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Ex-boygriend gets life in Breckenridge murder

Jeff Silvernail1 / 2
Lori Roberts2 / 2

BRECKENRIDGE, Minn. - The man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend two years ago in her Doran home was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole Thursday.

Jeffrey Silvernail was found guilty after four and a half hours of deliberation, capping a seven-day trial for the murder of Lori Roberts, said Wilkin County Attorney Tim Fox.

The jury of seven women and five men received the case against the 46-year-old early Thursday afternoon, after attorneys gave their closing arguments lasting more than three hours.

Because a conviction for first-degree murder carries a mandatory prison term of life without parole, Wilkin County District Court Judge Gerald Siebel immediately pronounced the sentence.

Fox said he was happy for the Roberts family, who waited two years to see the estranged boyfriend they immediately suspected in the killing convicted.

"It's been a long time for them," Fox said.

For Roberts' daughter, Stephanie Holding Eagle, the verdict not only gave closure to the long wait, but Holding Eagle said it will now allow her mother to be remembered for the person she really was.

"It's really frustrating that everybody sees her as a murder victim," Holding Eagle said. "Even though bad things would come her way, she always found a way to turn them around and find the positive in everything. She was just very, very special to a lot of people. She touched a lot of people's lives just based on how she saw the world."

Silvernail was the last person known to see Roberts alive, and he was also the one to call 911 to report her death in the home the couple shared. Roberts died from fatal gunshots to her chest and chin after she got home from work in the early hours of Oct. 2, 2009.

Silvernail also owned the same type of handgun that likely killed Roberts: a 9 mm Hi-Point that Silvernail claimed was stolen.

In their closing argument, prosecutors argued that Silvernail's guilt was proven by his motive and opportunity.

"There's no single piece of forensic evidence that ties this case together (because Silvernail) controlled and manipulated the crime scene," argued Eric Schieferdecker of the attorney general's office.

Schieferdecker showed jurors text messages between Silvernail and Roberts sent in the days and hours before the murder to illustrate Silvernail's volatile emotions for Roberts.

The couple had been dating since 2005 but broke up just days before the murder. Silvernail was in the process of moving out.

Defense attorney James Austad stressed Silvernail's innocence and criticized prosecutors and investigators for targeting Silvernail without looking at other suspects in his closing remarks.

"This (prosecution) is a reversal of everything that's logical," he said. "The state's case is a rush to judgment, only based on assumptions, speculation, rumors and innuendo."

Austad pointed to DNA evidence, which neither clears nor implicates Silvernail but reveals the possibility that someone else was with Roberts before Silvernail returned home the mid-morning of Oct. 2 and found her dead. Samples taken from Roberts' pajamas, in particular, show a mixture of DNA that came from at least two men. Silvernail was matched to a sample.

"Lori Roberts deserves justice, but it's not justice to convict an innocent man. There are many reasonable doubts, and that's because he didn't do it," Austad said.

Holding Eagle said late Thursday night she was happy with the verdict that would give her time to finally process her grief for her mother.

"I haven't really given myself time to really think about her because I've been so focused on him. He walked free for eight months, which seemed like years after he did what he did," Holding Eagle said. "All my energy has been focused on him and making sure he gets the conviction he deserves."