FROM HIS PRISON CELL, JOSEPH ZIMMER REFLECTS ON HIS IMPULSIVE ROLE IN THE SENSELESS MURDER OF TWO YOUNG MEN

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On April 25, 1995, Michael Coleman and Gil Bukrinsky were both shot in the head by Barry Dodd, as Joseph Morrow (NKA Joseph Zimmer) assisted, in an underground parking garage below the Lord Fletcher Apartments in Spring Park, Minnesota. The men had been shot with a .357 caliber weapon, and Bukrinsky had also been shot in the right cheek with a .25 caliber gun.

According to the testimony of Dodd at his “Felony Plea Hearing” held on April 29, 1996, he and “Morrow” drove his brown 1979 Malibu to the apartment building to confront Coleman because he had been told that Coleman was going to kill him. He said, “I believed he was planning on murdering me. I was going to confront him and basically do what I thought was necessary”.

Morrow had the .357 and Dodd the .25, but both guns belonged to Dodd. The men observed their targets leave the apartment complex shortly after midnight in a red Prelude and as Morrow drove, they followed them to a nearby city only to lose them.

The men returned to the underground parking garage, crouching between parked cars, to wait for the two to return. When they did, Dodd confronted them, and once Bukrinsky “took a karate stance or something and came forward towards me, I shot I shot Mr. Bukrinsky in the face. He turned around. He was still standing. Jay [Morrow] was yelling. He said get on the ground. They dropped on the ground. I flipped out. I was scared. I grabbed the .357 [from Morrow] and I shot them both in the head.”

At the hearing, Dodd explained that the victims believed he had stolen a “large sum of drugs” from Coleman and that he had told “close friends” of Dodd that “he was going to murder me”. Dodd acknowledged that neither of the victims had any weapons in their possession.

Dodd pled guilty to two counts of first-degree premeditated murder and was sentenced to concurrent life sentences; he is eligible for parole after serving 30 years. Morrow pled to two counts of second-degree intentional murder and was sentenced to an “actual” term of 23 1/4th years.

Joe, who legally changed his name to Joseph Zimmer shortly after his incarceration, now reflects from his cell in a Minnesota Correctional Facility.  “I lived an impulsive life. Maybe it had something to do with moving somewhere different for every school year, including Texas and Germany, as an Army brat”.

He moved from town-to-town trying to adjust to new sets of friends and different surroundings. It didn’t take him long to get exposed to the juvenile justice system; at the age of 11, he was caught “trying to heist a bag of Sugar Babies” and sent to the detention center in Minneapolis which was located in the old city hall building that boasted a tower reaching 345 feet.

The castle-like structure made of Ortonville Pink granite took twenty years to build (1889-1905). A clock was placed near the top of the tower measuring four inches in diameter larger than “Big Ben” on the Parliamentary building in London. The tower housed 15 bells, 7,300 pounds each, which played music during special events and the holidays. He said when you were sent there, you were “doing time under the clock” but if you were at least 12, you could smoke there with the permission of your parents. The consequences for such minor offenses usually consisted of a “slap on the hand” and a stint of probation with some work squad.

It “didn’t take long to start doing the ‘In Thing’” with his new friends; shoplifting and stealing became everyday activities which eventually elevated to burglary, a crime for which he was sent to the County Home School for 4-6 months. He ended up running away and was then placed in the St. Cloud Children’s Home for “however much time they deemed necessary”.

He recalls he was 13 and feeling alone but grateful for the periodic Greyhound bus trips the facility authorized for home visits. He returned to his parents after his discharge somewhat impelled to start anew.

But these were troubled times for Joe, he had watched his uncle, aunt and grandfather all die from cirrhosis of the liver. His parents had moved from North Minneapolis to the suburb of Hopkins hoping to disconnect him from his neighborhood pals but by 15, he was sent to Redwing, a Minnesota Correctional Facility for his role in a burglary of a model home.

It was at Redwing where he was issued his “offender identification number (OID) which he still has to this day. He earned his GED and obtained a driving permit and was released after serving 3 months. Within 3 months, he was back in Redwing for another burglary, this time he served 4 months.

Moving back to his parents, this time, was a little different, his girlfriend moved in with him. It wasn’t long before she was pregnant and Joe realized that he needed to reevaluate his priorities. “The thought of being a dad gave me a sense of purpose and almost changed me for good.” His son was born, and another child was on the way.

He worked odd jobs, bought a “rundown trailer” and moved just north of the metro area. Things were working out fairly well until a friend moved in to help to defray expenses. Almost immediately Joe saw how this guy was making “easy money.” Bills were piling up and “the pressure was there to keep up”.  It wasn’t long before he got back into the burglary business.

After one particular “spree” he found himself being followed by 15 squad cars and was arrested. Once in the squad, and on the way to the hospital to provide an evidentiary blood sample, the sheriff accidentally hit a parked vehicle while going 35 mph. While handcuffed and not wearing a seat belt, he hit his head on the partition between the front and back of the squad car. He was rushed to the hospital where he was “given all the cigarettes [he] could smoke”.

