Skip to main content

The man charged with killing 5-year-old Alayna Ertl is now facing a life sentence

The 5-year-old's disappearance in August led to an Amber Alert and hourslong search.

The 25-year-old accused of kidnapping and killing Alayna Ertl is now facing life in prison if he's found guilty.

Zachary Todd Anderson was originally charged with second-degree murder after the 5-year-old Ertl's body was found in a "swampy wooded area" hours after authorities issued an Amber Alert, prompting a large search for the girl.

Those charges have now been upped to include first-degree murder – a decision that under Minnesota law can only be made by a grand jury, which the Cass County Attorney's Office said happened Friday. A first-degree murder conviction means a mandatory life sentence. Second-degree murder is up to 40 years in prison.

The indictment is 19 total counts, including:

  • 8 counts of first-degree murder
  • 1 count of second-degree unintentional murder
  • 4 counts of kidnapping
  • 2 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct
  • 1 count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct
  • 1 count of motor vehicle theft
  • 2 counts of interference with a dead body

The original charges against Anderson accused him of taking the girl from her parents' Watkins home overnight on Saturday, Aug. 20 – Anderson was a friend of the family. Ertl's mother found she was missing in the morning, and an Amber Alert was issued early that afternoon.

The charges say they found Anderson knee-deep in swampy water, at his father's cabin. He was arrested, and pointed investigators to Ertl's body – found naked in the swamp under some debris, the criminal complaint says.

The medical examiner said she was strangled and beaten, and there were signs of sexual assault.

Anderson's bail was set at $3 million for unconditional release at a court appearance Friday. He'll be in court again on Dec. 12, at 1:30 p.m.

Next Up

covid test 6

You can order 4 free at-home COVID tests starting January 19

Tests will ship for free within 7-12 days, according to the White House.

Screen Shot 2022-01-17 at 9.39.38 PM

Jordan Greenway runs into Darcy Kuemper, sparks fight

Kuemper got knocked out of the game, leading to the brawl.

Kirill Kaprizov

MacKinnon's controversial goal helps Avalanche top Wild

Kirill Kaprizov's two goals were spoiled by a questionable call.

powell itasca jail jan 2022 resize

Attorney accused of sex assault misses hearing, DMs judge

He was arrested the next day after a warrant was issued,

lorie shaull vulcan snow park st paul winter carnival 2018

Winter Carnival: Get vaccinated or test negative before coming

Organizers are also reminding people to be mindful of the city's emergency regulations.

hospital, emergency room

Driver, 15 years old, hurt when car collides with SUV

The road was wet at the time, the State Patrol said.

Related

5-year-old Alayna Ertl died of 'homicidal violence,' body found in 'swampy area'

The 5-year-old girl killed following an abduction and Amber Alert died of "homicidal violence," a medical examiner says.

Man charged with sexual assault, murder in death of 5-year-old Alayna Ertl

Zachary Todd Anderson was charged Tuesday in connection with the death of Alayna Ertl.

Man accused of killing 5-year-old Alayna Ertl pleads not guilty

The 5-year-old's body was found near a central Minnesota cabin last summer.

Family friend gets life without parole for killing of 5-year-old Alayna Ertl

Zachary Anderson was a friend of the 5 year old's father.

Danny Heinrich, who admitted to killing Jacob Wetterling, gets 20 years in prison

Danny Heinrich admitted to killing Jacob Wetterling in exchange for fewer charges.

Update: MN man was running away when he was shot by Amtrak officer, charges say

The charges say Chad Robertson was running away at full speed when he was shot.

2 suspects face jail time and probation for role in 4th Precinct protest shooting

Five people were injured in the shooting, which happened during demonstrations following Jamar Clark's death.