DAKOTA COUNTY, Neb. — The 5-year-old son of Kraig Kubik told his teacher on a November morning in 2016 that his dad was dead. The young boy arrived at school about an hour late, walked up to his kindergarten teacher and told her that there was a pool of blood on the ground outside of his home and his dad's boots were laying in the yard. That is how Dakota County authorities were alerted to the disappearance and eventual murder of 41-year-old Kubik, by way of his young son.
One of the first jury trials in the age of COVID-19 began just after 9:15 Wednesday morning in Dakota County District Court.
Nearly four years after he was charged with the murder and dismemberment of Kraig Kubik, now-29-year-old Andres Surber is getting his day in court. Surber’s trial was delayed a handful of times over the last four years after questions arose over Surber's competency to stand trial. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenic effectiveness disorder. A judge ruled he was competent to stand trial last October. Surber is said to be representing himself during his trial alongside his counsel.
Space was limited in the courtroom, as social distancing was enforced because of COVID-19. The jury and its alternates were seated two to a row within the gallery instead of in the jury box. Nearly all in the courtroom were in a mask or face shield when entering the courtroom, but took them off when seated. Dakota County’s COVID-19 procedures were lax compared to that of Woodbury County, who concluded a bench trial in July.
The state began proceedings with a powerful opening statement by Assistant Attorney General Sandra Allen, detailing how authorities discovered Kubik was missing on November 2nd, 2016. Kubik’s girlfriend, Jackie Mahr, arrived at Kubik’s home to find his son alone. She took him to school and went back to the house, where the boy had told his teacher he had seen blood and his dad’s boots. That’s when Dakota County Sheriff Chris Kleinberg showed up to do a welfare check on Kubik.
Surber, sitting in a grey button-up shirt, dark pants and part of his dark hair pulled back from his face, sat quietly at the defense table during the state’s nearly 40-minute opening statement. This is a change from other court appearances over the years where Surber has been present, where he has often been seen muttering to himself and fidgeting.
The Wakefield, Nebraska native is accused of shooting Kubik with a small-caliber handgun the night of November 1st and then cutting up and disposing of his body. Surber has pleaded not guilty to three charges: first-degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person.
Now-23-year-old Bryan Galvan-Hernandez was also charged in Kubik's death. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2017.
Todd Lancaster, Surber’s defense, followed the state's opening remarks by reminding the jury of Surber’s own peers that they need to rely on the facts of the evidence that will be presented throughout the trial, not the words of Allen.
“What the state just gave you was a trailer to a movie. Don’t make your decision based on a trailer,” Lancaster told the jury as he wrapped his opening statement.
The state’s first witness was the Principal and Superintendent of Emerson-Hubbard Public Schools, Lindsey Beaudette, who initiated the call to the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office for a welfare check on Kubik after calls to his cell phone went unanswered. Beaudette, who described his son as animated and excited, walked the court through how the boy approached her that morning after he had told his teacher about his father being dead.
The first piece of evidence in this case is Beaudette’s call to law enforcement from the school, where she says the boy arrived about an hour late that morning of Nov. 2nd.
“He was telling me how his father was dead and how there was blood was everywhere,” she recalled.
The audio in the courtroom was an issue throughout the morning, as the Dakota County Courthouse is not wired for audio and all parties are relying on the witness and attorney’s voices to hear. There have been a handful of complaints from all parties not being able to accurately hear whoever is speaking.
Dakota County Sheriff Chris Klineberg was the state’s second witness and described arriving at Kubik’s home off of Highway 35 the morning of Nov. 2nd following the welfare call from the school. Klineberg described finding blood in the grass near the back of a red Dodge Charger and alongside two different air compressors, what looks like a lawnmower and a single standing boot.
Later that morning, Klineberg described how he and another officer then made their way to a farm outside of Ponca in Dixon County. They had received a call from Dixon County Sheriff Don Taylor who had gotten reports of suspicious activity at an abandoned farm. At that property, Klineberg, Taylor and other law enforcement found what Klineberg described as dried blood on the back of the bumper of a light-colored car.
“My heart kind of sank,” said Klineberg after he found the blood.
Throughout Klineberg’s testimony, Lancaster frequently called into question the sheriff’s ability to correctly identify blood. Klineberg referred to his many years as a hunter, along with his homicide training, to accurately identify blood.
The state, represented by Special Deputy Dakota County Attorney Corey O'Brien, of the Nebraska Attorney General's Office, then presented the defense and the jury a photo of inside that trunk.
“What did you find when it was opened?”
“An arm, specifically,” Klineberg said. “It ended my hopes of finding Mr. Kubik alive.”
The rest of Kubik's remains were found in rural Cedar County in a culvert off of a minimum maintenance road, which Allen detailed in her opening statement. An autopsy later determined that he had died from a small-caliber gunshot wound behind his left ear. The gun has not yet been found. Allen also described a knife that authorities found with blood on it and a thumbprint that the crime lab identified as Surber's, laying out the state's case and what the jury is sure to see throughout the course of this trial.
But as Lancaster stated in his opening statement, it's up to the jury to decide Surber's fate based on the evidence and facts presented, not what the lawyers present at the start.
*No cameras in courtroom
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