Trial court improperly denied appellant his right to a pretrial Frye-Mack hearing on the general acceptance within the relevant scientific community of the PCR-STR method of testing DNA.
Appeal stayed, jurisdiction retained, and remanded for hearing.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Russell A., Justice.
Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.
Tony Allen Roman Nose, appellant, appeals from his conviction of first-degree murder during the commission of criminal sexual conduct in violation of Minn. Stat. §á609.185(2) (2000) for the July 11, 2000, killing of Jolene Stuedemann. Appellant claims that the trial court erred by failing to conduct a pretrial Frye-Mack hearing on the general acceptance within the relevant scientific community of the PCR-STR method of testing deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) used by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) in this case. Appellant also claims that the trial court erred by admitting the DNA evidence in this case, arguing that the state failed to show reliability under the second prong of the Frye-Mack standard, and by admitting certain other evidence. Appellant also claims prosecutorial misconduct. We conclude that the trial court erred when it failed to conduct a Frye-Mack hearing on the general acceptance within the relevant scientific community of the method of testing DNA used here and remand for hearing to determine if the PCR-STR method of testing DNA has obtained general acceptance within the relevant scientific community. We retain jurisdiction in order to resolve the other issues raised by appellant after that hearing, if necessary.
On July 11, 2000, the body of 17-year-old Jolene Stuedemann, an apparent homicide victim, was found by her sister in their home in Woodbury, Minnesota. A medical examiner determined, based on an examination of the body at the scene and an autopsy, that Stuedemann had been beaten and stabbed multiple times with a screwdriver, had been sexually assaulted, and that she bled to death as a result of multiple stab wounds inflicted during the sexual assault. An investigation led authorities to appellant.
Appellant, who was 17 years old when Stuedemann was killed, was a resident of a group home in Woodbury during the school year. Appellant normally returned to Montana during the summer months. Appellant testified that on the night before Stuedemann's body was discovered he decided to break group home rules so that he would be returned to Montana. On the evening prior to Stuedemann's homicide, appellant went to the home of his friend, Andy Reiman, who was dating Stuedemann and who lived about a mile from the group home. Reiman and Stuedemann returned to Reiman's home, where they encountered appellant in the driveway, listening to his walkman. All three went into Reiman's home where they drank beer and watched television. Appellant claimed that Stuedemann also gave him some marijuana and that Stuedemann and he did some "coke."
Appellant testified that he was sitting on the couch listening to music with his eyes shut, and that when he opened his eyes, Reiman and Stuedemann were engaged in sexual intercourse. According to appellant, he and Stuedemann than had sex while Reiman slept. Reiman testified, however, that he did not fall asleep immediately after he and Stuedemann had sex and that he was certain that Stuedemann did not have sex with appellant.
Appellant fell asleep. Stuedemann left at 3:30 a.m. while appellant was sleeping. Reiman woke appellant and told him to leave as well. Appellant left at approximately 4áa.m. and eventually returned to the group home.
Because appellant had been reported as a runaway the night before, the house parent notified police of appellant's return to the group home, and a Woodbury police officer interviewed appellant. Appellant told the officer that he had been with Reiman the night before. The officer then left the group home and responded to a call that resulted in discovery of Stuedemann's body. Investigators discovered part of a set of headphones under Stuedemann's body. A piece of crumpled paper was found in Stuedemann's mouth with a fingerprint on it, later identified as appellant's, and a blood-stained screwdriver was found near her body.
Eventually, the house parent learned of blood-stained clothing that had been placed in a trash bag in the garage of the group home and that belonged to appellant, and she notified authorities. The lower half of a set of headphones was found in the group home's kitchen garbage. A forensic scientist determined that the headphones found in the garbage and the part of a set of headphones found under Stuedemann's body could have been a match. Authorities also found blood-stained underwear and a walkman with no headphones attached in appellant's bedroom.
Appellant testified at trial and offered a version of events different from the state's theory of the case. According to appellant, after he left Reiman's home he began walking toward the group home and realized that he no longer had his walkman. He attempted to sneak into the group home, but failing that, he went to Stuedemann's home, about a half-mile from the group home. There, he found the lights on but nobody answered the door. He was concerned Stuedemann had overdosed so he entered the home through the back door and there he discovered her body. Appellant testified that he ran inside, knelt on one knee beside the body, saw some paper in her mouth and tried to pull it out, but could not, and that he then saw his walkman next to Stuedemann's body. Appellant testified that he did not call police because he was scared, since he had used drugs and had sex with Stuedemann, had her blood on his clothing, and his walkman was next to Stuedemann's body. Appellant testified that he vomited in the toilet, took his walkman, and ran back to the group home. Appellant changed his clothes and slept in a van in front of the group home until later in the morning. He told a house parent that he changed his clothes because he had spilled beer on them.
The state offered DNA evidence at trial that was obtained from DNA testing of samples taken from the crime scene and the group home. The DNA testing was conducted by the BCA using the PCR-STR method.*fn1 The DNA evidence showed that the DNA profile of blood samples taken from the screwdriver and appellant's personal property found at the group home matched Stuedemann's DNA profile and that semen samples taken from Stuedemann's body matched appellant's DNA profile. Before trial, appellant requested a Frye-Mack hearing to determine first, whether the PCR-STR method of testing DNA is generally accepted within the relevant scientific community and second, whether the state could establish the necessary foundation for admission of the test results in this case. The trial court granted a hearing only on the second issue. Following the limited Frye-Mack hearing, the court ruled the DNA test results admissible.