This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).








State of Minnesota,





Burr Crowsbreast, III,




Filed November 7, 2000


Schumacher, Judge


Chippewa County District Court

File No. K69930



Mike Hatch, Attorney General, John B. Galus, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and


Dwayne N. Knutsen, Chippewa County Attorney, 102 Parkway Drive, P. O. Box 591, Montevideo, MN 56265 (for respondent)


John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Leslie J. Rosenberg, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)



            Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Schumacher, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


            Appellant Burr Crowsbreast, III, challenges his conviction for second–degree intentional murder, second-degree felony-murder, and first-degree assault, arguing there was insufficient evidence and evidentiary errors.  We affirm.


On January 15, 1999, Crowsbreast was drinking liquor, from approximately 2:00 p.m. onward, at the house of Reggie LaBatte.  Sometime between 6:45 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Crowsbreast passed out while sitting in a chair and was moved to the living room couch.  At about 7:55 p.m., when several people left, Crowsbreast was still asleep on the couch.  About 8:15 p.m., the rest of the guests left, leaving LaBatte alone with Crowsbreast.  Sometime later, an acquaintance stopped by LaBatte's house and discovered his body.  She ran to a nearby house and 911 was called.

            The police found LaBatte's body in the hallway with a large pool of blood underneath his head.  They saw Crowsbreast sleeping or passed out on a bed in an adjacent bedroom, blood on his hands, face, shirt, pants and shoes.  A white, wrought iron table was lying, broken and covered with blood, on the floor at the foot of the bed. The officers woke Crowsbreast up, secured him in handcuffs and placed him under arrest.  Crowsbreast did not have any apparent trouble walking, talking, or following police instructions.

            When Crowsbreast was interviewed at the county jail on January 16, 1999, he remembered going to LaBatte's house and drinking and playing poker, but said he blacked out and did not remember later fighting with LaBatte downstairs, how the table got broken, or how he got cuts on his hands.  Crowsbreast acknowledged that he and LaBatte had had fights in the past.  At trial, a tape recording of the police interview was played for the jury, during which the jury was provided with copies of a transcript of the tape recording.  As the tape was being played, the court stopped the proceedings, collected the transcripts to redact certain portions that appeared to contain inadmissible evidence, and returned redacted transcripts to the jury.

The medical examiner testified that LaBatte died as a result of multiple traumatic injuries to the head, neck and face, having been repeatedly struck with a great deal of force, and that the wrought iron table was the type of object that could have been used.  Based upon Crowsbreast's blood alcohol level when it was tested on January 16, the medical examiner believed that at the time of the murder it was in the range of 0.26 to 0.30.  Through DNA analysis, LaBatte's blood was identified on Crowsbreast's shirt, jeans and both of his shoes.  A BCA forensic scientist testified that the blood found on Crowsbreast's clothing included matches to the blood of his recently deceased girlfriend, in addition to matches to his own blood and the blood of LaBatte.[1]  The jury also heard testimony that Crowsbreast and LaBatte had fought before. 

Crowsbreast testified on his own behalf, recounting how he had gone to LaBatte's house after pawning his television to buy liquor.  He and others played cards and dice and everybody got along.  He had not been mad at LaBatte and did not remember getting into an argument.  The last thing he remembered was sitting at the table playing cards or dice; the next thing he remembered was being in the back of the squad car.  Crowsbreast also testified about past fights with LaBatte.  Following the six-day trial, the jury found Crowsbreast guilty as charged.


1.         In considering a claim of insufficient evidence, this court’s review is limited to a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction, is sufficient to allow the jurors to reach the verdict that they did.  State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989).  The reviewing court must assume the jury believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary.  State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989).  The reviewing court will not disturb the verdict if the jury, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude the defendant was guilty of the charged offense.  State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988).

            a.         Crowsbreast argues that the circumstantial evidence presented by the state was insufficient as a matter of law to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed murder.  A conviction based entirely on circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny than convictions based in part on direct evidence.  State v. Jones, 516 N.W.2d 545, 549 (Minn. 1994). Viewing the evidence as a whole, the circumstantial evidence must form a complete chain that leads so directly to the guilt of the defendant as to exclude beyond a reasonable doubt any reasonable inference other than guilt.  Id.  A jury, however, is in the best position to evaluate circumstantial evidence, and its verdict is entitled to due deference.  Webb, 440 N.W.2d at 430.

