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Washington County v. Office of Appellate Courts State of Minnesota

June 03, 2004



Admission of Spreigl evidence that the defendant murdered another young woman was not an abuse of discretion because the evidence was relevant and its probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

Admission of notebooks and address books containing names, license plate numbers, addresses, and phone numbers of women other than the victim, even if erroneous, was harmless because the verdict was surely unattributable to the error.

The district court did not abuse its discretion by providing the jury with CRIMJIG 3.16, adapted to the facts of the case, as a Spreigl evidence instruction.

The state's conduct in closing argument was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and therefore does not warrant a new trial.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Paul H., Justice.


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


In 1998, Joseph Donald Ture, Jr. was convicted of first-degree murder for the May 1979 death of Marlys Wohlenhaus. On appeal of the denial of post-conviction relief, which is the first substantive review of his conviction, Ture alleges a number of trial errors that he claims entitle him to relief from conviction. Specifically, Ture alleges as error: (1) the admission of Spreigl evidence regarding the murder of Diane Edwards and the manner in which this evidence was presented at trial; (2) the admission of numerous pages of women's names, addresses, phone numbers, and license plate numbers; (3) the district court's failure to use a more specific cautionary instruction to limit the use of Spreigl evidence; and (4) the state's conduct during closing argument. Ture also submitted a supplemental pro se brief requesting relief. We affirm.

At about 3:30 p.m. on May 8, 1979, 18-year-old Marlys Wohlenhaus was discovered by her mother in a downstairs room of their Afton home covered in blood with her head "bashed in." Wohlenhaus had several star-shaped cuts on her scalp and her skull was fractured. The injuries caused uncontrollable bleeding and severe brain injury. Wohlenhaus was hospitalized and underwent emergency surgery, but the next day she was taken off a respirator and pronounced dead. An autopsy also revealed broken fingers and bruises on both hands.

The Washington County Sheriff's Department investigated the murder and had several leads. The leads included a neighbor who saw a car fishtail out of Wohlenhaus's driveway at about 3:15 p.m. on May 8, the day Wohlenhaus was assaulted. Also, a friend of Wohlenhaus testified that on the night before Wohlenhaus's death, she and Wohlenhaus had been at a restaurant in Afton and Wohlenhaus had appeared upset upon seeing a man sitting in the back of the restaurant. The man had light blond hair and was wearing a leather coat, sunglasses, and a baseball cap. The man apparently followed the two women on a motorcycle after they left the restaurant. Despite the investigation of several suspects, no one was charged in connection with Wohlenhaus's death.

In the early 1990's, Everett Doolittle, a Special Agent with the Cold Case Unit of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), began investigating the Wohlenhaus murder. Appellant Joseph Donald Ture, Jr. was one of the suspects in the case because of evidence that he had made a detailed written confession to the Wohlenhaus murder while in jail awaiting trial for another crime. Nevertheless, Ture had been cleared as a suspect because he was thought to have been working at the Saint Paul Ford plant at the time of the murder.

Ture's written confession was drafted in November and December 1981 while he was being held in the Sherburne County Jail awaiting trial for the murder of Diane Edwards, a 19-year-old waitress who was abducted from West Saint Paul, sexually assaulted, and killed in 1980.*fn1 While in jail, Ture had fellow inmate Toby Krominga draft a confession to the Wohlenhaus murder and "another matter."*fn2 Ture signed the confession, stating that he was making the confession with the hope of getting to Saint Peter State Hospital for treatment. According to the confession, in 1978 Ture worked part time for Wohlenhaus's father at Greg's Body Shop in Afton. Ture claimed that Wohlenhaus's father wanted Ture to kill Wohlenhaus's mother and that Ture drove to the Wohlenhaus home to kill the mother. According to his statement, while Ture waited outside for Wohlenhaus's mother to arrive, Wohlenhaus came home and she invited Ture inside to "smoke dope." Ture asked Wohlenhaus for sex, but she rejected his advances. Ture then got upset and hit her with a hatchet. A handwriting expert for the BCA testified at Ture's trial that the signatures on each page of the confession were Ture's.

Ture also confessed to David Hofstad, who worked in the Sherburne County Attorney's Office from 1981-1982. Hofstad received a call in November 1981 from a Twin Cities television news cameraman with whom he was acquainted. The cameraman apparently told Hofstad he should talk to Ture about Wohlenhaus. Ture, who was still in jail awaiting trial for the Edwards murder, agreed to meet with Hofstad. Hofstad, who knew nothing about the Wohlenhaus murder, asked Ture about Wohlenhaus and Ture told him that he had known her, she had been a waitress, and he had wanted to date her. Ture then told Hofstad that he had wanted to talk to Wohlenhaus, so one day he went to her house to wait for her to come home. He got into the house through the garage and, when Wohlenhaus arrived, they talked, argued, and he killed her with either a hatchet or a crowbar. Hofstad later called the Washington County Sheriff's Office and spoke with someone involved with the investigation of Wohlenhaus's murder about what Ture told him.

Upon further investigation of Ture, Doolittle discovered that authorities had cleared Ture as a suspect because they believed he was working at the Ford plant at the time of the murder. However, Doolittle concluded that this alibi was erroneous because the authorities had mistakenly looked up the work schedule of his father, Joseph Ture, Sr.

Ture was indicted in 1996 for first-degree premeditated murder in violation of Minn. Stat. ยง 609.185, subd. 1 (1978), in connection with Wohlenhaus's death. He was tried before a jury beginning in September 1998. In addition to both Krominga and Hofstad, other witnesses testified at trial that Ture directly and indirectly told them about the Wohlenhaus murder. Former Washington County Deputy Sheriff Jeff Klarich testified that Freeman Stanton, a former cellmate of Ture's in Montana, told him that Ture had said that he had "beat" a young girl to death with an axe or hatchet. Several former inmates of Ture's also testified. Donald Mampel testified that in 1981 or 1982 when a news story was on television about a girl who had been killed in Afton, Ture stated that the authorities would never be able to prove it against him. Randall Ferguson testified that in May 1998, at Oak Park Heights Prison, Ture bragged to him that he had beaten a woman to death in Afton. Ray Lumsden ...

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