Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Feb. 14, 2000

Ecklund pleads guilty, McCollum trial set for March in Pool murder

By Gail Lipe

Before a jury could be selected, Heather Lynn Ecklund, 20, pleaded guilty to the second degree murder of Randy M. Pool.

Authorities believe Pool was held, against his will, in his home in Hutchinson for approximately three days in July 1999. His hands and feet were bound, and he was repeatedly beaten and tortured.

He was placed in a duffel bag, where he died of asphyxiation. His body was thrown off a bridge into the Clearwater River, where it was discovered on July 28.

The jury selection for Ecklund's trial began Tuesday, Feb. 1, in Scott County. She pleaded guilty at 10 a.m. on Thursday before any jurors were selected.

According to McLeod County Attorney Mike Junge, Ecklund will be sentenced in May with a minimum of 30 years and a maximum of 36 years in prison. He said the sentence will be under the discretion of the prosecution based on the truthful statement during the trials of Shawn Allen McCollum, 26, and Toby Earl Johnson, 18.

He also said Ecklund agreed to a longer prison sentence than in the sentencing guidelines because of the severity of the crime. The guideline for second-degree intentional murder is 25.5 years in prison.

Because of the particular vulnerability of Pool, the cruelty of the crime and the crime taking place in Pool's residence, the sentence can be more than stated.

Junge said Ecklund admitted that she, along with others, kidnapped and held Pool against his will and caused him physical harm.

Ecklund, along with Isaac Leroy Engstrom, 22, is the second of four defendants charged with the first-degree murder, second-degree murder and kidnapping of Pool to plead guilty to second-degree murder. In doing so, both the first-degree murder and kidnapping charges were dismissed.

McCollum appeared for an omnibus hearing on Friday where his attorney, Anthony Nerud, requested a change of venue.

Nerud said the publicity has not necessarily shown undo prejudice, but there has been enough publicity in the area to make it hard to find people who do not know about the case. He also said all the defendants are residents of the county, and it would be hard to find people who do not know one of them or are not related to them.

Junge opposed the change of venue stating he did not believe there had been prejudicial publicity. He suggested finding out if a fair and impartial jury could be found by starting the selection process, and if one could not be found, grant the change of venue.

Judge Terrence Conkel said he would consider the motion. He said he was concerned about how orderly a trial could be carried out during the renovation of the courthouse, which he said may affect the best interest of justice.

McCollum's trial is scheduled to begin March 14.

Johnson's hearing is scheduled on March 24, with the jury trial set to begin April 11.

Two other defendants, Tanya Ann Caldwell, 24, and Richard Patrick Ligenza, 21, previously pleaded guilty to kidnapping Pool. Ligenza was sentenced to three years in prison, while Caldwell has yet to be sentenced.

Junge said Caldwell and Ligenza were charged differently because of the length of time they were present at the residence.

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