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Mckenzie v. State

October 21, 2004



Petition for post-conviction relief is properly denied when claims raised in petition are barred under State v. Knaffla, 309 Minn. 246, 252, 243 N.W.2d 737, 741 (1976), and when petitioner fails to meet his burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence facts that warrant a reopening of the case.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Page, Justice.

Took no part, Anderson, G. Barry, J.


Considered and decided by the court en banc without oral argument.


In October 1993, Mwati P. Mckenzie was convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the shooting death of Minneapolis Police Officer Jerome Haaf. In State v. Mckenzie, we affirmed the conviction on direct appeal and the underlying facts of the case were set forth in that decision. 532 N.W.2d 210, 213-17 (Minn. 1995). In 1997 and 1999, Mckenzie petitioned for post-conviction relief. The 1997 petition was denied and on appeal we affirmed. Mckenzie v. State, 583 N.W.2d 744 (Minn. 1998). The 1999 petition was denied and no appeal was taken.

In August 2002, Mckenzie filed his third petition for post-conviction relief wherein he asserted that the trial court improperly handled two jury notes sent to the judge during deliberations. Mckenzie claimed that this violated his right to be present at every stage of trial. The petition was denied by the post-conviction court without an evidentiary hearing. On appeal, we remanded to the post-conviction court with instructions to hold an evidentiary hearing with respect to how the trial court handled the notes in question, as well as when Mckenzie and/or his counsel first knew or should have known about the issues raised by the handling of those notes. Mckenzie v. State, 670 N.W.2d 582 (Minn. 2003).

On remand, the post-conviction court heard testimony from the two attorneys who represented Mckenzie at trial, the prosecutor who represented the state, and the trial court judge who presided over Mckenzie's trial. The post-conviction court also accepted into evidence portions of the trial court judge's log book from Mckenzie's trial and a July 25, 2002, letter from Mckenzie's appellate counsel responding to an inquiry from Mckenzie about the notes.

In this appeal, Mckenzie contends that the post-conviction court committed error when it denied him a new trial or a reduced sentence. We conclude that Mckenzie's claim is barred by our holding in State v. Knaffla, 309 Minn. 246, 252, 243 N.W.2d 737, 741 (1976). We further conclude that, even if Knaffla did not apply to Mckenzie's claims, the post-conviction court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Mckenzie's petition.

Evidence taken at the post-conviction hearing can be summarized as follows. Mckenzie's trial court judge testified that he kept a trial log book in which he made notes of events that occurred during Mckenzie's trial. That log book and the trial court record indicate that there were four notes sent from the jury to the judge during the course of deliberations. The first note, received on October 20, 1993, at 2:00 p.m., requested individual copies of the jury instructions for each juror. The log book indicates that the trial judge "complied and notified counsel." The second note was received on October 20, 1993, at 2:25 p.m. It reads, "Judge Lynn, we would like some clarification on some of the by laws if possible - pretaing [sic] to first degree murder charge - Aiding & Abeting [sic] Forman Juror # 8." The log book indicates that the trial court judge contacted Mckenzie's lead defense attorney and the prosecutor about that note; the log book reads "phoned McGlennen [defense attorney] he wants me to just to say [sic] they have the law - phoned - Streitz [prosecutor] - ok." The entry continues with the notation, "2:40 - Answer: you have the instructions on the issue." The trial court judge testified that after talking with counsel for the defense and the state they agreed with him that the response should be that the jury already had instructions on the issue and that no further instruction would be provided. In response to a question as to how the answer was communicated to the jury, the trial court judge testified, "Well, I know it was not face to face." The third note, received October 21, 1993, at 9:15 a.m., reads, "Judge Lynn, Would it be possible to get the original police statements of Loverine Harris, Richard * * * and Olivia Gregory? The Jury Forman #8."*fn1 The trial court judge testified that, as indicated in his log book, he spoke with counsel for both parties and the answer was to give no additional evidence. The fourth note, received October 21, 1993, at 1:55 p.m., requested information regarding premeditated murder and was discussed in open court with Mckenzie present. The first and fourth notes are not at issue in this case.

The trial court record reveals that each of the notes is date-stamped as having been filed with the district court administrator on October 26, 1993. The record also reveals that Mckenzie's trial counsel referred to one of the notes in a November 26, 1993, motion for a new trial and that in the July 25, 2002, letter in response to the inquiry from Mckenzie, Mckenzie's appellate counsel indicated that he was likely aware of the notes at the time of direct appeal.

In its findings of fact, the post-conviction court found that Mckenzie's trial court judge consulted with Mckenzie's trial counsel, as well as the prosecutor, before responding to the questions raised in the jury's notes. The post-conviction court reached this conclusion based on the testimony presented at the hearing, the entries from the trial court judge's log book introduced at the hearing, and defense counsel's November 26, 1993, new trial motion. The post-conviction court further found that there were no new jury instructions given and that the responses did not favor either the prosecution or the defense. Finally, the post-conviction court found that Mckenzie was not present when Judge Lynn communicated the agreed-upon responses to the jury.

The post-conviction court concluded that Mckenzie was not entitled to a new trial based on the trial court's handling of the notes because, to the extent that any error was committed in responding to the notes "without either counsel's or Mckenzie's presence in court, such error would be harmless, since responses given to the notes did not result in any information being given to the jury." The post-conviction court further concluded that Mckenzie's counsel knew about the jury's questions contained in the notes at the latest on the date the notes were sent to the trial ...

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