Investigators go from collecting shell casings on Fifth Ave. to digging for evidence in Colorado dirt to build case
By Brandi Makuski
After months of chasing down witnesses and persons of interest across several counties and two states, Stevens Point police have finally been able to file charges against an accused murderer.
Kyle Engen, of Marshall, Wis., spent his 31st birthday behind bars after being arrested in Colorado and transported by U.S. Marshals back to Wisconsin. Engen eluded authorities for more than a month following the shooting of former UW-Stevens Point student Deonta Lezine, 21, during a drug deal gone bad near campus. Engen is the only suspect in Lezine’s death.
Portage Co. District Attorney Louis Molepske previously said Engen had to first deal with probation revocation charges in Dane Co. before he could officially be charged with Lezine’s death. Charges against Engen were filed in Portage Co. on Sept. 1.
The police report reads almost like a crime novel, involving dozens of characters in its 15 pages and detailing various elements of the crime — before, on and after March 17.
Officers responded to a parking lot at the intersection of Fifth and Minnesota avenues after reports of gunshots were made at about 7:46 PM on St. Patrick’s Day. Numerous witnesses reported hearing several gunshots, followed by the sound of a vehicle speeding away with tires squealing. According to the criminal complaint, one witness said they saw at least one of the car windows had been shattered.
While securing the scene, police found five spent .380 shell casings and two piles of shattered glass in the parking lot.
Around the same time, officers received word that a man, later identified at Lezine, had been found at Berg Gym on the UWSP campus with “suspicious injuries.” Based on the timing and proximity, an officer was dispatched to determine if the two calls were related.
A bloody trail to the HEC
When police arrived at Berg Gym, located inside the university’s Health Enhancement Center (HEC), EMT’s from the Stevens Point Fire Dept. were already on scene and treating Lezine, who was described by a supervising EMT as being “very bloody and covered in broken glass,” according to police documents.
As one officer accompanied Lezine to St. Michael’s emergency department — Lezine would later be transported to Aspirus in Wausau — another officer remained at Berg Gym to investigate the scene.
According to witness statements, two men inside the building witnessed Lezine “stumble” into one of the doors, covered in blood. When they asked if he was okay, Lezine replied, “I’m good”, but other words he spoke were garbled. The men followed Lezine into the locker room, where a third man said he grabbed Lezine to prevent him from falling over. The men attempted to stop Lezine’s bleeding with paper towels after calling 911.
Lezine suffered from a life-threatening “penetrating gunshot wound on the front left side of his head,” according to the complaint. He was soon taken to the Level II Trauma Center in Wausau, where he clung to life until March 25. Lezine’s cause of death is listed as respiratory depression due to cerebral trauma, caused by the gunshot.
Police were able to follow a bloody trail leading into the Berg Gym and the locker room area. The trail lead officers outside to an empty 2005 Ford Taurus — which police later discovered belonged to Lezine’s girlfriend — in the gym parking lot. According to police documents, the car’s back window and left rear window were broken, and blood was visible in the back seat and on the outside of the vehicle.
A bullet hole was visible on the rear driver’s side quarter panel, according to the complaint; another in the back of the driver’s seat. Police located one “deformed and fired bullet” resting in the driver’s seat; another fired bullet was later found in the car’s trunk. Police determined at least one shot was fired from the backseat of the vehicle.
The drug deal
According to witness interviews, Kyle Engen came to Stevens Point believing Deonte Lezine and his roommate, who lived on the 100 block of Minnesota Ave., intended to purchase two pounds of marijuana for a price of $7,200.
Lezine’s roommate said he fled to his mother’s house in Racine after he, Lezine and another man parted ways at the Berg Gym, but returned a call to Stevens Point police at about 3:30 AM on March 18 to provide some answers about the night in question.
The roommate said he had been introduced to Engen — who he knew only by the name “Bud” — several months earlier during a previous drug deal, and arranged on March 16 to meet the following day for the drug deal via text message. Police later discovered “Bud” was Engen based on the phone number in the roommate’s cell phone.
The roommate told police he only had $600 to purchase the drugs, but knew Engen wouldn’t make the trip from Dane Co. unless he believed the two were spending $7,200.
The roommate said he and Lezine planned to steal the drugs instead.
The two men, along with a male neighbor, arranged to drive Lezine’s girlfriend’s car to meet Engen at a gas station on Stanley Street. Engen asked for a public meeting place because he’d been robbed during three previous drug deals, according to the complaint.
The roommate drove the vehicle, while Lezine sat in the backseat; their neighbor rode in the front passenger seat.
According to the roommate, after meeting at the gas station Engen would get into their vehicle and the group would exchange money and drugs in a nearby parking lot.
Instead of paying Engen, the roommate said the plan was for Lezine, who had been a Golden Gloves boxer, to punch Engen in the jaw to render him unconscious. The trio would then take possession of the marijuana and remove Engen from the vehicle.
