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State v. Coonrod

November 05, 2002

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
PAUL NELSON COONROD, APPELLANT.



Ramsey County District Court File No. K9003026

Considered and decided by Randall, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Harten, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. Spreigl evidence is not admissible unless the defense has received the pretrial notice required by Minn. R. Crim. P. 7.02 or unless the record demonstrates substantial compliance with the notice requirement, in the form of other discovery or actual notice of the Spreigl evidence by other means.

2. The requirement in the child-solicitation statute, Minn. Stat. §á609.352, subd. 1(c) (2000), that the defendant solicit a "specific person" does not require solicitation of an actual person, or preclude prosecution for soliciting, by electronic means, a fictional persona created by electronic means.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randall, Judge

Reversed and remanded

OPINION

Appellant Paul Coonrod appeals his conviction of soliciting a child to engage in sexual conduct, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of prior bad acts and in instructing the jury on the elements of the offense. He also argues that the evidence did not establish that his conduct violated the statute. Because we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of prior bad acts, we reverse and remand.

FACTS

Appellant Paul Coonrod was charged with soliciting a child to engage in sexual conduct following an Internet child-exploitation sting operation that caught Coonrod communicating in a chat room with "Jaime14," a fictitious persona created by a U.S. postal inspector. After Coonrod had sent a number of sexually explicit e-mail messages to "Jaime14," police arranged a face-to-face meeting, using an adult female undercover officer. When Coonrod appeared at the arranged meeting site and approached the officer, he was arrested.

Ron Miller, the U.S. postal inspector, testified that he was working with a task force targeting the exploitation of children on the Internet, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. Miller testified that he would typically enter an Internet chat room while assuming the identity of a child. Miller testified that on August 3, 2000, he entered MSN Chat, a Microsoft chat room that Miller testified was not limited to adults. Using the name "Jaime14," Miller participated in the chat session and soon received a "whisper" (private communication from another chat room participant) from a "Mnpablito," who turned out to be appellant Coonrod.

Miller testified that "Mnpablito" inquired: "Just 14 and fun?" Coonrod e-mailed a photograph of himself, and Miller responded with a photograph of a female undercover officer taken when she was approximately 14 years old. Miller testified that Coonrod raised the possibility of "Jaime14" visiting his apartment, where they could have sex. Miller, participating under the name "Jaime14," ended the chat room exchange when Coonrod suggested meeting.

Miller testified the e-mail relationship lasted for a month and a half. During this relationship, Coonrod gave "Jaime14" his phone number, sent two more pictures of himself, and then set up a face-to-face meeting for August 18. Although police posted the undercover officer at the arranged meeting site, Coonrod did not appear for the meeting. Miller testified that Coonrod later explained that the meeting place was too close to a police station. Coonrod and the undercover people set a second meeting for September 20. It did take place.

Following Miller's testimony, there was a discussion on possible Spreigl evidence held outside the presence of the jury. The evidence consisted of six or seven file folders found in a search of Coonrod's computer that were labeled with female names. One of these folders was for J.L., a fifteen-year-old whom Coonrod asked to go out with him. The prosecutor moved to admit this evidence, while conceding that she had not provided a formal Spreigl notice to the defense.

The trial court ruled that without the required rule 7.02 notice, the evidence would not be admissible as Spreigl evidence. The court, however, ruled that because there was no challenge to the police search of Coonrod's computer, the police officer could testify to what was found on it "whether or not it is relevant." The court did state it would not admit any testimony from J.L.

Officer Shannon Sills, the undercover officer who played the role of "Jaime14" in the arranged meetings, testified that she had provided a photograph of herself, taken when she was 14 or 15, for use in the Internet operation. Sills testified that she dressed in a "half shirt" and carried a backpack when she went to the arranged site of the September 20 meeting. Officer Sills testified that Coonrod stopped his truck, left the vehicle, waved to her, and then walked toward her, asking as he approached whether she was "Jaime." Sills testified that Coonrod asked about her hair, which had been had cut shorter than in the photograph, and ...


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