A brother and sister have been found guilty of murder for their roles in a robbery that left a young man dead in his family’s Lino Lakes home in August 2020.
According to the criminal complaint, Nicholas Walter Zielinski, 44, of Hermantown, Minn., and his sister, Melissa Zielinski, 43, of Sandstone, Minn., were responsible for the fatal shooting of Mitchell Henderson.
The 22-year-old old was killed in his family’s home Aug. 27, 2020.
Henderson’s father told police he came home from shopping just before 2:30 p.m. that day, and saw a man and woman in his kitchen. When the father demanded to know who they were and what they were doing, according to the criminal complaint, Nicholas Zielinski told him Henderson had stolen from him and threatened, “I’ll take you out, too.”
The two drove away, and when the father reentered the house he found his son face-down in a large pool of blood in his bedroom, according to authorities. First responders confirmed that Henderson had been shot in the chest and was dead.
Several neighbors had “Ring” doorbell cameras, which captured images of the black SUV the Zielinskis left in, according to the complaint. While processing the scene of the crime, investigators recovered a 9-mm handgun on the floor that was not owned by anyone in the house.
The Midwest Regional Forensic Laboratory conducted DNA testing on swabs from the grip of the gun and found them to match Nicholas Zielinski, according to the complaint.
Zielinski was arrested Aug. 30, but investigators were not able to identify his sister as the second suspect until analyzing her phone with that of her brother’s. It shows her in the Twin Cities metro area the day of the shooting, then joining her brother’s phone in the immediate area of the shooting in the 6900 block of West Shadow Lake Drive and then back to Sandstone.
An apparent accidental photo of what appears to be the inside of a pocket was taken with Melissa Zielinski’s phone at 2:42 p.m. the day of the shooting and was geo-tagged to a location 4.3 miles from the shooting on a route back to Sandstone, according to the complaint.
Investigators also found several text messages on her phone from the day before the shooting. One outgoing text read, “We are going to collect some money that’s owed to me hopefully” and then an incoming text that read “So you and Nick are going to muscle some money” and then an outgoing text that read “Hopefully I waited long enough.”
Henderson’s father identified Melissa Zielinski as the woman who was in his house.
Nicholas Zielinski pleaded guilty Jan. 4, 2022, to one count of second-degree intentional murder while Melissa Zielinski was found guilty by an Anoka County jury on Thursday of three counts of aiding and abetting murder.
In his plea hearing, as well as at the trial of his sister, Nicholas Zielinski testified that they went to the Lino Lakes home with the intent of robbing Henderson at gunpoint, but the encounter turned deadly.
Zielinski said his sister placed restraints on Henderson, but he managed to break free. When Henderson lunged for Nicholas Zielinski’s gun, there was a scuffle. Nicholas Zielinski admitted firing two shots, hitting Henderson in the chest once.
Melissa Zielinski was charged in September 2020 with aiding and abetting second-degree intentional murder. In November 2021, a grand jury indicted her on aiding and abetting first-degree intentional murder while committing aggravated robbery. A third charge was added before jury deliberations as a lesser-included count of aiding and abetting second-degree unintentional murder. After approximately three hours of deliberation, the jury found her guilty of all charges.
Both Zielinskis will be sentenced on March 23. Due to the guilty verdict on the first-degree murder count, Melissa Zielinski faces a sentence of life with the possibly of parole. Based on his plea agreement, Nicholas Zielinski will receive a prison sentence of just under 20 years.
According to court records, Melissa Zielinski has a lengthy criminal history that includes felony convictions. They include drug possession in 2004, 2010 and 2017, receiving stolen property in 2009, burglary in 2014, fourth-degree assault of a peace officer in 2016 and theft in 2016.
Nicholas Zielinski was convicted in 1999 with having a dangerous weapon in a motor vehicle, in 2003 with robbery and in 2005 for illegally possessing a firearm, court records show.
Authorities have never specified the nature of the debt allegedly owed by Henderson or his ties to the Zielinskis.