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December 22, 1989


Appeal from Sherburne County District Court, Hon. Kim R. Johnson, Judge.

Heard, considered and decided by the court en banc. Coyne, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coyne

1. Evidence of intent and premeditation and that defendant knew the nature of his act and that it was wrong is sufficient to sustain verdict that defendant was guilty of murder in the first degree.

2. When a suspect who is in custody "arguably" invokes the right to counsel, all questioning by the police must cease except to "clarify the earlier comment and to ascertain the accused's desires respecting the aid of counsel." Under the circumstances of this case any possible error in the admission of defendant's confession was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.


COYNE, Justice.

Defendant Timothy Michael Erickson was convicted of first degree murder, Minn. Stat. 609.185(1988), and sentenced to life imprisonment. On appeal from his conviction for the murder notoriously known as "the vampire murder of St. Cloud," defendant contends that (1) he proved he was so intoxicated that he could not form the requisite statutory intent or premeditation; (2) he proved by a preponderance of the evidence that mental illness had rendered him incapable of knowing the nature of his act or its wrongfulness; and (3) the trial court erroneously admitted his confession, which was coerced and taken in violation of his right to counsel. We affirm the conviction.

Defendant, then 18 years of age, and his 19-year-old brother, Mark, shared an apartment. From time to time the brothers sheltered homeless or runaway teenagers, and in March 1988, four other teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17 years, two of them girls, were staying there. Sometime around March 15, defendant, Mark, the resident teenagers, Bill Benedict, and three other 15-year-old boys, talked about forming a vampire cult. Apparently, defendant became fascinated with the subject after watching a movie about teenage vampires, and he began asking Benedict about the occult. Most of the witnesses said they thought then that defendant was merely joking about forming a vampire cult.

On March 21, 1988, seven of the young men, including both Erickson brothers and Donald Gall, the victim, decided to go camping in Riverside Park near St. Cloud. At about 11:30 that evening, Gall arrived at the Erickson apartment "sloppy drunk"; before they left for their outing he also smoked marijuana. As the group prepared to leave, Benedict became uneasy and left the party. About 1:00 a.m. the remaining six set off for the campsite. Defendant brought a case of beer, some marijuana, and Aphedrin, an over-the-counter stimulant; one of the group brought hot dogs; a 15-year-old brought defendant's fixed-blade hunting knife and was heard to mention to defendant something about the "first victim."

For a couple of hours the group sat around their campfire near the edge of the frozen river and drank beer, smoked marijuana, ate hot dogs, and talked about women, hunting, drugs, jail and motorcycles. At about 4:30 a.m., one of the men left because he was cold and tired, and Gall lay down near the fire. After Gall fell asleep, the four remaining campers went into the woods where defendant suggested that they kill Gall and drink his blood. He told the others that they could wake Gall and defendant would kill him with the knife that the 15-year-old had brought. Mark Erickson refused to participate in the plan.

As the group returned to the campfire, defendant pulled his knife from its sheath and approached Gall. Gall suddenly awoke. Defendant told Gall they would keep the fire going and that he should go back to sleep. The group returned to the woods to revise their plan. This time the defendant told the others that he would club Gall while he slept and that the others should kick him. Defendant's brother again refused to participate in the plan to murder.

The group returned to the campfire, and defendant clubbed Gall over the head with a tree branch; then while the other two kicked Gall, defendant continued to beat him with the tree branch. After Gall lost consciousness, defendant took his knife from the 15-year-old, pulled Gall's head into the air, and slit his throat. Gall bled to death. Defendant and his two accomplices then licked Gall's blood from their hands. Next they removed Gall's leather jacket and his wristwatch, lifted his wallet, and emptied his pockets. When the defendant announced, "We've got to get rid of the body," the three assailants pushed Gall's body off the river ice into open water.

As the sun rose the group cleaned the campsite. Defendant put his log club into the campfire. Taking a different route home to avoid detection, the group stopped at a convenience store to buy cigarettes with money taken from Gall.

Following the return home, defendant told both of the girls who were staying with the Erickson brothers that he had killed Gall by beating him with a log and stabbing him with a knife and that he had thrown Gall's body into the river. Defendant bragged that he had drunk Gall's blood and licked the blood from his hands. Gall's blood-soaked jacket and the other items taken from Gall were exhibited as proof of the crime.

That morning Mark Erickson described the killing to Benedict and that evening defendant told Benedict about the murder, saying that Gall's death was "not really that big of a deal." At about 4:00 a.m. on March 24, 1988, a drunken Benedict wandered into the St. Cloud Law Enforcement Center and reported the murder. Gall's body was soon discovered floating in the river a short distance downstream from the campsite, and shortly thereafter defendant was arrested at the St. Cloud bus terminal. Defendant was taken to the interrogation room at the law enforcement center where he was advised of his Miranda rights. Defendant initially denied any involvement in the murder, but after tests showed the presence of blood on his jacket and boots, defendant began to cry and confessed to the murder. The initial confession was not recorded, but defendant immediately repeated his confession to a police stenographer.

The trial was bifurcated. Defendant's defense in the first phase of the trial was that voluntary intoxication had rendered him incapable of forming an intention to murder. The jury found defendant guilty of murder in the first degree. In the second phase of the trial, defendant contended that mental illness had rendered him incapable of knowing the nature of his act or that it was wrong. The jury reaffirmed the guilty verdict.

On appeal defendant first contends that he met his burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he was so intoxicated when Gall was killed that he was rendered incapable of forming either the intent to kill or the premeditation necessary to the crime of first degree murder. *fn1 There was evidence of defendant's history of chemical abuse, that he had consumed a great deal of beer and Aphedrin and had smoked marijuana during the day and night before he killed Gall, together with evidence that his high tolerance of drugs and alcohol allows him to "mask" the physiological effects of these chemicals and to appear normal to others, which would have permitted the jury to conclude that he was unable to intend or premeditate murder. However, two witnesses, one of whom -- his brother -- had previously observed defendant in a state of extreme intoxication, testified that defendant appeared sober during and immediately after the murder. Moreover, there was other evidence of deliberation: defendant formulated a plan of murder and then a revised plan; there were two brief cessations in the assault when Gall fell unconscious; the attackers dragged Gall from the river's edge back to the campfire and propped him against a tree before defendant purposefully slit his throat; and it was defendant's decision to clean up the murder site and to take an alternate route home to avoid detection. Surely, "the record contains sufficient evidence to support the conclusion reached by the [trier of fact] * * * despite the existence of some evidence to the ...

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