Cullen M. Osburn, the primary suspect in the death of University of Wisconsin–Stout student Hussain Alnahdi, returned to the courtroom for a preliminary hearing in front of Dunn County Judge Rod Smeltzer on April 20. The hearing was held to determine whether the State Attorney’s Office had probable cause to accuse Minnesota citizen Cullen Osburn of committing the accused felony.
A section of seating behind the District Attorney’s (DA’s) desk was filled with friends and former classmates of Alnahdi, who were showing support for their friend. The defendant also had a small group of his own supporters. The first shock of the hearing happened early on, as the DA’s office was questioning Lead Investigator Kelly Pollock regarding her knowledge of the deceased’s blood alcohol level at the time of his care in the hospital. Investigator Pollock responded by saying that it had been drawn at .284.
The prosecutors called both Investigator Pollock and Investigator Dan Westlund to the stand to give accounts of testimony they had received from eyewitness Nina Simonette.
The witness described walking between Osburn and Alnahdi and turning around when she heard “yelling”. When asked what, if anything, the witness saw, she testified that Alnahdi had put his hands in the air, as if to say he didn’t want any trouble. When asked what, if anything, the witness saw the unidentified person do to Alnahdi, the witness explained that she saw the unidentified person hit Alnahdi, and that she saw Alnahdi’s head hit the side of the building.
Dan Westlund, a secondary investigator for the Menomonie Police Department on this case, was then called to the stand to testify about interviews he had with those present on the night in question. Here, the prosecutors told of how they identified the then-unidentified male to be Cullen Osburn.
Cullen Osburn and his attorney Chris Zipko then called forward two witnesses in an effort to show that it was, in the words of Zipko, “not plausible that Mr. Osburn committed a felony.” First on the stand for the defense was Osburn’s brother DeAnte Hughes, who was with the defendant on the night in question.
Tempers flared as Assistant Attorney Robert Kaizer was cross-examining Hughes. Judge Smeltzer was forced to ask for “civility” in his courtroom as Kaizer raised his voice at the witness while Hughes was explaining how he spoke to the defendant after the night in question.
Zipko spent the majority of his questioning casting doubt on the accuracy of the account given by Simonette. The witness to the alleged assault had stated in her interviews with police that she saw only two men, later identified as Osburn and Alnahdi, on the sidewalk that night. The picture painted by Hughes, however, would put more than four people on the sidewalk at the time of the alleged assault, as well as testifying that he witnessed Alnahdi grab Osburn as he exited Toppers Pizza to investigate what was happening to his brother.
Hughes also testified that Osburn had said he fled that night due to being afraid of the police. This, given his prior entanglements with law enforcement, was meant to explain why Osburn did not remain at the scene with the rest of his party as they waited for police to arrive.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Smeltzer made a statement saying, “The test in Wisconsin is that, Wisconsin follows the totality of the circumstances test and probable cause is satisfied when it’s believable or there has been a plausible account presented that the defendant committed a felony. Based on the testimony that I’ve heard from Investigator Pollock and Investigator Westlund, and even the witness that Mr. Zipko presented, the court finds that there is probable cause that felonies have been committed, and they’ve been committed by Mr. Osburn.”
Osburn will appear in court again on April 27 for an arraignment hearing as he now awaits his trial.