This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A04-1800

 

State of Minnesota,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

Randall Lee Smith,

Appellant.

 

Filed August 30, 2005

Affirmed

Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge

 

McLeod County District Court

File No. K2-03-1450

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101-2134; and

 

Michael K. Junge, McLeod County Attorney, Amy E. Olson, Assistant County Attorney, 830 East Eleventh Street, Suite 112, Glencoe, MN 55336 (for respondent)

 

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Susan Andrews, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)

 

            Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Willis, Judge; and Forsberg, Judge.*

_______________________

 

* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

GORDON W. SHUMAKER, Judge

            On appeal from a conviction of aiding and abetting in the theft of a laptop computer, appellant claims that he was unlawfully convicted on the basis of uncorroborated accomplice testimony.  Because we conclude that the testimony of the accomplice was sufficiently corroborated, we affirm.

FACTS

On October 27, 2003, appellant Randall Lee Smith and David Sell went to Thomas Dahle’s apartment.  During the visit, Smith asked to speak privately with Dahle.  While Smith and Dahle were together in the bathroom, Sell stole Dahle’s laptop computer.  Dahle’s daughter, who passed Sell on her way into the apartment, reported to Dahle that Sell was running away with his computer.  Police later arrested Sell, who ultimately pleaded guilty to the theft of the computer.  Smith was also charged with theft, but he pleaded not guilty, waived a jury trial, and tried the matter to the court.

At trial, there were conflicting accounts about events that occurred before, during, and after Smith’s and Sell’s visit to Dahle’s apartment.  The state presented evidence that implicated Smith as the mastermind behind the theft.  Sell testified that he was an unwilling partner in the plan and was forced to participate because he owed Smith money for drugs; that Smith picked him up and drove him to Dahle’s apartment; that Smith threatened him with bodily harm if he did not help steal the computer; and that after the theft was complete, he handed the stolen computer over to Smith as payment for the drug debt.  Dahle testified that Smith and Sell knew about the existence of the computer because he often had it with him; that on the night of the theft, Smith kept him in the apartment bathroom by force; and that when Smith finally let him out and they were returning to the living room, Smith said, “[Sell] stole your laptop, man, you had better go catch him,” even before Dahle noticed the computer was missing.

The defense presented evidence that Sell acted alone in the theft; that Smith went to Dahle’s apartment to settle a debt, meeting Sell by accident in the parking lot of the apartment; that Sell decided to accompany him into the apartment; and that Sell then stole the computer on his own when Smith and Dahle were having a conversation about the debt in the bathroom.

            Minn. Stat. § 609.05, subd. 1 (2002), provides that “[a] person is criminally liable for a crime committed by another if the person intentionally aids, advises, hires, counsels, or conspires with or otherwise procures the other to commit the crime.”  The crime charged in this case was theft under Minn. Stat. § 609.52, subds. 2(1), 3(3)(a) (2002).  The court found that Smith aided and abetted Sell in his theft of the laptop computer and thereby became liable for the theft as well.  Smith appealed from his conviction.

D E C I S I O N

            When a party makes a claim of insufficient evidence on appeal, we apply the same standard of review to both bench and jury trials.  State v. Cox, 278 N.W.2d 62, 65 (Minn. 1979).  We are limited to scrutiny of the trial record in order to determine if the district court could reasonably have found the defendant guilty of the crime charged.  State v. Pippitt, 645 N.W.2d 87, 92 (Minn. 2002).  When scrutinizing the record, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, and we assume that the district court believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved any contrary evidence.  Id.  The assumption that the district court believed the state’s witnesses is especially appropriate where the record presents conflicting testimony, because weighing the credibility of witnesses is the exclusive responsibility of the district courtId.

Smith argues that the evidence against him is insufficient because it rests solely on the uncorroborated testimony of his alleged accomplice Sell.  The district court found that the evidence sufficiently corroborated Sell’s testimony:

The State has proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Defendant devised a plan for him to distract [Dahle] in his apartment so that David Sell could take [Dahle’s] laptop computer and subsequently deliver it to Defendant in payment of a drug-related debt.  Defendant offered testimony contradicting this, but the Court has accepted the testimony of witnesses supporting its findings, and has rejected testimony contradicting the Court’s findings.

 

A conviction cannot be based solely on the testimony of an accomplice. Minn. Stat. § 634.04 (2002).  An accomplice’s uncorroborated testimony is inherently untrustworthy because hope of a lenient sentence or some other self-serving motive might induce the accomplice to testify for the state.  State v. Nelson, 632 N.W.2d 193, 202 (Minn. 2001).  Because accomplice testimony is suspect, it must be buttressed by sufficient corroborating evidence.  Id.  To be sufficient, the corroborating evidence must (1) restore confidence in the accomplice’s testimony; (2) confirm the truth of the testimony; and (3) point to the defendant’s guilt in some substantial way.  Id.  “[T]he corroboration is not sufficient if it merely shows the commission of the offense or the circumstances thereof.”  Minn. Stat. § 634.04.

Here, Sell testified that the plan for the theft was “[p]retty much that [Smith] was going to take [Dahle] into the other room and I was going to just grab [the computer] and run.”  He had no hope of a lenient sentence because he had already pleaded guilty and was serving his sentence when he testified, and his testimony against Smith was not part of any plea agreement. 

Moreover, there was sufficient corroborating evidence to buttress Sell’s testimony.   All of the other witnesses, including Smith himself, testified that Dahle and Smith were in the bathroom when Sell stole the computer from the living room.  Dahle added that Smith kept the bathroom door shut and prevented him from leaving.  This detail in Dahle’s account confirms the truth of an essential part of Sell’s testimony, namely the complicity of Smith in the plan to steal Dahle’s computer.  Smith was to keep Dahle distracted, and Sell was to take the laptop.  Both actions were necessary to perpetrate the theft, and Dahle’s corroboration points to Smith’s guilt in a substantial way.

Finally, the corroborating evidence went beyond showing the commission and circumstances of the theft.  Dahle testified that “a second after I exited the bathroom, [Smith] said . . . ‘[Sell] stole your laptop, man, you had better go catch him.’”  Smith blurted out this statement even before Dahle realized that the computer was missing.  It was only after his daughter later alerted Dahle to the theft that he fully understood what had happened.  This evidence of Smith’s prior knowledge implicates him in the planning as well as the commission of the theft.  Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, Dahle’s account restores confidence in the rest of Sell’s testimony and goes beyond showing the commission and the circumstances of the theft.

The record shows that Smith’s conviction does not rest solely on the uncorroborated testimony of his accomplice Sell.  Dahle’s independent account of the theft confirms and complements Sell’s testimony.  The district court, believing the state’s witnesses and relying on their testimony, reasonably concluded that the evidence was sufficient to find Smith guilty of aiding and abetting in the theft of Dahle’s computer. 

Affirmed.