Resort murder case moves closer to trial as details emerge
Cameron Moser is charged with the murder of a woman at a Merrifield area resort in 2021.
BRAINERD — The criminal prosecution of an accused murderer in Crow Wing County moved closer toward a trial.
The public defenders representing Cameron Moser, accused in the shooting death of 46-year-old Bethany Bernatsky, submitted notice Thursday, Jan. 12, of intent to withdraw motions to dismiss the case while requesting the judge set a pretrial settlement conference to begin setting a trial schedule. The withdrawal comes after evidence found during the investigation into the 2021 death at Cozy Bay Resort was presented in a response by the Crow Wing County Attorney’s Office.
Moser faces felony murder charges stemming from the October 2021 incident north of Merrifield. Moser is accused of shooting Bernatsky, a standout horse trainer and lakes area native who’d recently returned home to stay at the resort as she recovered from cancer treatments. Bernatsky died as a result of gunshot injuries and the manner of death was determined to be homicide by a medical examiner.
Moser, who was originally charged with felony second-degree murder, was indicted May 26, 2022, on one charge of premeditated murder in the first degree, one charge of felony murder in the first degree and one charge of intentional murder in the second degree. The first-degree charges carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and the second-degree murder charge carries a maximum of 40 years.
According to court documents, the motions filed in September by Steve Bergeson, assistant state public defender, and Jordan Olsen, assistant 9th Judicial District public defender, requested dismissing all counts in the indictment. The counts should be dismissed, the lawyers argued, because the probable cause was insufficient to believe the defendant committed the offenses. The attorneys also requested all statements made by Moser during his arrest be suppressed.
In response to the motions of the defense, Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan filed a Dec. 12 memorandum to address the rule of criminal procedure in the case.
The defense argued the state violated Rule 11.04 of Minnesota Rule of Criminal Procedure, which requires the court to determine whether evidence is sufficient to present a question of guilt to the jury. The problem with Rule 11.04, Ryan argued, is it applies to cases when the prosecution charges someone by complaint and is inapplicable to cases when someone is indicted by a grand jury.
The memorandum Ryan filed requested the judge ignore the defense's request, as it applied the wrong rule of law to the case. For the purpose of supporting the grand jury indictment, however, Ryan detailed facts gathered during the investigation in his memo.
According to the timeline presented by Ryan, on Oct. 7, 2021, Crow Wing County dispatchers received three 911 calls reporting hearing gunshots near Cabin No. 5 at Cozy Bay Resort. One caller also reported activity at Lake Mollie RV Parcels, across the highway from the resort, and said Moser was recently at the park looking for his ex-girlfriend while apparently armed. His ex-girlfriend’s family previously owned the resort and continues to own the RV park.
After arriving, Crow Wing County sheriff's deputies learned of a motorcycle identified as Moser’s parked next to a pole building at the park. In the area of the pole building, officers observed Moser carrying an AR-style rifle and wearing a gun belt with a handgun. He was taken into custody during this interaction.
While Moser was detained in the squad car and the Crow Wing County Tactical Team was clearing the scene, they located a woman on the floor of Cabin No. 5 and radioed for an ambulance.
Moser can be heard on the in-car camera saying, “Uh oh,” in response to the ambulance call, the memo stated. When the ambulance was seen leaving the scene, Moser can be heard saying, “Ma got bad news. Bad news,” according to Ryan.
As the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension processed the scene, it located a DNA sample later determined to match Bernatsky outside of Cabin No. 9. That cabin was the previous home of Moser’s ex-girlfriend. Bernatsky’s blood also matched spatter found on Moser’s pants.
“When Defendant was encountered and arrested at the scene he was in possession of the firearm (rifle) that fired all three casings,” Ryan wrote. “This in and of itself is sufficient to support the indictments. In addition, however, Bethany Bernatsky’s blood was found at multiple locations on Defendant’s pants. This presumably would be due to spatter when he shot and killed her. This is more than ample to place Defendant at the scene at the time of death.”
Based on the BCA crime scene analysis, the shots causing the injuries to Bernatsky would have occurred down the hall leading to the main entrance of the cabin and Moser would have needed to move next to where she was found to deliver the fatal shot to her head.
The memo stated law enforcement was unable to determine any direct connection between Moser and Bernatsky, though her resemblance with Moser’s ex-girlfriend was noted. This was further evidence, Ryan said, that Moser entered her dwelling without permission.
“It is clear that this is not one of those rare instances where a Grand Jury Indictment will be overturned,” Ryan wrote. “The Court can be well satisfied there is sufficient evidence to support the Grand Jury Indictment. Defendant’s motions currently before the Court should in all ways be dismissed.”
The next hearing in the case is not yet scheduled.
TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email email@example.com .