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Man convicted of stealing 29 guns valued at more than $20,000 in Wisconsin

A St. Croix County jury last week convicted a Hudson, Wis., man accused of spending the 2015 Labor Day holiday on a crime spree. Alex James Kranz, 24, was convicted of burglary, three counts of felony theft and two misdemeanors -- theft and crimi...

Alex Kranz
Alex Kranz

A St. Croix County jury last week convicted a Hudson, Wis., man accused of spending the 2015 Labor Day holiday on a crime spree.

Alex James Kranz, 24, was convicted of burglary, three counts of felony theft and two misdemeanors -- theft and criminal property damage -- after a four-day trial. Jurors returned the verdict after deliberating for more than three hours.

Kranz was accused of burglarizing a Hudson man's storage unit that contained 29 guns valued at more than $20,000 between Sept. 5-7, 2015. He was also accused of stealing property from the same man's cabin in North Hudson.

Kranz is additionally charged in connection with the Sept. 7, 2015, armed robbery of the Hudson Holiday Store. Prosecutors claim he used the same knife stolen from the cabin during the robbery.

Robbery-related charges were not taken up in last week's trial. St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson said the trial aimed to tackle the charges in chronological order, which started with the burglary.

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Defense attorney Daniel Chapman framed the case as one in search of suspects -- not the truth.

“They weren’t looking for the truth,” he said during closing arguments Friday. “They were looking for confirmation of what they thought they already knew.”

Chapman pinned much of the case on Kranz’s alleged co-conspirator, Jeffery K. Gleason. The 27-year-old Hudson man is also charged in the case and was called last week to testify against Kranz.

Gleason testified that he broke into his father-in-law’s storage unit on Labor Day weekend and trashed its contents while Kranz and a woman piled inside.

“The case begins and ends with Jeffery Gleason,” Chapman told jurors.

Jurors evidently sided with St. Croix County prosecutors Ed Minser and Matthew Hartung, who compared the case to a kid getting his hand caught in the cookie jar.

“These,” Minser said at closing, picking up an ax and ammunition box found in a car Kranz had been driving, “are the crumbs left all over him.”

Police were called Sept. 8, 2015, to the 1601 Industrial St. storage unit rented by Hudson resident David Mason. He told authorities that in addition to the break-in there, his cabin at 1501 Highway 35 in North Hudson had also been burglarized while he and his wife were away for the holiday weekend in Illinois.

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A car Kranz was driving was later found by police at his father’s house. Prosecutors said the car contained items reported missing from Mason’s storage unit and cabin.

Gleason, who is charged with burglary in the case, received immunity from additional prosecution for the testimony he provided during Kranz’s trial.

Central to prosecution’s case was testimony and evidence from Hudson resident Charles Slavik. He told the jury that Kranz came to his house on Labor Day -- Sept. 7, 2015

Slavik testified that Kranz brought with him a Zombie Hunter AR-15 pistol, two .22-caliber pistols, a knife and an empty ammunition box -- all items listed as stolen by Mason.

“(Kranz) said it was worth big money,” Slavik said.

He also produced prosecution’s apparent linchpin -- a photo Slavik said he shot as a prank that pictured Kranz asleep on the floor, surrounded by the knife, the ammunition box and what prosecutors said was a portion of the Zombie Hunter gun.

“This is the key here,” Hartung told the jury during closing rebuttal remarks. “Charles Slavik brings everything together.”

Victim’s testimony

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The first day of trial focused primarily on Mason and the break-ins he discovered upon returning to the townhome he and his family shared with Gleason.

That began when he noticed a lockbox -- containing keys and legal papers -- stashed under their bed was missing.

“I hollered out that we’d been robbed,” Mason said.

Gleason, who was home at the time, told Mason that he should have had the contents of the lockbox insured, a comment Mason said “struck me as really odd.”

The comment led to a confrontation between Mason’s wife and Gleason, who allegedly grabbed her until Mason pulled him off.

Mason said he then went to the storage unit and saw the door’s handle and locking mechanism destroyed.

“I got a real bad feeling in my stomach that something wasn’t right,” he said.

Inspection of the unit revealed all 27 of the guns he kept in a locked safe inside were gone, along with two more guns, ammo and other items. Prosecutors displayed photos of apparent pry marks found on the gun safe.

He later identified a tube from the Zombie Hunter gun as being pictured in the photo of Kranz asleep on the floor.

Mason then drove to the North Hudson cabin, which he said he found in “disarray.”

Mason said he found a window pried open and a door that appeared to have been tampered with. Video games from inside the cabin had been moved outside.

An ax belonging to Mason’s son was missing, as was a Bowie knife stored in the cabin, he said. A Ford Mustang he left parked there also appeared to have been pried on, Mason testified.

Witness testimony

On Thursday, Gleason was called by prosecutors to testify.

St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Scott Needham informed the court of Gleason’s immunity deal prior to admitting in front of the jury that he had also been charged in the case.

Gleason testified that he had been friends with Kranz since middle school and that Kranz had been a groomsman in his wedding.

Pent-up rage over living arrangements with his in-laws -- mixed with methamphetamine he consumed -- led Gleason to the storage unit, where he pried open the door and led Kranz and a woman inside.

“I wanted to scare them, to cause them to wake up and get out of my house,” he said.

Gleason first testified that he saw Kranz doing “mayhem” inside the storage unit and noticed him prying on the gun safe with a screwdriver “to no avail.”

Pressed by Minser to recall statements he gave police after his arrest, Gleason claimed not to remember.

“I don’t know if I was strung out and just said that,” he said. “I don’t know.”

After a contentious exchange between Minser and Gleason -- and several objections by Chapman -- the attorneys gathered in front of the judge.

After dispersing from the bench, Needham declared that Minser had requested to treat Gleason as an “adverse witness” -- a classification that allowed for a line of questioning similar to cross-examination.

During closing arguments, Chapman noted how Gleason was eventually threatened with perjury before admitting to witnessing Kranz take items from the storage unit.

“You cannot convict Alex Kranz based on the testimony of Jeffery Gleason,” Chapman told jurors.

Prosecutors conceded problems with Gleason, but said his actions on the stand were telling.

“It certainly looked like he was trying to protect his buddy up here,” Minser said.

Gleason’s case was set for a Wednesday, March 2, pre-trial hearing in front of Needham.

Related Topics: CRIMEBURGLARY
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