Wednesday, April 14, 2010

'Daddy Killed Mommy': the Joel Munt story

Sunday, March 28, 2010, a woman was driving with her childern in a park on the outskirts of Mankato, MN when she was hit by another vehicle and rammed against a tree. A man got out of the Suburban, pulled out a gun and shot her through the windshield seven times, including a fatal head shot. This is the story of the events that led up to this tragic event.

Disclaimer: This article assumes that Joel is guilty of the murder, and contains considerable conjecture. Some of the information presented may be inaccurate and will be corrected when, and if, a more correct version becomes known to me.

The woman was 32-year-old Russian immigrant Svetlana (Boudniaia and/or Vladimirovna) Munt, the man was her former husband Joel Marvin Munt. They had been divorced for some time and there was a bitter child custody battle. Joel was convinced that Svetlana was mentally unstable and felt powerless to stop the mental and physical abuse to which he was certain his children were subject.

His story is somewhat well documented on his website, which is still online.

Reports differ on which happened first: Joel's decision to divorce or Svetlana's flight with the children to a shelter and claims of abuse. Attempts by outsiders to determine the real nature of the situation hinge greatly on this question.

A news video provides a summary of the event and the situation.

Reading between the lines, here is some speculation about the event.

In April 2009, a Nicollet County judge found that Svetlana was the more mentally capable of the two and awarded her sole custody of the couple's three young children.

Joel was allowed one supervised visit per week with the children, ages 4, 5, and 7. This Sunday at about ten minutes to noon (two hours before his normal visitation time), he was driving in the Rasmussen Woods park near the battered woman's shelter in southwestern Mankato where he was permitted his weekly supervised visit.

His ex wife Svetlana was also driving in the park, with their three children. Joel rammed Svetlana's car pinning it against the woods, his Suburban SUV still in gear, tires smoking. Joel got out and walked around and shot Svetlana as described above. Three shots landed in Svetlana's chest. A man who was walking his dog approached was told to leave by Joel as he brandished his 45 pistol. This person left and called 911.

Moments later, a family in an SUV pulled up to offer help. The driver and his wife got out. When the woman went to check on Munt's children, who were outside the car at that point, Munt pointed his gun at the woman, who later told police she believed Munt was going to kill her in front of her family.

Munt ordered the couple to get their kids out of their SUV. They complied, and the mother told two of her older children to run to the woods and, "Don't look back." After getting the other kids out, Munt loaded his own kids into their SUV and left.

A nearby sheriff's deputy spotted Joel in the stolen vehicle and gave a short chase that ended in a driveway on a dead-end road. Joel made at least one cell phone call before stopping and giving up. He called Traci, his fiance of two years and told her that he loved her and that he was sorry. He said he had another call to make. (perhaps to his parents?)

Munt surrendered peacefully, telling a deputy, "Sorry for causing you this trouble."

One boy in the vehicle had a bloody face with glass embedded in it — Munt told a witness the child was cut when a car window exploded. A pistol and an empty magazine where found on the driver's side floor.

Munt told the officers who arrested him, while they searched for additional weapons, "If you people had done your job protecting my daughter from her mother, she wouldn't have to go through this." With the children crying in the background, Munt told them several times, "Everything is fine now. You will be safe."

Joel was booked into the Blue Earth County Jail and has been arraigned on several charges, including 2nd degree murder, but a grand jury may choose to up that to 1st degree. The children are in protective custody.

Joel Munt made his first court appearance March 30 on charges of second degree homicide. According to the criminal complaint, Munt is charged with six counts, including aggravated robbery and assault in the second degree.

Bail was set at $600,000, with conditions (be on GPS monitoring) and twice that without.although an attorney representing Munt indicated he probably could not afford to post bail.

Prosecutor Patrick McDermott also requested a domestic abuse no-contact order for the children. McDermott and Judge Kurt Johnson agreed Munt’s mother and fiancĂ© were not included in that order.

April 12.

