This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).




State of Minnesota,



Julia Mary Rupert,


Filed March 18, 1997


Schumacher, Judge

Hennepin County District Court

File No. 96033763

Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for Respondent)

Jay M. Heffern, Minneapolis City Attorney, Timothy T. Mulrooney, Assistant City Attorney, 300 Metropolitan Centre, 333 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Respondent)

William E. McGee, Hennepin County Public Defender, Warren R. Sagstuen, Assistant Public Defender, 317 Second Avenue South, Suite 200, Minneapolis, MN 55401-2700 (for Appellant)

Considered and decided by Huspeni, Presiding Judge, Parker, Judge, and Schumacher, Judge.



Julia Mary Rupert appeals from her conviction for fifth-degree assault, arguing the evidence is insufficient to support the verdict and that the trial court's reference to the O.J. Simpson case during voir dire contaminated the jury. We affirm.


Rupert was a resident of the Opportunity Housing Project in Minneapolis. On April 23, 1996, Rupert was photographing another resident whom she believed was selling drugs and took the pictures to give to the police.

Mira Harris, the Resident Services Coordinator , stopped Rupert from taking the pictures after the resident complained. After a brief altercation with Rupert, Harris went back to her office. Rupert followed Harris and started to yell at her. Harris testified that as she dialed 911, Rupert struck her in the mouth, causing her lip to bleed. Rupert then hit Harris several times in the head with her cane. Rupert claims that Harris acted in a threatening manner and she struck out in self-defense. Harris denied acting in a threatening manner.

Rupert was later arrested. An officer testified that he found bumps on Harris's head and a cut on her mouth. The officer testified that Rupert told him that she hit Harris only a couple of times and that it was in self-defense.

Rupert was charged with fifth-degree assault. During voir dire, the trial court instructed the jurors to refrain from speaking to anyone inside or outside the courthouse about the case. During the pretrial instructions, a juror asked the court if they should speak with the judge's clerk if they had questions. The judge answered:

Despite what happened in the O.J. trial, which amazed me, where everybody was talking to the jurors all the time, our rules in Minnesota are that nobody talks to the jurors except in the presence of counsel, pretty much.

So, we don't allow Court staff or anybody to be talking to the jurors generally.

So, generally, if you've got a question it becomes kind of an open forum; you tell me you've got a question, then I will tell counsel to come up here, and then we'll all talk about it.

Rupert then expressed concern that the reference to O.J. Simpson might be prejudicial. The trial court disagreed that the comment prejudiced Rupert's right to a fair trial. The jury convicted Rupert of fifth-degree assault. Rupert appeals.


1. Rupert argues the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction for fifth-degree assault. In a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, review on appeal

is limited to a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the conviction, was sufficient to permit the jurors to reach the verdict which they did.

State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989). A 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 jury is in the best position to evaluate the evidence and its verdict is entitled to deference. Webb, 440 N.W.2d at 430.

A person is guilty of fifth-degree assault if he or she intentionally inflicts or attempts to inflict bodily harm upon another. Minn. Stat. § 609.224, subd. 1(2) (1996). "Bodily harm" includes physical pain or injury. Id. § 609.02, subd. 7 (1996).

Here, Harris testified that Rupert hit her in the mouth and repeatedly struck her in the head with a cane. The arresting officer testified he saw Harris's mouth was cut and that she had bumps on her head. Rupert testified she acted in self-defense and only pushed Harris. The arresting officer, however, testified that Rupert said she hit Harris a couple of times. Rupert also admitted she drank alcohol prior to the incident. The jury was in the best position to evaluate the evidence and was free to reject Rupert's version. The evidence was sufficient to support Rupert's conviction for fifth-degree assault.

2. Rupert argues that the trial court's comment about the O.J. Simpson case during voir dire contaminated the jury because she, like Simpson, is African-American. We disagree.

Instructions to the jury lie within the discretion of the trial court, and will not be reversed absent an abuse of that discretion. State v. Daniels, 361 N.W.2d 819, 831 (Minn. 1985). Jury instructions are to be "viewed in their entirety to determine whether they fairly and adequately explained the law of the case." State v. Flores, 418 N.W.2d 150, 155 (Minn. 1988).

The record shows that the trial court referred to the O.J. Simpson case in response to a pretrial juror question about talking with court personnel. The comment was isolated and was only in reference to trial court procedures. The comment did not address the merits or the law of the case. We appreciate the fact that the trial court was keenly aware of the composition of the jury. Because this court assumes the jurors were intelligent and practical, State v. Weaver, 386 N.W.2d 413, 418 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. June 19, 1986), we think they would know the comment was not meant to influence their ultimate decision, but was only made to give them an understanding of court procedures in layman's language. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in making the comment about the O.J. Simpson case during its pretrial instructions.