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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Lakeville Mom Who Hid Daughters Found Guilty

HASTINGS, Minn. - A Lakeville mother who hid her daughters in a secluded ranch for more than two years has been found guilty of purposely keeping the girls away from their father.
Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, 50, was found guilty of six of the eight charges against her -- all felony counts of depriving custodial rights.
She was acquitted of two counts related to causing minors to be runaways. After the verdict was read, Grazzini-Rucki was taken into custody and her bail was set at $100,000 without conditions.
When she is sentenced at 9 a.m. on Sept. 21, she faces a maximum of a year in jail. But she has already served 4 months, and prosecutors say their goal has never been to pursue maximum incarceration time.
For her ex-husband and the father of the two teenage girls, Thursday's verdict was bittersweet -- marking the end of a long, tortuous process but also the chance to finally move on.
"Everyone's looking forward to moving forward and normalizing life," David Rucki said. "Every day we're still learning. And we're working on things every day. But everybody's happy. And that's what you hope for."
The girls, now a high school graduate and soon-to-be a junior next fall, have been living with their father since being discovered at the ranch late last year by authorities.
Grazzini-Rucki was charged after investigators say she executed a plan with friends to drive her daughters, then 13 and 14, to a horse ranch in Herman, after claiming they "ran away" in 2013.
"It is simply inappropriate and unacceptable for any parent to hide their children and keep them from the custodial parent in violation of a court order for any amount of time," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. "The almost two and a half years that these children were hidden led to significant trauma to her daughters and caused significant adverse impacts to the rest of her family. We are pleased with the jury’s decision in this matter."
For Rucki, the two and a half years he spent without his girls was "utter devastation."
"Your whole world collapses. These are your children," he said. "You can't stop thinking about them. The hardest part was trying to function on a daily basis in a normal world when everything around you is chaotic."
Rucki said his daughters are trying to get back to a normal life but he'll never get those years back that he missed.
"Just the knowing they didn’t have a normal childhood. It was stolen from them," he said. "They didn’t get to go to the dances and do the sports they were in. Just being kids."
While no one was denying the fact that Grazzini-Rucki brought her girls to the ranch, the case instead centered around the reasons why. The prosecution argued this was a manipulative attempt to hurt the girls' father and was done purely out of spite.
The two were going through a tumultuous divorce at the time of the girls' disappearance and a judge had awarded Rucki with custody.
Meanwhile, the defense argued this was a desperate mother who was acting out of fear. Grazzini-Rucki’s attorney Stephen Grigsby told the court she was under emotional distress and felt this was her only option to keep her girls safe. Throughout the investigation, Grazzini-Rucki accused her ex-husband of abuse. However, a family court judge ruled the girls were never abused -- and said Grazzini-Rucki brainwashed them into thinking they were.
Rucki said those claims continue to hurt him, as they've tarnished his reputation.
"You know, you get this label put on you and it doesn't go away. It's there on a day-to-day basis," he said. "There's some vindication here today."
Rucki said he's not sure if his girls will have a relationship with their mother -- or what that might look like.
"I don't badmouth their mom. I mean, it's their mom. I know they still love their mother," he said. "I think it's going to be a lot to learn. To grasp. And it’s going to take time. It’s going to be a lifetime to deal with this stuff."
Grazzini-Rucki's accomplices also charged in connection with this case are still pending. A jury trial has been set for Grazzini-Rucki's friend Deirdre Elise Evavold on Sept. 26.