This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Douglas Michael Edling,
St. Louis County District Court
File No. K300600928
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN; and
Alan Mitchell, St. Louis County Attorney, John E. Desanto, Assistant County Attorney, St. Louis County Courthouse, 100 North Fifth Avenue West, Duluth, MN 55802 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Toussaint, Chief Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Foley, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
Douglas Edling appeals from his conviction of second-degree intentional murder, arguing that the district court erred in requiring him to represent himself at a Rule 20 competency hearing and in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Because Edling’s competency was not reasonably in doubt and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion to withdraw the guilty plea, we affirm.
On September 5, 2000, Jilmarie Hann VonHennchen was found dead in a Duluth motel room by a housekeeper. The room was rented to appellant Douglas Michael Edling, her fiancé. Witnesses placed Edling in the motel room during a terrible fight at about 4:00 a.m. that morning, taking a taxi to a restaurant about 4:25 a.m., and at the bus depot about 5:50 a.m. His key to the motel room was later found in the restaurant washroom wastebasket.
On November 6, 2000, the state filed a notice of intent to present a first-degree-murder charge against Edling to a grand jury. In lieu of presenting the case to a grand jury, the state agreed that Edling could plead guilty to second-degree murder under Minn. Stat. § 609.19, subd. 1(1) (2000), with an upward durational departure of 1.5 times the presumptive sentence.
Edling entered a plea of guilty on November 17, 2000. Less than one month later, Edling wrote the district court asking for a competency evaluation. He asked the court to consider his 1998 competency evaluation, to order another one, and “to possibly have a trial, based on that evaluation, amongst other things.” On December 15th, the district court held a hearing on Edling’s request. His counsel was present. The court addressed Edling directly and clarified the issue. Edling stated that he was not claiming that he was presently incompetent to proceed, only that he was incompetent at the time of the offense. The state took no position on the request. When his counsel was asked whether she wished to make a statement, she replied that it was Edling’s request, not her request on behalf of Edling. Three days later, the district court ordered a Rule 20 competency evaluation.
At the January 19, 2001, competency hearing, Edling’s counsel was present as his attorney-of-record. Edling, however, represented himself regarding his five pages of written objections to the report, which found him competent. He and his counsel were given an opportunity to respond at the hearing.
The district court subsequently issued an order and memorandum concluding that Edling had the capacity to appreciate “the wrongfulness of conduct such as murder at the time of Jilmarie VonHennchen’s death” and was competent to stand trial. The court noted that his counsel appeared and represented Edling and “[f]or the purposes of this hearing, Mr. Edling appeared pro se on the issue of competency.” The court concurred with the psychiatrist’s opinion that Edling was competent and noted that she based her decision on her own observations of Edling.
In four letters sent to the court in January 2001, Edling then moved to withdraw his guilty plea. He argued, among other things, that defense counsel had coerced and intimidated him into pleading guilty, that the incarceration was excessive, and that he did not understand the plea agreement. The district court appointed new counsel to represent Edling in the motion to withdraw the plea.
After the February 2001 hearing on Edling’s request to withdraw the plea, the district court made 31 specific findings of fact regarding Edling’s request and concluded that he had not met the burden to withdraw his plea. Subsequently, the court made additional findings that, contrary to Edling’s suggestion, he had taken appropriate doses of prescribed medicines before the guilty-plea hearing.
Right to Counsel at Competency Hearing
The Rules of Criminal Procedure contemplate that the prosecuting attorney, the defense counsel, or the district court will raise the issue of competency when one of them has reason to doubt a defendant’s competence. Minn. R. Crim. P. 20.01, .02. Here, Edling raised the issue. Furthermore, in his oral request for a Rule 20 evaluation, Edling stated to the court that he did not claim incompetence with regard to his understanding of the proceedings; he claimed only that he might have been incompetent at the time of the offense. While the district court ordered a competency evaluation, nothing in the record indicates that the court had grounds to believe Edling was incompetent to proceed or was incompetent at the time of the offense, and no such express finding was necessary to order the evaluation. Minn. R. Crim. P. 20.01, subd.. 2, 20.02, subd. 1. Under these facts, Edling’s competency was not reasonably in question. See United States v. Klat, 156 F.3d 1258, 1263 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel violated when court found reasonable cause to doubt defendant’s competency to stand trial but allowed accused to waive right to counsel); State v. Knox, 311 Minn. 314, 250 N.W.2d 147 (Minn. 1976) (right to assistance of counsel not violated when defendant appeared pro se at second competency hearing when court reluctantly ordered second evaluation and defendant’s competency was not central issue).
