CLEVELAND — The man accused of killing a couple at a Cleveland used car dealership expressed his condolences to the victims' son during his trial Tuesday morning.
Joseph McAlpin is representing himself in the trial. McAlpin is accused of plotting the break-in that led to the shooting deaths of Trina and Michael Kuznik, and their dog, Axl, two years ago.
Before his brief cross-examination of Colin Zaczkowski, 21, who is Trina Kuznik's son, McAlpin said, "For what it’s worth, my deepest condolences for your loss, and I don’t even know if that is even enough. I just want to let you know that you have my condolence towards you."
Zaczkowski was the first witness for the prosecution. He described how he discovered his mother's body during his testimony Tuesday morning.
Zaczkowski told the jury he went to Mr. Cars on April 14, 2017, after several hours passed without any contact from his mother and step-father, Trina and Michael Kuznik.
He told the jury he knew “something was wrong” when he saw the lights turned off, the door propped open and the couple’s car not parked where it was usually located in the parking lot.
When he stepped inside, Zaczkowski said he saw his mother’s body lying on the floor behind a desk. He then ran outside and called 911. He told the jury he didn’t want to go back inside after he saw her on the floor.
First responders arrived a few minutes later. They found the Kuzniks and their dog, Axl, had all been shot and killed.
Prosecutors allege McAlpin and two other men broke into the business to steal cash, titles, keys and cars before murdering the couple.
5 On Your Side Investigators interviewed Trina Kuznik three weeks before her death as part of an exclusive investigation into police response times.
Kuznik told us break-ins were a persistent problem at Mr. Cars.
She expressed concern that Cleveland police failed to respond to her 911 calls in a timely manners. She said sometimes officers failed to respond to her calls
“This is not just me,” said Kuznik. “Everybody on the street will tell you the same thing. All the business owners just don’t bother [calling police] anymore because it almost feels pointless,” she said.
Even though, before her death, Kuznik was certain criminals would target Mr. Cars again.
When we asked if she would call police, she replied, “Probably not. What would be the point? Unless someone’s shooting at me. Maybe then.”
McAlpin is representing himself in the murder trial. During his brief cross-examination of Zaczkowski, he asked Zaczkowski about a call his half-sister made to the Kuzniks the night they were killed. McAlpin asked about the time of his half-sister's last phone conversation with her parents. Phone records show the call was made at 5:28 p.m.
During the afternoon Wednesday, prosecutors showed the jury surveillance video captured by Go Auto Store, a business neighboring Mr. Cars. In the video, you can see an individual, believed to be McAlpin, walk into Mr. Cars at 5:34 pm the night of the murders. For the next 66 minutes, no one enters or leaves the building.
In a motion filed Tuesday, prosecutors asked the court to preclude the testimony of the Kuzniks' daughter. The motion said she was not formally interviewed by police about her parents' deaths and described how her testimony would deprive McAlpin of a fair trial.
The motion said, "The jury would be angered to the point of outrage at watching the defendant verbally attack a young girl who lost both of her parents over her subjective memory as to the specific time of day she talked to her mother on the phone two years ago. Such a move would poison the jury against him. It would risk prejudice not just in the first phase, but also in the second phase when the jury will have to consider and weigh the 'character' of the defendant in determining whether to impose a sentence of death."
Prosecutors expect the trial to last two to three weeks.
If convicted, McAlpin faces the death penalty.