Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
John Joseph Kaminski,
Filed March 31, 1998
Itasca County District Court
File No. K696442
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota St., St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
John J. Muhar, Itasca County Attorney, 123 Fourth St. N.E., Grand Rapids, MN 55744 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Lyonel Norris, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue S.E., Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414-3230 (for appellant) Considered and decided by Davies, Presiding Judge, Kalitowski, Judge, and Foley, Judge.*
* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
Appellant John Joseph Kaminski challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his convictions for first-degree arson and defrauding an insurer. We affirm.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. on January 2, 1995, appellant John Joseph Kaminski left home with his children. When they returned home near 6:40 p.m., appellant discovered the home on fire. Over 90% of the house was destroyed by the fire. Fourteen months later, a complaint was filed charging appellant with first-degree arson and defrauding an insurer.
An independent fire investigator and a deputy state fire marshal investigator testified that the fire at appellant's home was purposefully set and that a space heater in the kitchen was used as a timing device to start the fire.
The state argued that heavy personal debts gave appellant a motive to commit the arson. At the time of the fire, appellant had been unemployed for a month and was approximately $157,000 in debt. In addition, a $105,000 balloon payment for the house was due seven months after the fire. (Appellant had another house in Pennsylvania, allegedly worth $250,000, which was for sale at the time of the fire.)
After a jury trial, appellant was convicted of first-degree arson and defrauding an insurer. He was sentenced to 45 months (3 years, 9 months) in prison. He appeals from that verdict and the denial of his new trial motion.
To determine whether the jury could reasonably have concluded that appellant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, this court must review the record and the legitimate inferences from the record in the light most favorable to the conviction. Dale v. State, 535 N.W.2d 619, 623 (Minn. 1995). We assume the jury believed the state's witnesses and rejected contradictory evidence. Id. The credibility of witness testimony and the weight given to the evidence are issues for the jury. State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988).
Because these charges are inextricably linked, evidence that supports appellant's conviction for one charge also supports his conviction for the other. Appellant challenges only the proof that he intentionally set the fire. Arson is a crime usually proved with circumstantial evidence; there rarely are witnesses to the actual setting of the fire. State v. Jacobson, 326 N.W.2d 663, 665 (Minn. 1982). Circumstantial evidence is, however, entitled to the same weight as other kinds of evidence. State v. Wallace, 558 N.W.2d 469, 472 (Minn. 1997). Where, as here, a conviction is based on circumstantial evidence, the verdict will be sustained on appeal when the reasonable inferences from such evidence are consistent only with the defendant's guilt and inconsistent with any other rational hypothesis. Id. Thus, to succeed in an appeal based on insufficiency of circumstantial evidence, an appellant must point to record evidence consistent with a rational theory other than guilt. State v. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d 916, 923 (Minn. 1995).
At trial, on appeal, and in his supplemental pro se brief, appellant offers several alternative explanations regarding the source of the fire. His 12-year-old son, the last person in the house before the fire, testified that he may have knocked the space heater over as he left the house. But the state's experts stated that the space heater was designed to prevent operation if knocked over. Appellant also suggested that a cat upset a dry Christmas tree, which fell close to a burning fireplace. The state offered expert testimony that an area of unburned carpet under the tree stand and burn patterns on the tree itself showed the tree was upright during the fire. Expert testimony also indicated that the fire started in the kitchen; thus, it was not started by the tree.
A janitor at the building where appellant lived after the fire testified that appellant implicitly admitted the arson by agreeing when the janitor stated that appellant started the fire. See Minn. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(B) (adoptive admissions fall outside the definition of hearsay). This conversation was corroborated in substance by the janitor's son. Appellant's attempt to discredit the janitor's testimony was not accepted by the jury and to view the facts otherwise is inconsistent with our standard of review.
Construed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence showed that
(1) the fire was intentionally set, (2) appellant was the last adult in the house before the fire started, (3) a space heater was used to start the fire on a delayed basis, (4) the fire started sometime after appellant left the house with his children, (5) appellant had a financial motive to destroy his home, and (6) appellant impliedly admitted setting the fire in a conversation with an independent witness.
In a circumstantial evidence case, the defendant has the burden to point to a rational theory other than his guilt to explain the events in question. Ostrem, 535 N.W.2d at 923. The appellant here has failed to do so.
The evidence was sufficient for the jury to find appellant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.