may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Charles Edward Bryan,
Filed October 27, 1998
Ramsey County District Court
File No. K9-97-2379
Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Mark Nathan Lystig, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, Suite 315, St. Paul, MN, 55102 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, Minnesota State Public Defender, Marie L. Wolf, Assistant State Public Defender, Suite 600, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Huspeni, Judge, and Randall, Judge.
Appellant argues that admission of evidence of domestic abuse was irrelevant and prejudicial. Appellant also challenges the sufficiency of the evidence that led to his conviction for first-degree arson. We affirm.
On June 13, 1997, firefighters were called to 618 Case Avenue in St. Paul. The building was a duplex occupied by two families. Lisa Remmen and her daughter occupied the lower level of the duplex where the fire began. The fire caused an estimated $72,000 of damage. The portion of the duplex most heavily damaged was the rear bedroom of Remmen's apartment where her daughter, who was not home at the time, normally slept. The area of the rear bedroom that sustained the most damage was that adjacent to the baby's crib that was located just inside an open window. The crib was almost completely destroyed by fire.
The St. Paul Fire department determined that the fire was incendiary in origin. Sergeant Dennis Wilkes of the Arson Unit of the St. Paul Police Department testified that Appellant Charles Edward Bryan was the only suspect in the case. Laboratory analysis of samples obtained by the fire investigator revealed the presence of gasoline in the charred wood flooring and debris taken from a corner of the bedroom. Fire Investigator Michael Domagall testified that the fire began in the room and was not the result of an accident, such as an electrical problem. Although the greatest amount of charring was near the open window (Domagall could not determine whether the window had been open before the fire started), he testified that he could not rule out the fact that the fire could have been started by someone inside the house.
Remmen testified that Bryan came to visit her and her daughter (who was not Bryan's child) on June 12, 1997, the day before the fire. She spoke with him about remaining friends after their breakup and felt that the idea was mutual. They did not argue that day. Remmen last saw Bryan when she dropped him off at the bus stop at 6:00 p.m. She then took her daughter to a babysitter to spend the night. Remmen went out to a bar and did not get home until after 1:00 a.m. She and a boyfriend were asleep when she awoke to a knock on her door around 4:00 or 4:30 a.m. She did not get up to answer the loud knocking because she had a feeling that it was Bryan. When the knocking stopped, she got up from her bed in the living room area and looked through a hole in the curtain. Remmen saw Bryan walking off her porch. He was wearing a reddish tank top, blue jean shorts, and a Mickey Mouse hat. She then heard him jump the fence on the side of the house. She laid down on the loveseat and dozed off for a short period of time before she woke up to smoke in the duplex. She and her boyfriend got out of the burning duplex safely.
Several witnesses identified Bryan as being at 618 Case at the time of the fire. Antwan Thomas was playing Super Nintendo at 4:00 a.m. on June 13th when he decided to go out to the Super America to get some cigarettes and pop. While he was riding his bike to the Super America, he dropped his wallet. He bent down to pick up the wallet and saw Bryan run out a door and run towards the back of 618 Case where he stepped or jumped over a metal fence. Thomas knew Bryan because he had seen Bryan at 618 Case on previous occasions. Thomas testified that Bryan was moving fast and acted mad. Thomas then saw taillights in the alley. He continued on to the Super America and did not find out about the fire until he got home.
Keith Lee lived upstairs 618 Case. On the morning of June 13th, he woke up to smoke. He and his girlfriend grabbed their baby and went outside. As Lee came out to the front of the house, he saw Bryan. He knew that Bryan had a relationship with Remmen, and had seen him before. Lee watched Bryan drive slowly by the house in a white car. Lee then went to Thomas's home to use the phone. Lee testified that Bryan's hair was not in a ponytail when he drove by.
Jolene Robbins lived with Lee in the upper duplex at 618 Case. She woke up to smoke at 4:00 in the morning and got out of the house with Lee and the baby. On her way out, she stopped to knock at Remmen's door to wake her up. Robbins testified that it took a few good knocks before Remmen would answer. When she got outside, she went down Case Avenue to Payne Avenue and asked the driver of a cab sitting on a corner to call the fire department. As she was walking back, she saw Bryan in a white car turning down the street.
