Cloquet woman charged with arson in witness tampering caseSandra Kay Couture, 39, also known as Sandra Kay Zanol, was charged in July with three counts of tampering with a witness in the 2000 Langenbrunner murder case. An amended complaint was filed in State District Court Monday charging Couture with first-degree arson, second-degree arson, attempted first-degree arson and attempted second-degree arson.
By: Mark Stodghill/Forum Communications, Pine Journal
A Cloquet woman accused of tampering with witnesses in the Trina Langenbrunner murder case was charged with four more related crimes on Monday.
Sandra Kay Couture, 39, also known as Sandra Kay Zanol, was charged in July with three counts of tampering with a witness in the 2000 Langenbrunner murder case. An amended complaint was filed in State District Court Monday charging Couture with first-degree arson, second-degree arson, attempted first-degree arson and attempted second-degree arson.
Couture’s boyfriend, Joseph John Couture Jr., 41, of Cloquet is accused of murdering the 33-year-old Langenbrunner, a mother of three, in 2000. He’s being held on $1.2 million bail.
According to the new criminal complaint charging Sandra Couture with the four arson counts, investigators monitored phone calls placed between Joseph Couture at the St. Louis County Jail and his girlfriend and learned of fires allegedly set by Sandra Couture involving a house, a car and a truck. The fires were set on July 6 and July 19 at the same property.
“This has been an ongoing investigation conducted with the full cooperation of both St. Louis County and Carlton County agencies,” Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jessica Smith, lead prosecutor in the Langenbrunner case, said of the new charges. “Based on the information and evidence those agencies have provided, it was agreed by the Carlton County attorney that the arson charges should be added at this time and the prosecution of those charges are most appropriately handled here in St. Louis County in conjunction with the witness tampering case.”
Phone calls made by Joseph Couture revealed the control he had over his girlfriend. They spoke in a code during conversations in which it is alleged that Joseph had Sandra attempt to intimidate two witnesses to recant their statements. The threats to the victims are alleged to have occurred between July 6 and July 23.
On July 4, Joseph Couture called his girlfriend and allegedly told her, “I need to (expletive) get out and (expletive) kill people.”
On July 6, the Carlton County sheriff’s office responded to an arson fire at the property of one of the relatives of a witness who claims Joseph Couture killed Langenbrunner. The house, a car and a truck on the property were burned with the structure being a total loss. Two dogs were reported missing and presumed dead. Details of the arson fire were consistent with details discussed beforehand between the Coutures, the complaint alleges.
On July 19, Carlton County deputies returned to the scene of the arson fire when the property owner reported that a second attempt had been made to burn items on his property. Deputies recovered the remains from several Molotov cocktails — glass bottles with accelerant and fuses in them.
Langenbrunner was last seen hitchhiking in the area of Brookston Road between 1:30 and 2 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2000. Joseph Couture was a neighbor of Langenbrunner at the time. The victim’s stabbed body was discovered off a rural road in southern St. Louis County.
Couture was arrested on June 15 after two witnesses came forward identifying the Level 3 sex offender as Langenbrunner’s alleged killer.
Couture had been living on the 300 block of Second Street in Cloquet after he was released from prison on May 16, 2011. According to the police alert issued when he moved to the Cloquet residence in 2011, Couture was found guilty of engaging in sexual abuse with a female victim, age 8, which included penetration. The offender was known to the victim.
Pine Journal editor Jana Peterson contributed to this story.