” El Paso Police Department detective Robert Posada said he remembered Nunez saying as they drove from El Paso County jail, further recalling, “I relatives in Juarez.”

St. Croix County prosecutor Ed Minser questioned the detective about El Paso’s location relative to the nearest border crossing.

“It’s fairly close,” Posada said in court. “You can see Juarez from the highway.”

Getting across the border isn’t hard, the detective explained. He said “basically nothing” prevents people from entering Mexico at the Bridge of the Americas border crossing.

“You can walk across. You can drive across,” Posada said, noting that passports are not needed there and people are only searched for weapons and ammunition.

Prosecutors allege Nunez fled New Richmond for El Paso after killing Courtney and Jasmine Bradford on Sept. 2, 2015, at their home. Charges against him include two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of arson.

Wednesday’s proceedings included extensive testimony from a Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation special agent, who said a fire was intentionally set at the Bradfords’ 1400 Hallewood Blvd. home.

Tests performed on multiple samples from around the house turned up evidence of gasoline, said DCI Special Agent Michael Reimer, who specializes in arson investigations. Those samples were taken from items found around Jasmine Bradford’s body -- found in the basement, where he said the fire was set -- and in Courtney Bradford’s upstairs bedroom.

“This was an intentionally set fire,” Reimer said in court.

He later added that gas fumes were so strong in the house that agents investigating the crime scene had to duck outside for fresh air.

It wasn’t clear how much gas had been poured out in the home, Reimer said, but he told the jury the ignition of gas vapors triggered an explosion that blew out two upstairs windows in the house and left soot-staining through much of the home.

Defense attorney Brian Smestad noted that investigators documented clutter scattered atop a keyboard near a window that had been blown out. If the blast was powerful enough to force that window off a latch, how were those items -- including a paper bag -- left undisturbed, Smestad asked the agent.

“I’ve seen it many times,” Reimer responded.

Smestad also questioned why agents didn’t confiscate and examine three lighters found in the home. On redirect with Deputy District Attorney Michael Nieskes, Reimer said those three lighters were not found near the basement ignition site.

The most jarring moment of the trial thus far in the courtroom occurred when photos from the autopsy were displayed. The photos were part of Ramsey County Medical Examiner Michael McGee’s testimony.

He testified that Courtney Bradford sustained 29 separate stab wounds to her neck area, as well as stab wounds to the torso. Her cause of death was blood loss due to multiple wounds, McGee said.

The jury was shown photos of those injuries, as well as those sustained by Jasmine Bradford. Two jurors were seen wiping tears after a photo of the child’s body was displayed. A full-body photo showed the girl’s entire left leg burned all the way up to her torso. Fire did not play a role in the girl’s death, McGee said.

McGee also pointed to forensic evidence suggesting both mother and daughter may have been strangled or suffocated prior to their deaths. The doctor did not rule out possible neck-related injuries in determining Jasmine Bradford’s cause of death, though he listed stab wounds as a primary factor.

Nunez was seen turning to look at photos from Courtney Bradford’s autopsy that were displayed on a television screen in the courtroom. Observers said he did not look, however, at full-body autopsy photos of Jasmine Bradford, but did glance at her final photo -- a close-up of wounds to her neck.

McGee said he received a replica of the suspected murder weapon from St. Croix County authorities and he compared it to the Bradfords’ wounds.

“A knife of similar configuration could have been responsible” for most, but not all, of the stab wounds, the doctor said.

The doctor also noted that Jasmine Bradford also sustained injuries to her genitalia. It was later revealed that defense counsel had objected in chambers to that information being given to the jury, saying it could be prejudicial to Nunez. St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Scott Needham said he overruled the objection.

“They were part of the autopsy examination,” the judge said after the jury was excused for the day.

The trial continues through next week.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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