Bryan had known Remmen for approximately four years. They dated from October 1994 until May of 1997. In 1997, Bryan violated his probation and served time at the workhouse until June 5, 1997. Bryan testified that on June 11, 1997, he went to Remmen's house at 3:30 p.m. He testified that they did not really talk and that he spent time with her daughter at the park. He stayed over at Remmen's that night. The next day, June 12th, Bryan spent the day at Remmen's house. About 4:15 that day, Bryan testified that Remmen took the drug crystal meth in front of her daughter. Bryan was shocked and when Remmen went into the bathroom, he called 911. The police failed to arrive. Sergeant Richard Anderson of the St. Paul Police Department testified that there is a record that a 911 call was received from 618 Case on that day at approximately 4:15 p.m. Remmen then dropped her daughter off at the babysitter and Bryan off at the bus stop. Bryan does not have a driver's license and testified that he never drove his mother's car, which is a white 1992 Ford Taurus. Bryan testified that to his knowledge, Remmen did not know that he called 911. However, he testified that when she dropped him off at the bus stop, she was angry with him and told him that he would pay dearly if anything ever happened to her. Remmen denied using the drug crystal meth and denied the statement made at the bus stop.
Bryan got on the bus and went home to his mother's house. Later that evening, Bryan went to a bar to play darts with friends. He left the area of the bar between 2:15 and 2:45 a.m. Bryan walked home with his friend Errin Hughes, who lived on the way to Bryan's mother's home. Errin Hughes corroborated Bryan's testimony. He testified that on June 12th and 13th, Bryan seemed fine and did not mention Remmen at all. After arriving home, Bryan went to sleep on the couch. The next thing he recalled was being awakened by his mother who said that Remmen was on the phone. Remmen sarcastically thanked him for setting her house on fire. Remmen admits calling Bryan and accusing him.
Sharon Peterson, Bryan's mother, testified that she saw Bryan sleeping on the couch of her home at approximately 5:00 a.m. on the 13th. Peterson sets her clock twenty minutes ahead so the earliest that she could have seen Bryan would have been 4:40 a.m. that morning. Peterson had to wake Bryan up around 7:30 a.m. when Remmen called to confront Bryan about the fire. Peterson insists that Bryan could not have taken the keys and driven her car. She keeps one set with her all the time and the other set is hidden. The keys were in her bedroom in a zippered portion of her purse when she went to bed around 11:00 the evening before the fire, and they had not been tampered with. Peterson testified that Bryan does not have an extra set of keys to her car. Further, she did not smell any gasoline in her car, on Bryan, or on the couch where he slept.
Remmen and Bryan's previous relationship was introduced as evidence, primarily through Remmen's testimony. Remmen and Bryan had been together from 1994 through 1997. In November 1995, Remmen and Bryan were in a bar. They got into an argument, Bryan hit her head against a wall, and stole her car. He also threatened to kill her. She declined to press charges after this incident. Bryan denied that he ever threatened to kill Remmen in November 1995, but admitted that he was arrested and ticketed for assaulting her. Remmen testified that in March of 1996, Bryan started to choke her, wrapped his legs around her neck, and threw her down on her daughter. Bryan admitted only to pulling Remmen's hair during that incident. In January 1997, Bryan and Remmen moved into the apartment at 618 Case. In February 1997, when they got into an argument, Bryan hit Remmen on the side of her head and tried to choke her. She did not call the police after this incident. Remmen testified that in May of 1997, Bryan took the rent money and went to a bar. When he got home, he claimed that she did not have a right to be mad. She testified that he cornered her, and tried to stick his penis in her mouth. She called the police at this time.
Robbins testified that she witnessed Bryan hit Remmen in the face in May of 1997. When asked if he ever assaulted Remmen when Robbins and Lee were present, he answered, "No, I did not. I pushed her." Remmen broke up with Bryan in May of 1997. Lee testified that Bryan told him that he would kill Remmen if she "snitched me out on my warrant" at one point in early summer of 1997. Remmen admits to hitting Bryan "once."
"Relevant evidence" means evidence having 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.
All relevant evidence is generally admissible. Minn. R. Evid. 402. "Generally, evidence of a prior crime or other `bad act' is not admissible to demonstrate a criminal disposition or to prove the present charge." State v. Buhl, 520 N.W.2d 177, 180 (Minn. App. 1994) (citations omitted), review denied, (Minn. Oct. 27, 1994). However, the introduction of prior bad acts may be admissible to show motive or intent. Minn. R. Evid. 404(b).
Bryan argues that evidence of prior domestic abuse was not properly received as Spreigl evidence because these prior incidents of domestic abuse were not clear and convincing, were not relevant, and were unfairly prejudicial. However, Spreigl is not the issue.
Admission of evidence to establish a defendant's motive for a crime and relationship between defendant and victim is not subject to the Spreigl notice requirement.