            Although circumstantial, the evidence in this case is substantial.  When Diana Rodriguez, Larry Brien and Phyllis Little Creek left at about 8:15 p.m., Crowsbreast and Reggie LaBatte were the only two people in the house.  When LaBatte's body was discovered about an hour later, Crowsbreast was the only other person in the house.  He was asleep or passed out near LaBatte's body, with the apparent murder weapon inches away.  LaBatte's blood was on Crowsbreast's shirt, jeans and shoes.  The two had a history of physical violence, did not get along well when they drank, and had been heavily drinking before the murder.  Although the evidence is circumstantial, it does not support any reasonable inference other than guilt.  We conclude the circumstantial evidence is not insufficient as a matter of law.

            b.         Crowsbreast also argues that the evidence was insufficient because he was too intoxicated to have formed the specific intent to commit second-degree intentional homicide.

An act committed while in a state of voluntary intoxication is not less criminal by reason thereof, but when a particular intent or other state of mind is a necessary element to constitute a particular crime, the fact of intoxication may be taken into consideration in determining such intent or state of mind. 


Minn. Stat. § 609.075 (1998).  The mere fact of intoxication does not mean a defendant was incapable of forming requisite intent.  State v. Hale, 453 N.W.2d 704, 707 (Minn. 1990).  "Defendant's intoxication is but one of the facts that the factfinder is free to consider in deciding whether the defendant had the requisite specific intent."  State v. Cole, 542 N.W.2d 43, 49 (Minn. 1996) (citing Hale, 453 N.W.2d at 707).

The issue of whether the defendant's intoxication is a defense is a matter for the jury.  State v. Netland, 535 N.W.2d 328, 331 (Minn. 1995) (citing State v. Potter, 288 N.W.2d 713, 714 (Minn. 1980)). 

In this case, the court instructed the jury to consider whether Crowsbreast was intoxicated and, if so, whether he was capable of forming the required intent to commit second-degree, intentional murder.  By finding Crowsbreast guilty of second-degree, intentional murder, the jury implicitly rejected his voluntary intoxication defense.  Although the evidence indicates that Crowsbreast's blood alcohol content was quite high, between 0.26 and 0.30, at the time of the murder, the supreme court has affirmed a jury's finding of intentional homicide by defendants with comparably high blood-alcohol levels.  See Netland, 535 N.W.2d at 330-31; State v. Thunberg, 492 N.W.2d 534, 539 (Minn. 1992); State v. Olson, 298 Minn. 551, 552, 214 N.W.2d 777, 778 (1974).  We conclude Crowsbreast's intoxication does not render the evidence of specific intent insufficient.

2.         Appellate courts largely defer to the trial court’s evidentiary rulings, which will not be overturned absent a clear abuse of discretion.  State v. Kelly, 435 N.W.2d 807, 813 (Minn. 1989).  The reviewing court considers the cumulative effect of any errors to determine whether they were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.  State v. Keeton, 589 N.W.2d 85, 91 (Minn. 1998).

            Crowsbreast argues that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of past fights between Crowsbreast and LaBatte.  The supreme court has "on numerous occasions recognized the inherent value of evidence of past acts of violence committed by the same defendant against the same victim."  State v. Williams, 593 N.W.2d 227, 236 (Minn. 1999).  Prior relationship evidence may be admitted to prove intent or establish a motive. Id.  Crowsbreast nonetheless argues that here the evidence that he had assaulted LaBatte in the past does not provide a motive for or show intent to commit the charged offenses because he was too intoxicated to be acting on past events.  But, as noted above, the jury's verdict implicitly rejected his intoxication defense.

            Crowsbreast argues that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence that his clothing contained blood of his recently deceased girlfriend.  Crowsbreast's counsel did not object to this evidence when it was presented to the jury and the court provided a cautionary instruction to which defense counsel appears to have agreed. We conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion, as the evidence was allowed in an attempt to explain to the jury as clearly as possible the various sources of blood at the scene.

            Crowsbreast argues that the trial court abused its discretion by providing the jury with a transcript of his police interview.  The use of transcripts of tape-recordings at trial is subject to guidelines as described by the supreme court in State v. Olkon, 299 N.W.2d 89, 103 (Minn. 1980).  Here, the trial court followed the Olkon guidelines: foundation was laid, the jury was given a cautionary instruction, and the transcripts were not admitted into evidence.  There was no abuse of discretion.


[1] In a separate trial, Crowsbreast was convicted of the first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree domestic abuse murder of his girlfriend.