But the plan backfired. The roommate reported to police Lezine and Engen began to argue, then punch each other in the backseat. Lezine then pushed Engen out of the car and yelled, “Go, go, go!”
It was not immediately clear in the complaint if the group successfully took possession of the drugs, but as the roommate drove away he said he heard “four or five gunshots” coming from behind the vehicle, one of which he believes grazed his left shoulder blade.
Police interviewed the roommate multiple times through March and April before they could complete a picture of the events he witnessed; the neighbor who rode along that night confirmed much of the roommate’s story, according to the complaint.
Working with officers in Dane Co., a Stevens Point detective searched Engen’s trailer home in Marshall on March 19. Engen wasn’t present, though his mother and girlfriend were, and officers located marijuana and cocaine in the residence, but nothing specifically related to the shooting in Stevens Point.
Engen’s neighbors pointed police to a local man who had previous dealings with Engen, and whose ex-wife had sold Engen two guns in April of 2014 — one of which was a Taurus .380 handgun. None of the subjects interviewed in Marshall could point police to Engen’s current location.
On March 25, detectives identified the man who drove Engen to Stevens Point for the drug deal. The man, a Dane Co. resident, told police he agreed to drive Engen to the area for $150, wait for him at a nearby gas station, then drive him back to Dane Co. after the drug deal was complete.
Initially, the Dane Co. man told police he waited at the gas station for “10-15 minutes without hearing from [Engen],” so he returned to Dane County. But when investigators said they didn’t believe him, the man admitted Engen did return after about 10 minutes, “sweating and out of breath, and [he] appeared to have been in a scuffle.”
Engen told the man “they tried to rob him,” and said he needed to get back to Madison “as soon as possible,” according to the complaint.
Engen’s phone records showed police he’d been in recent contact with a woman in Granby, Colo. On April 15, investigators contacted police in Granby to ask about the woman, and whether Engen had been seen in the area.
On April 21, a police officer in Granby positively identified Engen as a guest in the woman’s home. Granby police worked with U.S. Marshals to apprehend Engen, who was outside the home smoking a cigarette, without incident, later that day.
Finding the murder weapon
In her phone interview with police, the Colorado woman said Engen contacted her via Facebook on March 14 to say he “needed to come out to Colorado,” but did not say why. Upon his arrival on March 22 or 23, Engen told the woman about the drug deal, and described the shooting as “sometimes accidental but at other times as self-defense,” according to the complaint.
The woman told police Engen said five of the shots were fired inside the car on March 17, with a sixth shot being fired from outside the vehicle. It was not clear in the complaint if police were able to verify that claim.
He also told the woman police wouldn’t be able to find his gun because it had been buried “five feet underground” on a horse farm in the Village of Rio, Wis., according to the complaint. Detectives later identified a man from Stoughton, Wis., who admitted to burying the weapon on Engen’s behalf.
The Stoughton man told police he met with Engen on the morning on March 18 at Engen’s trailer in Marshall, where he said Engen gave him the handgun wrapped in a white t-shirt.
The man said he later poured rock salt into the gun, hoping it would aid in decomposition, and tried to break the gun into pieces using a hammer, before dropping it into a five-foot-deep hole on rural property owned by an acquaintance in Columbia County.
Investigators interviewed the property owner on April 22, who eventually admitted he knew Engen had been involved in a drug-related shooting, and that during a visit to his property the Stoughton man had gone off by himself to dispose of the gun.
A Stevens Point police detective was one of two investigators to physically dig “four-to-five feet” into the ground to retrieve the gun, which reportedly had a broken plastic grip and was covered in dirt and rock salt when it was found. The gun appeared to match a photograph of the .380 previously sold to Engen.
What happens now
Engen remains in custody, though it was not immediately clear if he has yet been transported to Portage County. A message requesting clarification from Assistant Police Chief Tony Babl on Friday was not immediately returned.
For Lezine’s death, Engen faces one charge of second-degree intentional homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of 60 years. Two additional charges of attempted second-degree intentional homicide — for the attacks on the other two men in the car that night — carry maximum sentences of 30 years each.
A fourth charge against Engen — possession of a firearm by a felon — comes with a 10-year possible sentence if convicted. The complaint was signed by Assistant District Attorney David Knaapen, who has also been assigned to the case.
Engen is listed in court records as a repeat offender, with past felony burglary and drug convictions in Dane Co., and stands to see up to 37 years of additional time for all charges if convicted.
It was not immediately clear if other people involved in the case would be charged for their involvement. Knaapen did not respond to a message left in his office on Friday.
According to a news release from Babl, a press conference would be held on Thur., Sept. 15 at the Stevens Point Police Dept., where officers and Molepske will answer further questions.
Engen is scheduled to make his initial appearance before Portage Co. Judge Thomas Flugaur on Sept. 29 at 3 PM.