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Trial of dairy farmer enters second day

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MARSHFIELD, Mo. -- The in-laws of James Schnick, who is charged with killing his wife and two nephews in a murder spree that left seven relatives dead, testified in the dairy farmer's trial that they were unaware of quarrels involving family members before last fall's slayings.

Schnick, 36, is on trial on first-degree murder charges in the deaths of his wife, Julie, 30, and two nephews, Kirk Buckner, 14, and Kirk's brother Michael, 2. Testimony was to resume today.

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If convicted, Schnick faces life in prison or the death sentence.

The jury is sequestered during the trial before Webster County Circuit Judge John Parrish.

Schnick had been charged in the deaths of four other family members also killed in the Sept. 25 pre-dawn murder spree near Elkland, about 40 miles northeast of Springfield in southwest Missouri. But prior to jury selection Monday, the Webster County prosecutor's office, without explanation, said it had dropped four of the seven murder charges against Schnick. Officials said the charges could later be refiled.

In the dropped charges, Schnick was accused of killing his brother-in-law, Steven Buckner, 35, his wife, Jan, 36, and their other two sons, Dennis, 8, and Tim, 6.

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Alfred and Jean Buckner, Schnick's in-laws, testified Tuesday that they had no knowledge of problems or quarreling between the families.

But during his opening statement, Webster County Prosecutor Don Cheever said Schnick told investigators there were arguments between his family and the Buckners. Schnick also had said there was an argument between himself and Steve Buckner that resulted in a scuffle that left Buckner dead, Cheever said.

He said the videotape of Schnick's final statement to investigators will be introduced as evidence.

Jan Buckner and her three youngest sons were found dead at their farm home, while Steven Buckner was found along a road near his home and Kirk Buckner and Julie Schnick were found dead at the Schnick home, officers said. The Schnicks' two children, who were home at the time of the shootings, were not harmed.

Authorities said they originally thought Kirk Buckner committed the crimes because Schnick told officers the boy was responsible. Schnick had said he shot and stabbed his nephew in self-defense, officers had said. But investigators came to believe Kirk Buckner died trying to defend himself, Webster County Sheriff Eugene Fraker has said.

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