Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Jeremy John Janshen,
Filed June 2, 1998
File No. K597483
Hubert H. Humphrey III, Attorney General, 1400 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota St., St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent)
Richard D. Hodsdon, Acting Washington County Attorney, Eric C. Thole, Assistant County Attorney, Washington County Government Center, 14900 61st St. N., Stillwater, MN 55082 (for respondent)
Steven P. Russett, Assistant State Public Defender, 875 Summit Ave., Room 371, St. Paul, MN 55105 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Crippen, Presiding Judge, Davies, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
Appellant challenges the sufficiency of evidence offered to support his conviction of first-degree arson. We affirm.
(1) Antonio Rice testified that appellant visited him at his home a few hours before the fire and asked him if he wanted to "jack" (burglarize) some nearby homes. Rice declined, and appellant left. The next day, Rice saw appellant at Chris Armstrong's home, where appellant boasted about having several stolen guns to sell. The following weekend, appellant showed Rice and Armstrong an old British rifle he said he had stolen. Appellant also admitted burning down Johnson's home by turning on the gas.
(2) Cassandra Schmeig testified that appellant told her that he had "been doing some bad things lately * * * like fires and stuff." Appellant told Schmeig that he was selling some guns, but would not tell her where he obtained them.
(3) Vincent Killen and Christeen Rewey testified that appellant told them he had stolen guns from Johnson's home and burned it down by turning on the gas and lighting a match because his accomplice had not worn gloves and might have left fingerprints.
The jury found appellant guilty of first-degree arson. He was sentenced to six years and two months in prison. This appeal followed.
First-degree arson involves (1) the intentional destruction, (2) by means of fire or explosives, (3) of "any building that is used as a dwelling." Minn. Stat. § 609.561, subd. 1 (1996). The state must substantiate appellant's admissions "`by independent evidence of attending facts or circumstances from which the jury may infer the trustworthiness of the [admission].'" In re Welfare of M.D.S., 345 N.W.2d 723, 735 (Minn. 1984) (quoting Smoot v. United States, 312 F.2d 881, 885 (D.C. Cir. 1962)). The state is not required, however, to independently corroborate each element of the charged offense. Id.
In this case, Antonio Rice's testimony adequately corroborated appellant's repeated admissions that he intentionally set fire to Johnson's home. Rice saw appellant near the scene of the fire shortly before it was discovered and then, less than a week later, saw appellant holding a rifle that resembled one stolen from Johnson's home. Rice's testimony allowed the jury to infer, from appellant's admissions, that appellant set the fire.
An "admission" is, after all, a statement, direct or implied, of facts tending to establish guilt. It does not necessarily constitute an acknowledgement of guilt but of facts and circumstances, which, if taken in connection with proof of other facts, may permit an inference of guilt.
State v. Weber, 272 Minn. 243, 254, 137 N.W.2d 527, 535 (1965).
Appellant's admissions to Killen and Rewey also support the jury's inference that he acted with the requisite intent. See State v. Koskela, 536 N.W.2d 625, 629 (Minn. 1995) (affirming felony murder conviction of defendant whose self-incriminating admissions provided evidence of necessary intent).
Appellant argues that, if there is any evidence corroborating his admissions, it is circumstantial. But because the criminal act of arson, if successful, destroys most tangible evidence, circumstantial evidence frequently provides the only basis for an arson conviction. State v. Jacobson, 326 N.W.2d 663, 665 (Minn. 1982). Here, the circumstantial evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the conviction, was sufficient for the jury to convict appellant. See State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989) (when sufficiency of evidence is challenged, appellate court must
determine whether evidence, viewed in light most favorable to conviction, supports jury verdict).