Judge allows motions introducing third-party suspect in homicide trial of Erik Sackett

During a hearing Wednesday, the defense attorney for Erik Sackett argued for motions to admit evidence accusing someone else of the crime. Sackett is accused of first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Erin Somvilai.

The defense made two motions to admit evidence identifying Dr. David Onsrud as a third-party suspect in Somvilai’s death and concealing her body. Another motion would admit other evidence specific to Onsrud’s alleged paid sexual relationship with Somvilai and their interactions.

Judge Elliott Levine said the court will allow the allegations included in the defense’s motions.

In court, the defense laid out how the former Mayo Clinic Health System doctor had the motive, opportunity and connection. In the motion, the defense identifies the motive as a plausible reason to commit the crime, the opportunity answers if the third-party could have committed the crime directly or indirectly, and the connection is the evidence that the third party could have directly or indirectly committed the crime.

Onsrud, Somvilai’s doctor, was once considered a person of interest during the investigation, according to the defense. But now, Sackett’s attorney said Onsrud improperly prescribed her medication, told her not to report self-harm and had a paid sexual relationship with her. That could have been his motive.

“He lied about the times he had contact with her, lied about the extent of their contact together,” said Christopher Zachar, Sackett’s defense attorney.

As for the opportunity and connection, Onsrud allegedly had contact with Somvilai right before her disappearance and could not account for certain time periods once she was reported missing. The defense also claimed that Onsrud’s cell phone pinged a tower in north La Crosse that could have put him near her apartment during the time frame of her disappearance.

Onsrud is also being accused of giving her a prescription that could have resulted in her death. He would then want to dispose of the body.

“The nurse received a call from Ms. Somvilai’s family indicating that she’s been reported as missing, that they are concerned about her and to please have the doctor call the family member when he gets in. That nursing note noted that Dr. Onsrud was absent from work on [June 5, 2018],” Zachar said.

Sackett’s lawyer also wanted to question investigators as to why they did not look further into Onsrud as a suspect.

In response, the district attorney argued that there was no clear motive because it was not clear if Onsrud was being extorted by Somvilai beyond Onsrud later telling investigators he advised her not to get help for self-harm. The defense claimed this could have happened off the cuff.

“There’s nothing that we can find from anybody that indicates that Erin was going to extort any money from Onsrud except the one statement mentioned by the defendant in his brief,” said La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke.

And while he might have had an opportunity, there had to be practical evidence connecting him. Not just his cellphone pinging off a tower during the time period of her disappearance.

“Not just what Mr. Zachar presents is there a ping somewhere on the north side of La Crosse one day. That’s very vague,” Gruenke said.

And there has to be evidence that he actually committed the crime.

“So what crime is it that Onsrud committed? When did he do it and how did he do it? And it has to be beyond speculation,” Gruenke said.

The district attorney also said he found parts of the defense’s claims to be misleading, including that investigators did not continue to interview Onsrud after Somvilai’s body was found. And, Gruenke said the prescription may not have been abused and may have been followed as needed.

Levine disagreed with the state and said that there could be a motive because of some of the defense’s points, but he was unsure if Onsrud killed her. While there might not be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, there was an opportunity for him to move the body, just like there was for Sackett.

In response to the allegations made in court, News 8 asked a Mayo Clinic Health System spokesperson why Onsrud no longer works for the system or if his behavior was ever investigated. In response, the spokesperson issued the following statement:

“Mayo Clinic Health System is aware of the criminal case that identifies a former staff member as part of the investigation. Because this is an active investigation, we are not able to provide any additional information.”

The next hearing is scheduled for Sept. 13th.

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