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Published December 16 2011

Zornes sentenced to life in prison

MOORHEAD – Shaking with anger and gripping the podium just a few steps from his uncle’s killer, 17-year-old Tanner Cadotte pointed to the whiteboard behind him with pictures from his uncle’s funeral.

“I want you to look up here and look what you did to my family,” the teenager said, glaring at Tracy Zornes in a Clay County Courtroom on Friday.

Zornes offered no reaction, no outward signs of emotion, just the same stone-faced expression he wore during his trial, including when prosecutors showed gruesome photos of his vic­tims’ stabbed, beaten and burned bodies.

And as Judge Galen Vaa noted before sentencing him to life in prison without parole, Zornes refused to respond to family members of Megan Londo and John Cadotte who pleaded with him Friday to reveal why he murdered them in a Moorhead apartment and set it ablaze on Feb. 19, 2010.

“Until we know the reason why, none of us can put closure to this – probably not even after we know why,” said Cindy Nelson, sister-in-law to John Cadotte.

Vaa ordered that the two life sentences be served consecutively, saying concurrent sentences might be construed to mean that one of the vic­tims’ lives held more value than the other.

“Each murder was equally brutal and senseless,” Vaa said.

The consecutive sentences “mattered tremendously amongst the families. It makes it feel that both lives are equal,” said Cadotte’s brother, Robert.

Under state law, a sentence of life without parole was a certainty after a Clay County jury found Zornes guilty on Nov. 9 of two counts of first-degree premeditated murder in the deaths of Londo, 25, of Naytahwaush, and Cadotte, 20, of Moorhead.

Zornes also was sentenced to 48 months for felony arson – also to be served consecutively – and a 30-month concurrent sentence for stealing Cadotte’s car as he fled the murder scene.

Members of both victims’ families delivered emotional statements, addressing Zornes directly as he sat at the defense table in an orange jail jumpsuit.

Londo’s aunt, Danette McCradie, told Zornes his actions divided not only families but also relationships in the Naytahwaush community.

While Zornes’ family will be able to visit him in prison, “our family will never be able to see Megan’s smile,” McCradie said.

What tortures family members the most, McCradie said, is that Londo’s injuries were to the front of her body.

“We can only imagine the sheer terror and horror she suffered,” she said.

Cadotte’s mother, Verzella Grey, said through tears that her son can’t be replaced and that Zornes should be shown no mercy.

“It’s Christmas … but in our home, we are reminded of the hurt, the evil and the joy that was taken from us,” she said.

Robert Cadotte wondered how Zornes could say he is a Native American who’s proud of his heritage, which teaches protecting family and children.

“It’s people like you that give us natives a bad reputation,” he said.

Assistant County Attorney Heidi Davies read a statement from Londo’s mother, Teri Londo, who referred to her daughter’s two sons orphaned by Zornes’ actions.

“I have two beautiful guys to remind me of what we’re missing,” she said.

Stan Cadotte said he’s had two heart attacks since his son’s death. He said he blames himself at times for teaching his son to be helpful and caring, which must have made him and his car seem like an “easy target” for Zornes.

Stan Cadotte said he worked in corrections for 18 years and used to want to help inmates, but Zornes changed his frame of mind.

“All I see is that stone face with no remorse,” he said.

Zornes avoided eye contact with the speakers. When asked by Vaa if he had anything to say, Zornes responded, “No.”

Vaa denied Zornes’ request for an extended visit with his family at the jail after the sentencing.

“Love you, Trace,” Suzanne Zornes told her son as deputies led him out of the courtroom. She later told reporters her son ­didn’t speak during the hearing “because he didn’t do it. He didn’t have a motive. These were his friends.”

Vaa also ordered Zornes to pay $1,130 in restitution to Cadotte’s mother, $112,833 to the company that insured the three-unit apartment building he set on fire, and $6,500 to a crime victim reparations fund. Londo’s mother also will be able to submit costs for restitution.

Zornes has an automatic right of appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528