Frank Lazcano sat in silence casting solemn gazes around the room during the first day of his murder trial in Whitman County Superior Court Monday afternoon.
The 24-year-old Pine City, Wash., man and his 21-year-old brother are charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping and a misdemeanor charge for improperly disposing of human remains.
Now, in separate trials, the brothers are the first to be tried for murder in the county since 2005, Whitman County Prosecutor Denis Tracy said.
“This is a case about what happened when someone tried to take the law into their own hands to try to correct a wrong that had been done to them,” Tracy said during his opening statement for Frank Lazcano’s trial.
On the night of Dec. 27, 2011, the brothers allegedly chased 23-year-old Rosalia resident Marcus Schur out of a residence in Malden, Wash., and into a dark alley to get revenge for a burglary he had allegedly committed against them. Tracy said Daniel Lazcano then shot Schur twice with Frank Lazcano’s AK-47 – once in the pelvis and then in the left shoulder.
Schur bled to death within minutes. The brothers then packed him into the trunk of Daniel’s white 1992 Ford Escort and dumped his body into a creek near the Hole-in-the-Ground area of Whitman County, Tracy said.
The brothers then allegedly drove to Spokane, and Frank burned the Escort in a wooded area near Nine Mile Falls, destroying all DNA evidence in the car, Tracy said.
In Malden, a neighbor who had heard the shooting that night called police to investigate the scene. But they found no blood, shell casings or signs of a struggle, Tracy said.
A fisherman found the body on March 25 floating in a creek near Bonnie Lake. When police arrived, they noted Schur’s hands and feet had been bound with a T-shirt and a cloth belt.
The brothers were arrested days later. Then, in September, a dive team from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office found the AK-47 in the Spokane River.
The case against Daniel Lazcano ended in a mistrial last week, as the jury failed to come to a decision on whether he is guilty of first-degree murder and kidnapping. The jury found him guilty of improperly disposing of human remains after he admitted to helping pull Schur’s body out of the car trunk and dumping it into the creek.
But the jury split 6-6 on the murder charge and 11-1 on the charge of kidnapping, so Judge David Frazier ordered a retrial for March 8. The prosecution failed to prove Daniel Lazcano fired the shots that killed Schur and that he was even present for the incident and the alleged kidnapping, defense attorney Erik Christianson said.
“I think that it shows there is reasonable doubt throughout the case,” Christianson said. “I think the jury did a good job of seeing that reasonable doubt.”
But Tracy said there is enough evidence to place Daniel Lazcano at the scene of the crime.
“Overall, I’m comfortable taking the case to trial again,” Tracy said. “It’s obviously a very serious case, but it’s also a case where there is sufficient evidence to convict him.”
Frank Lazcano’s attorney, Steve Martonick, agreed Monday afternoon with Tracy’s allegation that Daniel Lazcano fired the shots that killed Schur. But he didn’t deny that Frank played a role in disposing of the body.
“He took the body of Marcus Schur to the creek, put it in the creek and tried to hide it from anybody finding it,” Martonick said. “He was trying to cover up the terrible crime committed by his brother Daniel.”
Frank Lazcano went to the Malden home to confront Schur and the others inside about the stolen items, but he had no intention of killing anyone, Martonick said.
“As you heard from the prosecutor, he shot no one. He killed no one,” Martonick said. “Nor did he intend that anybody die.”
Frank punched Marcus Schur’s brother in the face when he answered the door. Martonick said that was in self-defense, but the prosecution argues it was part of an assault intended to get Schur out of the house and kill him.
An autopsy report showed Schur likely lived for five to 10 minutes after he was shot but that he may have even stayed alive for up to an hour after the incident.
Prosecutors contend Schur was still alive when he was loaded into the trunk. But Martonick argued Schur died before that happened, nullifying the kidnapping charges.
Frank Lazcano’s trial will continue throughout the week, and Frazier said it could wrap up by Friday.
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