When he appeared in court the next day, he had a neck brace on and was using crutches. Even though he was facing seven burglary counts, he was released without bail on his promise to appear at the next court date. He eventually received a 21 month stayed prison sentence and placed on probation for 20 years; he violated his probation several times and opted to execute the 21-month sentence less 1/3rd off for “good time”, and credit for time previously served, he was released from adult prison after serving approximately seven months.

In the summer of 1993 he “was off parole with no strings attached for the first time in ten years”.

Joe told me around the time of his release from prison, matters between him and the mother of his children quickly started to deteriorate, and they decided to go their separate ways. The kids were already in foster care”. As it happened, his parents obtained a foster care license, and the court granted them custody. He thought “What better for the kids to live with than the fostergrandparents.”

He maintained a relationship with his kids making attempts to starting a new business, but he seemed to either pick the wrong business or lacked determination. He found a new girlfriend but that relationship turned “rocky” as well, and he found himself embrangled in the “club” scene. One night, he met an old “friend” he hadn’t seen since he was 15 who was selling drugs “and making quick money.”

It wasn’t long before the two merged their efforts because he knew the kind of people who would be “optimal clientele” and his new partner had access to drugs. As the street deals increased, the pace quickened, money was made, and the lifestyle “consumed me as it seemed to numb the problems life offered”.

Profits from drug sales enabled stays in hotels, cash for personal drug use and the fun life, but the proceeds were not being saved or invested in new legitimate business adventures he had envisioned when he had thought about cleaning up his life. He always seemed to need more money. When approached about taking part in the robbery of a drug dealer, “I barely hesitated” and never “evaluated the possible outcomes” he recalls. Thinking back he says “That one choice, in that one moment, contributed to the misery of many people”.

He and Dodd bought black masks, black jogging suits, gloves and duct tape in preparation for the robbery. “There wasn’t much put into planning the robbery” he recalls. The plan was put into action within three days- they located and started following the victim in his car and observed him pick up and drop off about 20 people. After surmising that he was done with his business and likely on the way back to his apartment, they sped past him so they could reach his apartment complex ahead of him. Joe “jimmied” the front door of the garage with a crowbar and they hid behind some cars directly adjacent to Coleman’s parking spot.

His adrenaline was so high, he forgot to put on the jogging suit. He had a .357 tucked in his pants near his waist and he waited. The garage door opened about 1:30 a.m. and he remembered thinking “here we go.” Pulling down the masks, they approached the victim, and he was shocked to see two people. Feeling the empowerment of being armed, he ordered the two men “to do what he says and get down now.” One of the guys kept getting closer to Dodd with his hands up “like he was going to take him on or something”. The other guy yelled “Barry, why are you doing this?”

The first shot rang out, Joe’s hands dropped to his side- he still had the .357 on him. Dodd snatched the gun from Joe and shot them both. “I can still see the silhouette of him standing over them as he fired each shot, no details, just a shadow.” They slowly pulled away from the complex and threw the guns into the water from the first bridge they crossed. Thinking they should get on video somewhere, they drove to a nearby casino staying there 12 minutes, just long enough to be depicted on camera. They headed back to Dodd’s house to change clothes and discard “any additional clothing we thought would be incriminating”.

They then drove back to Minneapolis around 4:00 a.m. and were stopped by a Minneapolis officer who recognized Joe and knew he didn’t have a valid driving license. He issued him a ticket and Dodd was jailed for an outstanding warrant. When they were in the process of being pulled over, they had tossed out some drugs from the car. Once Dodd was in jail, Joe later retrieved the drugs, sold them and bailed him out of jail.

A few days later, the two met up to make sure their stories matched in the event they were ever questioned. Not long after this meeting, while leaving a mutual friend’s house, a dozen or so unmarked police cars pulled them over. Both of them were taken “downtown” and questioned for over 4 hours- eventually, they were released and warned that “they’d be watching us.”

Detectives “wouldn’t leave me alone” and “were around every corner I turned”. Dodd left the state. One day when Joe was going for a walk near his parent’s house, he spotted a detective in a parked car. He rolled down his window and asked where he was going. He asked him if he wanted a ride and before he could answer he jumped out of the car and said, “you’re under arrest.” Joe fled on foot and hid under a semi -trailer but surrendered after he heard helicopters flying above. He ultimately confessed to his involvement in the murders.

These days Joe anguishes over his impulsivity and lack of direction as he grew up but doesn’t for a moment play the blame game; he remorsefully accepts full responsibility for his actions and often thinks about the pain he has caused the victim’s families and other people close to them.

He is mindful too about his absence from his children’s lives and their perception of him as a father locked away in prison for his role in the commission of a brutal pair of murders. Because his sentence was set at a specific number, he will be released when it has been served.

He looks forward to becoming a productive member of society and a healthy reunion with his family but he will never forget the suffering he put others through. Joe should be released in about 4 years.

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