Jul. Jul. She pulled over to the side and called for help after the wipers stopped working on her vehicle.
Smerdon stated that while she was waiting she received a notification on her cell phone alerting her of someone inside her home. Because Ryan Haluptzok was suspected of entering her home, she had purchased a surveillance camera.
Smerdon was right to trust his gut instincts.
She pulled up the feed and saw him enter her house, move towards her bedroom, then disappear within five minutes. He entered her house at 10:01 p.m. A 911 call about a fire at the home was made 12 minutes later.
“Slap on the wrist”
In January 2019, Haluptzok was arrested for first-degree felony Arson, six months after the fire.
Court documents show that Andrew Leibel, a Proctor Police Officer, responded to the call for help at 7 Cypress Drive, Zenith Terrace. He saw flames reaching three feet from one of the windows when he arrived. He found the front door locked when he checked it. He noticed that the mobile home was filled up with smoke and that there was a nearby vehicle registered to Haluptzok.
Leibel was able to find a phone number for Haluptzok. He told Leibel that Smerdon lived at his residence and had gone to work. He also stated to the officer that he was in Cloquet and that he would be heading in that direction.
Court documents show that this was not true. Smerdon presented the officer with the video of Haluptzok entering the home. It was later determined that the fire was arson. Investigators obtained a warrant to search for Haluptzok. According to court documents, the data showed that Haluptzok had left Cloquet around 8:18 p.m. and that his cellphone didn’t connect to any other tower in Cloquet for the remainder of the evening.
Data also revealed that Haluptzok was present in the vicinity of Smerdon’s house when Leibel called him on the night of the fire, at 10:25 p.m.
Haluptzok’s attorney and planned to fight the charge and go to trial. Vicky Wanta, Assistant St. Louis County Attorney, stated that there was a fight among experts prior to the trial. Then COVID-19 was declared as a pandemic. This caused the court case in St. Louis to take longer than normal.
According to Smerdon, “The process can take quite a while if it goes all the way to a jury trial.” It can take up to a year, or even a year and a half. In my case, it took three years.
Smerdon expressed relief and optimism when Haluptzok pleaded guilty on May 6, 2021, to the crime. Wanta stated that the crime was a Level 8 felony, and the presumptive sentence to prison is 41-57 months, regardless of previous convictions.
Court records show that Haluptzok is mostly guilty of traffic violations, but he was convicted in 2001 for first-degree criminal damage. Wanta stated that the conviction cannot be used in sentencing because it is older than 15 years.
Wanta stated that she contacted the Carlton County Attorney’s Office to get the details and to see if the 2018 crime was similar. However, the case was too old to be included in their system.
Wanta stated that when someone pleads guilty, it spares victims of having to testify in court. She always requests the lower sentence and asked for 41 months imprisonment.
John Schmid, Haluptzok’s attorney, requested that the judge allow him to make a lower departure or reduce the minimum sentence from the sentencing guidelines. Schmid asked for five years probation from the judge, explaining that Haluptzok had “accepted responsibility” for the offense and “remained completely law-abiding over the three-year period since the date of the offense.”
David Johnson, the sentencing judge, agreed with Schmid and granted five years of supervised probation along with $100 monthly restitution.
Smerdon stated, “I waited so much for that day and was really disappointed.” It was like receiving a punch in your gut.
Zoom was used as the venue for the sentencing hearing. Smerdon and her child gave victim impact statements, describing what they lost and how the fire affected them. Smerdon’s daughter even spoke about the loss of her pet bunny.
Smerdon stated that it didn’t matter.
“I felt so hopeless. She said that she was literally gasping for air and cried. “I don’t know how I can explain it, but it made me feel completely humiliated, let down, and helpless that someone could do such a horrible thing to someone and cause them such harm and get away with it.
“Probation does nothing.” It’s a slap on your wrist.”
Wanta stated that Haluptzok must wear an ankle monitor for six months and can go to work or come home. She stated that she respects the court system and would not work in it if it didn’t. However, Smerdon was sentenced to 180 days probation and Haluptzok was released from prison.
“This particular arson was more than just property damage. It was Mr. Haluptzok’s message of power, control, and control that arose out of their domestic-type relationships. Wanta stated that Mr. Haluptzok stole everything from Ms. Smerdon and set her home on fire to make it nearly a total loss. He burned her possessions, destroyed her memories, and burned the walls meant to protect her.
“She and her child’s lives were completely destroyed and they have been living in poverty ever since. Out of all this, Mr. Haluptzok only received the inconvenience of having his case heard in court.
Wanta stated that she was disappointed by the outcome and wondered if the pandemic restrictions are more detrimental to victims of crime.
Wanta stated, “I believe right now with the Pandemic Restrictions in place it can be much easier for the Court to forget the Human Component of the Victims of these Cases.” “Victims begin their court experience with three initials in the complaint and end it as a muted box on an electronic screen. This will forever be an injustice for these victims.”
It was more than just a house that was lost
Smerdon stated that she and her child have been living in poverty since the fire. Her post-traumatic stress disorder also caused her to lose her job. She applied for Section 8 housing but was placed on a long waiting list.
Lisa Jordan, Center Against Sexual and Domestic Abuse, Superior, is the domestic abuse program coordinator. She said that it’s common for survivors of abuse to develop post-traumatic stress disorder and then not be able to hold down a job.
Jordan stated that anxiety can overwhelm them and that even the smallest trigger, such as the smell of hamburgers cooking, could cause them to panic.
Smerdon stated that she has lost more than just her home and personal possessions. Smerdon said she has lost faith in the justice system, lost hope with the police, and lost her sense of security and safety.
Smerdon stated, “It’s frustrating since I dated him 4 1/2 years and had no idea who he was until the end.” “There were red flags throughout the relationship, and I didn’t see them. It makes perfect sense now that I look back.
Smerdon wants women to trust their guts and to recognize warning signs that it could snowball out of control.
She said, “If your friends say something’s wrong with someone and you don’t realize it because you are in love or you want to believe them,” If you suspect someone is following you, it might be. Trust your gut if you feel that something isn’t right.
Jordan stated that she believes abuse survivors are among the most courageous people in the world.
Jordan stated, “It’s courageous to come forward and tell their truth and face their abuser. Then stand up for yourself when you’ve been knocked out for so long.