By Brandi Makuski
Accused murder Kyle Engen was in court on Monday for the start of his five-day trial in the shooting death of a former UWSP student.
Engen, of Marshall, Wis., has been behind bars on a $100,000 cash bond after being arrested in Colorado and transported by U.S. Marshals back to Wisconsin two years ago. Engen, 32, eluded authorities for more than a month following the March 17, 2016 shooting of former UW-Stevens Point student Deonta Lezine, 21, during a drug deal gone bad near campus. Engen is the only suspect in Lezine’s death.
Lezine’s friends and family flooded the Portage Co. Courthouse Monday morning, where Engen, who was clean-shaven and wore a white dress shirt, was already waiting inside the Branch III chambers, guarded by several Portage County deputies.
More than 60 potential jurors were present for voir dire Monday morning. Judge Thomas Flugaur said that number would be reduced to 12 jurors and two alternates before opening statements on Feb. 26.
According to criminal complaint, Engen traveled from the Madison area on St. Patrick’s Day of 2016, expecting to sell two pounds of marijuana to Lezine and two other men for about $7,000. One of the men with Lezine that night told police the trio planned to instead steal the drugs, push Engen from the car and drive away.
Their the plan backfired, according to the complaint, when Engen opened fire on the vehicle after being pushed from the car near the intersection of Minnesota and Fifth avenues, and striking two men inside. One man received a superficial gunshot wound, while Lezine was shot in the head.
A third man in the vehicle drove Lezine to a building on the UWSP campus, where Lezine collapsed from his wounds and staff there called 911.
Lezine, a native of Racine, Wis., spent several days on life support before succumbing to his wounds on March 25, 2016.
Portage Co. District Attorney Louis Molepske has said local prosecution in Engen’s case was delayed due to outstanding cases in other Wisconsin counties. The DA’s office has spent the past two years gathering evidence and securing multiple out-of-state witnesses, he added.
Engen has been charged with three counts of second-degree intentional homicide and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. He faces up to 140 years behind bars if convicted.