This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
William Francis Paulson,
Filed November 30, 1999
Becker County District Court
File No. K298203
Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Robert A. Stanich, Assistant Attorney General, 525 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and
Joseph A. Evans, Becker County Attorney, 910 Lincoln Avenue, P.O. Box 743, Detroit Lakes, MN 56502 (for respondent)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Dwayne Adrian Bryan, Assistant Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Peterson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
William Francis Paulson challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for first-degree aggravated robbery. We affirm.
Shortly after 10:30 p.m. on February 17, 1998, a man carrying a gun robbed the pull-tab booth at the Detroit Lakes Elks Club. He took more than $5,600 in cash.
For several weeks before February 17, appellant William Paulson had been living rent-free in the basement of Neil Olsonís parentsí house on Richwood Road. Paulson was going through a divorce and was unemployed, except for doing occasional odd jobs. He had tried to borrow money and had recently pawned his jeep for $750. Janine Ferguson and her sons, Danny and Shawn, also lived in the house.
Sometime during the afternoon or early evening on February 17, Paulson moved Dannyís BB gun from a main floor closet to the basement. Later in the evening, Paulson put on Shawnís red, knitted, Spiderman ski mask and clowned around with friends in the kitchen. At approximately 10:00 p.m., Paulson asked Ferguson if he could borrow her van to go to the Elks Club to have a few drinks. When Olson asked if he needed money, Paulson said that he had $20 to $35.
Paulson went to the Elks Club, and as he was leaving shortly before 10:30 p.m., he stopped at the pull-tab booth to speak with Sharon Leegard, the pull-tab seller on duty that night, who was tallying receipts from each of the pull-tab jars. A few minutes later, Leegard was waiting on Dan Serra when an armed man entered the booth. Witnesses testified that the man was wearing a red, knitted ski mask with black around the eye-holes; some testified that the mask had a mouth hole, and others that there was a black area around the mouth. There were some variations among descriptions of the weapon, but several witnesses described it as a small-bore rifle. Witnesses also described the robber as a man, 5í8" to 5í9" tall, with medium build, weighing from 160 to 180 pounds. The robber told Leegard to put the money from the pull-tabs in a white plastic grocery bag. Leegard took the money that was in a cash drawer and put it the bag. The robber then told Leegard that he wanted the money that had been placed in bank deposit bags lying on the desk in the booth, and she put the deposit bags in the grocery bag. The robber took the grocery bag and left. Dan Serra testified that he had had many conversations with Paulson on previous occasions, that he had spoken with Paulson five to ten minutes before the robbery, and that he recognized the robberís voice as Paulsonís.
Shortly before 11:00 p.m., Paulson checked into the Best Western Holland House Motel, located two to three blocks from the Elks Club. The motel manager testified that Paulson paid for his room with eight $10 bills, and as he was paying, police cars responding to the armed robbery report drove by on their way to the Elks Club. The manager discovered the next morning that Paulsonís room had not been used. The room keys were returned around 10:00 or 10:30 a.m.
Paulson returned to the Olson house at approximately 11:00 p.m. and sat up watching movies with Olson and Ferguson until he fell asleep in a chair. He was sleeping in the chair when Olson and Ferguson went to bed around 2:00 a.m.
On the morning following the robbery, Olson asked Paulson to take Danny and Shawn to school in Fergusonís van. Shawn left the house first, and when he opened the rear van door, he saw what he described as "all kinds of money" on the floor behind the driverís seat. Most of the money was in bundles wrapped with white straps, and there were only bills, no coins or checks. Shawn testified that Paulson stuck the money into his jacket, went back into the house, then returned to the van and drove the boys to school.
Police investigators Linda Livingston and John Bellefeuille went to the Olson home later in the morning to speak with Paulson, who, based on witness statements, had become a suspect. Paulson agreed to speak with the investigators. When they entered the home, Livingston noticed a red, knitted, Spiderman ski mask in the entryway to the kitchen. Paulson later gave a taped statement at the police station in which he said that he had rented the motel room in the hope of meeting Mauna St. John there later. St. John was a pull-tab seller at the Elks Club, and she had been at the Olson home early in the evening on February 17.
Police executed a search warrant at the Olson home during the afternoon on February 18th and seized a red, knitted, Spiderman ski mask and a Crossman BB/pellet gun. The gun was found beneath the basement stairs a few feet from Paulsonís bed. Police also seized $3,152 in currency found in a cannister on a shelf near the head of Paulsonís bed. Paulson was searched following his arrest. He was carrying $83 and there was $315 in the pockets of his jacket.
On February 24, 1998, Russell Schrupp, a participant in the Adopt-a-Highway program, was picking up trash in a ditch a few miles north of the Olson house on Richwood Road when he found seven bank deposit bags. One bag contained more than $450 in currency with Elks Club gaming receipts paper-clipped to the stack of bills.
A jury found Paulson guilty of one count of first-degree aggravated robbery in violation of Minn. Stat. ß 609.245, subd. 1 (1998).
D E C I S I O N
Paulson argues that the circumstantial evidence presented to the jury was not sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the person who robbed the Elks Club.