Distraught and depressed, Munt, made his second appearance in Blue Earth County District Court. The only official actions taken during Monday's hearing was Cutcher waiving a reading of the criminal complaint and one addition to Munt's release conditions.

That addition, approved by District Court Judge Norbert Smith, was that Munt be required to be on GPS monitoring if he is released from jail. Smith did not change Munt's bail, which was set at $ 600,000 when the charges were filed March 30.

Cutcher requested another hearing within 28 days, but he said he expected that request to be meaningless.

Pat McDermott, assistant Blue Earth County attorney, will convene a grand jury April 21 to decide whether Munt should be charged with first-degree murder. If Munt is indicted, a new criminal complaint will be filed and the process will start over, Cutcher said.

Munt will not attend the grand jury proceedings, which are secret.

McDermott will be presenting evidence and grand jurors can call their own witnesses. A defense attorney will not have a role in the process, which is expected to last three days.

At least five investigators are still gathering information and preparing evidence to be considered by the grand jury, McDermott said. Defense attorneys are trying to determine if there are grounds to claim Munt is either incompetent to stand trial or if he has an insanity defense. Munt is " very distraught" and " very depressed," but he has been communicating with his attorneys, Cutcher said.

"Up until this event, there had been no history of violence," Cutcher said while discussing a possible insanity defense. " That's one thing we're going to be looking at."

MANKATO — A grandmother whose daughter was shot to death in a Mankato park took her first step Monday toward getting custody of her grandchildren.

The children — 8-year-old Joan Munt, 6-year-old Marvin Munt and 4-year-old Mathew Munt — were placed in foster care after witnessing the March 28 murder of their mother, 32-year-old Svetlana Munt. Their father Joel Marvin Munt, 34, of Burnsville, is accused of shooting Svetlana to death after using his SUV to pin her car against a tree in the parking lot of Rasmussen Woods.

Using an interpreter to translate English into Russian, Liudmila Budnyaya listened while the status of her grandchildren was reviewed Monday by Judge Bradley Walker in Blue Earth County District Court. The children were moved to a new foster home July 1 and Walker said the county will be considering what school they will attend this fall.

On the other side of the courtroom, Joel Munt’s parents, Marvin and Joan Munt of Littlefork, were sitting directly behind their son. They have an attorney representing them in the child custody case, which was put in motion to determine whether Joel Munt’s parental rights should be terminated permanently.

Marvin and Joan Munt’s attorney, Molly French of International Falls, would only say they are requesting to be included in any filings in the case. French would not say if the Munts also plan to request custody of the children.

“It’s a pretty sensitive case,” French said.

Budnyaya and the Munts have been able to visit their grandchildren while they’ve been in foster care. Budnyaya said she visits the children twice a month, and that they’re doing fine considering the situation. Through an interpreter, she said she has moved from her home in Russia to Mankato and plans to request custody of the children.

Her plan would be to stay in the area with the children and her husband, who will be traveling back to Mankato in August.

“The children don’t speak Russian,” she said through her interpreter. “So it would be better for the children to stay here.”

Budnyaya made a request for a court-appointed attorney Monday. She also has sent a letter to President Obama requesting help with the case. She received notice from the White House that the letter was received about a week ago, but there hasn’t been a response.

Bundnyaya also said she does not want to see the children in the custody of Munt’s parents.

Ray Knaak, who attended the hearing with Budnyaya, attempted to translate his friend’s feelings about that possibility. After the hearing, Budnyaya was in tears as she explained that her grandchildren were the only thing she had left to remind her of her daughter’s short life.

“We hope, whatever they do, will be in the best interest of the children,” Knaak said. “What would be the sense of his parents having the children if the court ends his parental rights.”

Mark Lindahl, the assistant Blue Earth County attorney who filed the request to terminate Munt’s parental rights, said he didn’t object to having both grandparents being included as parties in the case.

The future of Munt’s parental rights won’t be decided until after he is tried for his wife’s murder and the kidnapping of his children. He’s also facing several other felonies for threatening onlookers and stealing an SUV from a good Samaritan who stopped to help. A trial date has not yet been set.