While Edling’s defense counsel did not advocate for a ruling of incompetence at the Rule 20 hearing, defense counsel appeared and was present as standby counsel except as to Edling’s written objections to the report. Edling was not without counsel to steer him through the basic procedures of the courtroom. See State v. Richards, 552 N.W.2d 197, 206 (Minn. 1996). While the better procedure would have been to secure counsel for Edling on the specific issue of competency or to make appropriate in-depth inquiry before allowing him to waive his right to counsel, see State v. Camacho, 561 N.W.2d 160, 171 (Minn. 1997), the error does not require reversal under the harmless-error standard. In light of the 1998 competency finding, the voluntary and intelligent guilty plea, the 2001 competency finding, the presence of counsel at the competency hearing, and the lack of a claim of incompetence to proceed, Edling’s self-representation on the Rule 20 motion does not constitute a complete denial of counsel. Cf. United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 659, 104 S. Ct. 2039, 2047 n.25 (1984) (unconstitutional error is established if counsel was totally absent or prevented from assisting accused). Under these circumstances, failure to appoint counsel or obtain a clear waiver of counsel for the competency issue was not reversible error.
Withdrawal of Guilty Plea
There is no absolute right to withdraw a guilty plea. Perkins v. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 685 (Minn. 1997). The rules require withdrawal if the court is satisfied that it is necessary to correct a manifest injustice. Minn. R. Crim. P. 15.05, subd. 1. Withdrawal is allowed in the court’s discretion if it is fair and just to do so. Id., subd. 2. A reviewing court will reverse the district court’s determination of whether to permit withdrawal of a guilty plea only if the district court abused its discretion. Barragan v. State, 583 N.W.2d 571, 572 (Minn. 1998).
Edling first asserts that withdrawal of his plea is justified by an unresolved factual discrepancy about the manner of death. An accurate, voluntary, and intelligent guilty plea includes placing the factual basis for the plea on the record. State v. Ecker, 524 N.W.2d 712 (Minn. 1994). In doing so, Edling admitted strangling the victim with his bare hands, not with a knotted pillowcase, as concluded by the state’s forensic expert. This discrepancy with the state’s forensic evidence, however, is not fatal. The critical concern is whether the record supports a finding that the defendant actually committed a crime at least as serious as the crime to which he is pleading guilty. See State v. Trott, 338 N.W.2d 248, 251 (Minn. 1983) (record supported that crime was committed by three-foot-long board constituting a dangerous weapon). Whether Edling used his bare hands or a knotted pillowcase, he admitted to both strangling and beating the victim to death.
Edling also claims that the record does not contain an adequate admission of the essential element of intent. At the plea hearing, Edling stated that he knew he was pleading guilty to intentional second-degree murder. The crime consists of causing another’s death with the intent to effect the death of that person but without premeditation. Minn. Stat. § 609.19, subd. 1(1) (2000). The intent element is satisfied if “the actor either has a purpose to do the thing or cause the result specified or believes that the act, if successful, will cause the result.” Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 9 (4) (2000). Intent is generally proved circumstantially by drawing inferences from the defendant’s words and actions in light of the totality of the circumstances. State v. Cooper, 561 N.W.2d 175, 179 (Minn. 1997).
Edling admitted strangling and beating VonHennchen to death. He unequivocally stated that he killed her. While he initially denied that he intended to kill her, upon questioning, he stated that he was pleading guilty to second-degree intentional murder and believed that his continued strangling of the victim until she lost consciousness implied that intent. In short, he agreed that his actions could reasonably be construed as intentional. See State v. Hemmings, 371 N.W.2d 44, 46 (Minn. App. 1985) (requisite criminal intent derived from sex offender’s acts that could reasonably be construed as aimed at satisfying his sexual impulses). Therefore, intent was adequately established at the plea hearing.
Finally, Edling has asserted his innocence to justify withdrawal of the guilty plea. In his supplemental pro se brief on appeal, Edling claims that he is not a violent person, that he has no history of assault or violence, that he does not hit women, and that he was not mean or cruel toward VonHennchen. Insofar as this is a declaration of innocence, it is inconsistent with his statements to the district court. Edling unequivocally declared his guilt during the guilty plea hearing and then again at the sentencing hearing. His only previous declaration of his innocence was during his competency interview. Therefore, his admissions were sufficient to support acceptance of the plea.
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.