The state must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt all of the essential elements of the crime with which the defendant is charged * * * ." State v. Ewing, 250 Minn. 436, 442, 84 N.W.2d 904, 909 (1957). In reviewing a claim of insufficient evidence in a criminal case, this court determines whether,
under the facts in the record and any legitimate inferences that can be drawn from them, a jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant was guilty of the offense charged.
State v. Race, 383 N.W.2d 656, 661 (Minn. 1986) (citations omitted). We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the conviction and "assume the jury believed the stateís witnesses and disbelieved any contrary evidence." Id.
A conviction based on circumstantial evidence must be more carefully scrutinized. State v. Bias, 419 N.W.2d 480, 484 (Minn. 1988). The conviction will be sustained on appeal only if, on considering all of the evidence, the circumstances form a chain that "leads so directly to the guilt of the accused as to exclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, any reasonable inference other than guilt." Id. (quoting State v. Wahlberg, 296 N.W.2d 408, 411 (Minn. 1980)).
Minn. Stat. ß 609.245, subd. 1 (1998), provides:
Whoever, while committing a robbery, is armed with a dangerous weapon or any article used or fashioned in a manner to lead the victim to reasonably believe it to be a dangerous weapon, or inflicts bodily harm upon another, is guilty of aggravated robbery in the first degree * * * .
We conclude that the circumstantial evidence presented to the jury excluded beyond a reasonable doubt any reasonable inference other than that Paulson committed the armed robbery at the Elks Club. The testimony indicated that for several weeks before the robbery, Paulson had been unemployed, except for odd jobs. He was living rent-free at the home of a friend and frequently borrowed money from Olson, Ferguson, and St. John. St. John also testified that two people had called the Elks Club looking for Paulson to collect debts from him, and that he had used the clubís telephone to call his cousin to ask for a loan. Duane Jasken, a longtime friend, testified that several weeks before the robbery, Paulson stopped by his home and unsuccessfully tried to borrow one thousand dollars. Also, Paulson had recently pawned his jeep for $750. Finally, before going to the Elks Club on the night of the robbery, Paulson told Olson that he had 20 to 35 dollars.
All of this evidence indicates that for some time before the robbery, Paulson had very little money, and before he left for the Elks Club on the night of the robbery, he had no more than $35. But one hour later, minutes after the robbery occurred, he paid for a motel room with eight $10 bills. And the next morning, there were bundles of currency in the van Paulson used to go to the Elks Club wrapped the way that Leegard testified the money was wrapped at the Elks Club. Paulson treated the bundles of money as if they were his, and later that day, police found $3,152 in currency on a shelf near Paulsonís bed.
Police also found a Crossman BB/pellet gun, which matched the description of the gun used during the robbery, beneath the basement stairs a few feet from Paulsonís bed. Olson testified that Paulson had moved the gun to the basement sometime during the early evening of February 17th. Olson heard BBs rattle when the gun was moved.
In addition, Paulson left the Elks Club alone just moments before the robbery, his height and weight matched the descriptions of the robber provided by several eye witnesses, and one witness who was familiar with Paulsonís voice identified the robberís voice as Paulsonís. Moreover, during the search of the Olson house, police found a mask that matched the description of the mask the robber wore.
Paulson argues that the evidence was insufficient because the amount of money police found during their search of Paulson and his bedroom was $1,645 less than the amount reported stolen from the Elks Club and the money police found was not wrapped the way that Leegard testified the money at the Elks Club was wrapped. But these discrepancies are not inconsistent with the juryís conclusion. There were several hours between the time of the robbery and the time police found the money. Paulson took the children to school at about 8:00 a.m., and the police did not arrive to speak with him until about 11:00 a.m. Also, Shawn testified that there was a white strap around the money he saw in the van, and Leegard testified that before she put the money in the bank bags, she wrapped a piece of white paper around it. The jury could have concluded that Paulson repackaged the money.
Paulson argues in his pro se brief that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he was the robber because (1) Leegard testified that the robber was wearing a tan Carhartt jacket and no jacket like that was seized by police during their search, (2) Leegard did not recognize the robberís voice as Paulsonís even though she had spoken to him just moments before the robbery, (3) the Spiderman mask seized during the search was a childís mask that was too small to be worn by an adult, (4) none of the witnesses testified that ammunition could be heard rattling in the gun, (5) fingerprints lifted from a telephone and a doorknob that the robber touched did not match Paulsonís prints, (6) there was not enough time for the robber to reach the motel and be checking in when police passed the motel responding to the burglary report, and (7) Shawn Ferguson testified that he saw a large amount of money on Paulsonís bed up to a week before the robbery.
All of these possible conflicts and discrepancies in the evidence were presented to the jury. Even the strict standard of review applied to a conviction based on circumstantial evidence recognizes that the jury is in the best position to evaluate the circumstantial evidence by determining the credibility and weight to be given the witnessesí testimony. Bias, 419 N.W.2d at 484. Assuming, as we must, that the jury believed the stateís witnesses and disbelieved any contrary evidence, the jury could reasonable conclude that Paulson robbed the Elks Club.