Wanglie v. State, 398 N.W.2d 54, 57 (Minn. App. 1986) (citation omitted); see also State v. Boyce, 284 Minn. 242, 260, 170 N.W.2d 104, 115-16 (1969) (holding evidence of quarrels between defendant and victim to show history of relationship properly admitted without "Spreigl notice"). Evidence is admissible, if relevant, to show a relationship between a defendant and victim. State v. Thompson, 520 N.W.2d 468, 471 (Minn. App. 1994), review denied (Minn. Oct. 27, 1994); see also State v. Diamond, 308 Minn. 444, 448, 241 N.W.2d 95, 99 (1976) (affirming trial court's admission of evidence of assault to illustrate defendant's relationship with victim); State v. Rediker, 214 Minn. 470, 481, 8 N.W.2d 527, 533 (1943) (holding evidence of domestic abuse "admissible to show a course of conduct and a mental attitude of defendant toward his wife, and to show malice"). If this relationship evidence is deemed relevant for that reason, it can be admitted on that basis and does not have to come in through a Spreigl hearing.
The record shows that the incidents of prior domestic abuse were introduced by the state as evidence of the history of the relationship between Bryan and Remmen. This is not Spreigl evidence. The evidence could be considered relevant by a jury on the issue of Bryan's attitude towards Remmen. That relationship then would be relevant on the issue of motive and intent for the arson. Bryan was free to introduce evidence to the contrary.
The record shows that the state gave Bryan notice of its intent to introduce the relationship evidence. That notice would negate any Spreigl concerns regarding unfair surprise. The court did not err when admitting this evidence as relationship evidence.
Bryan also argues that the probative value of the domestic abuse evidence was outweighed by unfair prejudice.
Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
Minn. R. Evid. 403. "The trial court is vested with discretion in determining whether the evidence was relevant and more probative than prejudicial." State v. Clayborne, 404 N.W.2d 385, 388 (Minn. App. 1987) (citing State v. Kumpula, 355 N.W.2d 697, 702-03 (Minn. 1984)), review denied (Minn. May 28, 1987).
A trial court lessens (probably cannot totally negate - but can lessen) the danger of unfair prejudice by giving cautionary jury instructions. State v. Nelson, 562 N.W.2d 324, 327 (Minn. App. 1997). At the close of the evidence in this trial, the court specifically instructed the jury:
The defendant is not being tried for and may not be convicted of any crime other than the crime charged in this complaint. You are instructed specifically that you are not to convict the defendant solely on the basis of any occurrence in November of 1995, March of 1996, February of 1997 or May of 1997.
"Jurors are presumed to follow instructions." State v. James, 520 N.W.2d 399, 405 (Minn. 1994) (citation omitted). We agree that the cautionary instruction, once given, does not close the door on the subjective issue of whether a jury could find that evidence more prejudicial than probative. But all a trial court can do is give the cautionary instruction. The weight to be given the evidence and the cautionary instruction rests, for practical reasons, in the minds of the jury. We conclude that the trial court did not err in finding the evidence of Remmen and Bryan's prior relationship more probative than prejudicial.
Finally, Bryan challenges the sufficiency of the evidence that led to his conviction.
Where there is a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, our 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) (citation omitted).
We will not disturb the verdict if the jury, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and for the necessity of overcoming it by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude that a defendant was proven guilty of the offense charged.
State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988) (citation omitted).
First-degree arson involves: (1) the intentional destruction or damage, (2) "by means of fire or explosives," (3) of "any building that is used as a dwelling." Minn. Stat. § 609.561, subd. 1 (1996). "In most arson cases, it is necessary for the state to prove its case with circumstantial evidence * * *." State v. Jacobson, 326 N.W.2d 663, 665 (Minn. 1982). "A conviction based on circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny." State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988).
A jury is in the best position to evaluate circumstantial evidence surrounding the crime, and its verdict is entitled to due deference on appeal. State v. Daniels, 380 N.W.2d 777, 781 (Minn. 1986).
Giving due regard to the presumption of innocence and to the State's burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, if the jury could reasonably have found the defendant guilty, the verdict will not be reversed.
State v. Conklin, 406 N.W.2d 84, 87 (Minn. App. 1987) (citation omitted) (affirming the jury's determination based on the totality of the circumstances although the defendant had plausible explanations for the majority of the circumstantial evidence).
The jury determines the credibility and weight of the witnesses' testimony. Bias, 419 N.W.2d at 484. It was the province of the jury to determine which witnesses were the most credible. Four eyewitnesses testified that Bryan was at the duplex when the fire began, at the odd hour of 4:00 a.m. in the morning. His mother, who testified she saw him asleep at home, could not be absolutely sure of the time when she saw him. Even if she did see him as early as 4:40 a.m. that morning, the eyewitnesses placed him at the scene between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m. Based on the totality of the circumstances, the jury could have reasonably concluded that Bryan was responsible for the fire.