The district court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser-included offenses of second-degree unintentional felony murder, third-degree murder, and first-degree manslaughter where the evidence would not provide a rational basis for an acquittal on the first- and second-degree murder charges and a conviction on the lesser.
Testimony regarding the gang affiliation of a defendant is admissible if the defense has opened the door to such testimony and the evidence is more probative than prejudicial.
Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Meyer, Justice.
A jury convicted Justin Brooks Stiles of the first- and second-degree murder of Heinz Moorman. He was sentenced to life in prison. In this appeal Stiles argues that the post-conviction court abused its discretion in two regards: first, it denied relief based on the trial court's refusal to instruct the jury on three lesser-included offenses; and second, it denied relief on two evidentiary rulings of the trial court. We affirm the district court.
Appellant Justin Brooks Stiles was nineteen years old when he and four of his friends attempted to rob eighteen-year-old Heinz Moorman of a half pound of marijuana. The young men were habitual marijuana users, and frequently bought drugs from Moorman. On the day of the shooting, however, Stiles and his friends could not pay for the marijuana, so they devised a plan to steal the drugs.
Stiles' friend, Brandon Connor, called Moorman and arranged to meet him in Augsburg Park in Richfield to buy some marijuana. The young men planned to bring guns along to the meeting, which they could use to scare Moorman into turning over the marijuana. On the day of the shooting, Stiles had taken a.12 gauge sawed-off shotgun outside his house and shot it at a tree to see if it was working. Earlier in the week Stiles had sawed off the stock and barrel of the shotgun.
Around 9:00 p.m. on January 8, 1998, the five men—Stiles, Connor, and three other friends, Sean Ueland, Charlie Seepersaud, and Jason Valleen—drove to Augsburg Park in a van, and Moorman drove into the park a short time later. Stiles had the.12 gauge sawed-off shotgun and Seepersaud had a.20 gauge shotgun. Moorman approached the van, but refused Connor's invitation to get in the van. Instead, Moorman invited Connor out of the van and opened the trunk of his car. He took out a shoebox, which he had previously used to transport marijuana for the group. The shoebox contained a half pound of marijuana. Once Moorman took out the shoebox, Stiles and Seepersaud jumped out of the van, cocked their shotguns, and yelled, "give us your shit!"
Instead of turning over the drugs upon seeing the guns, Moorman threw the shoebox back into the trunk of his car, slammed the trunk shut, and reached toward his waist. According to Connor, Ueland yelled to his friends. Ueland saw that Moorman had a gun in his waistband and that Moorman was reaching for a gun. Stiles and Seepersaud fired at Moorman, hitting him several times. Moorman died from multiple gunshot wounds.
After the shooting, Seepersaud ran off, and the other four men got in the van and drove to Connor's house. Stiles threatened the others not to tell anyone what had happened. Nevertheless, Stiles told several other friends that he had shot Moorman after Moorman pulled a gun.
The evening of the shooting, Stacy Stegora picked Stiles up from his house and took him to her home in Big Lake, Minnesota. Stiles asked Stegora to find the guns and hide them. He also told Stegora that he was going to tell police he was someone else. When the police found Stiles at Stegora's home on January 11, 1998, Stiles attempted to conceal his identity. After his arrest, he was charged with two counts of first-degree murder (while committing attempted aggravated robbery and the sale of a controlled substance), and one count of intentional second-degree murder.
The state presented its case against Stiles using testimony from his friends and three of his accomplices, Ueland, Connor, and Seepersaud. One friend testified that while Connor led the planning, Stiles participated in discussions of how the robbery would proceed and agreed to bring his gun to the meeting with Moorman. Seepersaud testified that Stiles carried a.12 gauge shotgun to the park. Ueland testified that Stiles chambered a round as Moorman opened the trunk of his car. All three accomplices testified that Stiles shot three times at Moorman—twice after Moorman had fallen to the ground. To shoot the second and third time, Stiles had to manually pump his shotgun to chamber each additional shell. Ueland testified that immediately after the murder, Stiles threatened to kill Ueland if he told anyone what Stiles had done. The state elicited testimony from Suresh Beni and Stacy Stegora that Stiles told them he killed Moorman.
In addition to presenting testimony from Stiles' friends and accomplices, the state called a ballistics expert from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension State Crime Laboratory. The expert concluded, based on his analysis of shotgun shell wads and shotcups discovered both at the crime scene and during the autopsy, that three shots were fired from the.12 gauge shotgun, and one from the.20 gauge shotgun. He testified that the pattern of holes found on Moorman's jacket were consistent with shots from the.12 gauge, one at a distance of less than two feet, and the second from between five ...