This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Brian Cayce Butala,
Filed September 9, 2003
Toussaint, Chief Judge
Itasca County District Court
File No. K202383
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Erica K. G. Jacobson, Assistant Attorney General, 900 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101; and
John J. Muhar, Itasca County Attorney, Itasca County Courthouse, 123 Fourth Street NE, Grand Rapids, MN 55744 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Michael F. Cromett, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue SE, Suite 425, Minneapolis MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Kalitowski, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
TOUSSAINT, Chief Judge
Appellant challenges his convictions of burglary and felon in possession of a firearm, contending that they were based solely on accomplice testimony and that his right to a fair trial was violated by the improper introduction of evidence of bad character. Because the accomplices’ testimony was supported by corroborative evidence and the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the challenged evidence, we affirm.
D E C I S I O N
An appellate court will review a defendant’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence “to determine whether the jury could reasonably have found the defendant guilty of the crime charged.” State v. Pippitt, 645 N.W.2d 87, 92 (Minn. 2002) (citation omitted). It is within the province of the jury to assess the credibility of the witnesses. Id. When the verdict is based on corroborative evidence, that evidence will be viewed “in the light most favorable to the verdict,” and “[a]ll inconsistencies in the evidence are resolved in favor of the state.” Id. at 93 (citations omitted).
Appellant Brian Cayce Butala first challenges his convictions on the grounds that they were based solely on accomplice testimony and that there was no corroborative evidence. “[A] conviction cannot rest on the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice.” State v. Strommen, 648 N.W.2d 681, 689 (Minn. 2002).
A conviction cannot be had upon the testimony of an accomplice, unless it is corroborated by such other evidence as tends to convict the defendant of the commission of the offense, and the corroboration is not sufficient if it merely shows the commission of the offense or the circumstances thereof.
Minn. Stat. § 634.04 (2002). Corroboration is required because an accomplice’s testimony is viewed as “inherently untrustworthy,” because it might have been offered so that the accomplice could receive immunity or clemency. Strommen, 648 N.W.2d at 689.
The corroborative evidence must be “weighty enough to restore confidence in the accomplice’s testimony, confirming its truth and pointing to the defendant’s guilt in some substantial way.” State v. Hooper, 620 N.W.2d 31, 39 (Minn. 2000) (citation omitted). It “must link or connect the defendant to the crime.” State v. Adams, 295 N.W.2d 527, 533 (Minn. 1980). But it need not “establish a prima facie case of the defendant’s guilt.” Id.
In this case, the accomplices testified as to Butala’s involvement in the crime, the burglary of an unoccupied house, which included theft of a rifle. Butala contends that the accomplice testimony is insufficient because the jury was not presented with corroborative evidence. He notes that there was no physical evidence linking him to the burglary, no evidence of motive, opportunity, or proximity to the crime scene, and no evidence of his association with accomplices before the burglary.
Contrary to Butala’s contention, other corroborative evidence linked him to the crime. After the burglary, Butala moved to North Dakota with several accomplices and Butala admitted unknowingly transporting stolen items to North Dakota. At Butala’s house in North Dakota, the deputy asked him if he knew where the stolen items were. Although the accomplices no longer resided with him, Butala was aware the items were there in a blue bag and asked a roommate to get them. In addition, he was aware that no one had been home during the burglary. Further, he knew particular information regarding the stolen items, including that a stolen rifle and a stolen safe containing documents were at the bottom of a mine pit. Sheriff’s deputies recovered the gun and other stolen items, as well as documents from the safe, from the pit. These facts link Butala to the crime and point to his guilt in a substantial way. The jury had corroborative evidence to support Butala’s convictions, and was entitled to credit his own words as to his involvement with the crimes.
Butala’s second challenge to his convictions is that he was deprived of a fair trial because the district court refused to redact several lines from his statement to the deputy. Evidentiary rulings by the district court are reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard. State v. Lee, 645 N.W.2d 459, 466 (Minn. 2002). It is the defendant’s burden to prove “both that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting the evidence and that the defendant was thereby prejudiced.” State v. Chomnarith, 654 N.W.2d 660, 665 (Minn. 2003) (citation omitted).
Only relevant evidence is admissible. Minn. R. Evid. 402. Evidence is relevant if it has “any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Minn. R. Evid. 401. But even if relevant, the evidence “may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice * * * .” Minn. R. Evid. 403.
While the court redacted portions of Butala’s statement, it allowed the following lines:
But [deputy], you and I both [k]now, if you’re me an’ you go in front of the judge, it don’t mean a damn either way. (Unintelligible) f--ked. I’m f--ked.
Butala contends that these lines implicate his bad character and significant criminal past. He asserts the challenged lines were irrelevant and prejudicial.
The challenged words do not refer to Butala’s criminal history and could be interpreted in a number of ways. In context, the challenged words were not irrelevant or so prejudicial that they should have been excluded. Therefore, the district court’s decision not to redact the statement was within its discretion.