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Angus v. State

April 28, 2005



1. A Batson objection to the defendant's peremptory challenge of an African American veniremember was erroneously sustained where the district court found that the defendant's race-neutral reason was "insufficient" but did not find that the defendant's real reason was race or identify any circumstance that raised an inference of racial discrimination.

2. The admission of evidence of the defendant's prior bad acts was erroneous where the acts were not probative of the defendant's intent to commit the charged offense, were offered for the improper purpose to show the defendant's propensity to commit crimes, and were unfairly prejudicial to the defendant.

Reversed and remanded.

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

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

Ramsey County

Dissenting, Anderson, Paul H., and Anderson, Russell A., JJ.

Took No Part, Anderson, G. Barry, J.


Appellant Daniel E. Angus was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder as an accomplice to the drive-by shooting of Anthony Basta. Basta was shot in the back on April 26, 2000, as he rode his bicycle along Mississippi River Boulevard in Saint Paul. Angus did not file a direct appeal, but petitioned for postconviction relief. Angus now appeals the postconviction court's denial of relief and claims that he should be entitled to a new trial because: (1) the district court erred in its application of the Batson test by denying Angus' peremptory challenge of an African American veniremember and (2) the district court erred in admitting certain Spreigl evidence. We reverse.

On April 26, 2000, at approximately 10:00 p.m., 17-year-old Anthony Basta was shot as he rode his bicycle in the southbound bike lane on Mississippi River Boulevard in Saint Paul. Basta died just over 25 minutes later at Regions Hospital.

The Saint Paul Police Department obtained information that Dale Stewart had admitted to riding in the car used during the Basta shooting. The police traced Stewart to Angus' home where Stewart was living at that time. Shortly after the police interviewed Stewart, they arrested Angus outside his home.

Angus was interviewed by Sergeant Joseph Younghans. The interviews were audiotaped and played for the jury at Angus' trial. During the interrogations, Angus provided four different descriptions of his actions on the night of the homicide. He initially told the police that he, Stewart, and Jonathan McNeill had been driving around northeast Minneapolis and then returned to Saint Paul. He then stated that while they were "cruising down" Mississippi River Boulevard, Stewart unexpectedly pulled out a gun and shot Basta. Angus said he had been unaware that Stewart possessed the gun. He later stated that he had seen Stewart with the gun before the shooting, but did not believe the gun was loaded or that Stewart would shoot Basta. Later still, he admitted that the gun was his; that he, Stewart, and McNeill had talked about "first blood," a phrase referring to the first to kill someone; that they agreed that Stewart would be the one to achieve first blood; and that he rode with Stewart and McNeill but hoped that Stewart would not shoot anyone.

Angus then described this sequence of events leading to the murder. McNeill, who was driving the car, pointed out Basta and said, "There's one." Angus responded, "Yeah, there's one." Stewart then said that he was "gonna get" the bicycle rider. McNeill made a U-turn and pulled into a side street. McNeill waited in the side street for a few moments, and then pulled up behind Basta. When the car was within a few feet of Basta, Stewart placed the gun outside the front passenger window and shot Basta.

Angus claimed that at the last second he told Stewart not to shoot. But Angus admitted watching Basta fall to the ground and laughing about the shooting. Angus acknowledged that throughout the evening he, Stewart, and McNeill continued to make jokes about Basta saying "ow" upon being shot.

Angus told Sergeant Younghans that the gun used in the shooting was at McNeill's apartment and directed the police to where the gun was located. The police went to McNeill's apartment where they seized a 9 mm handgun, which was later identified through ballistic tests as the weapon used to shoot Basta. Following Stewart's and Angus' statements, the police also arrested McNeill. All three men made statements to the police admitting their involvement.

Angus was indicted for aiding and abetting first-degree premeditated murder, under Minn. Stat. §§ 609.185, subd. 1, 609.05, and 609.11 (2004) (Count I); and aiding and abetting first-degree murder (drive-by shooting), under Minn. Stat. §§ 609.185, subd. 3, 609.05, and 609.11 (2004) (Count II). Stewart and McNeill were also indicted for two counts of first-degree murder--premeditation and drive-by shooting.

McNeill entered into a plea agreement with the state in which he agreed to testify against both Stewart and Angus in exchange for pleading guilty to the lesser offense of second-degree intentional murder. Stewart's case was tried first. McNeill testified at Stewart's trial. The jury found Stewart guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and the lesser-included offense of second-degree murder. The court then convicted Stewart of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. State v. Stewart, 643 N.W.2d 281, 292 (Minn. 2002). After testifying against Stewart, McNeill was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Angus' trial began on November 13, 2000, before the same judge who had presided over Stewart's trial. Jury voir dire was conducted by examining one veniremember at a time.*fn1 See Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.02, subd. 4(3)(c). During voir dire, Angus exercised a peremptory challenge against an African American male, veniremember #38. The state objected to the challenge on the ground that it violated Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.02, subd. 6a, which prohibits a party from striking a veniremember based solely on the veniremember's race. Angus replied that the reason for the strike was that veniremember #38 lacked credibility. After questioning veniremember #38, the district court concluded that Angus' reason for challenging the veniremember was pretextual and sustained the state's objection. Veniremember #38 was seated as the only minority member of the jury.

Before trial, as required under Minn. R. Crim. P. 7.02, the state gave notice that it would be offering Spreigl evidence of three prior bad acts by Angus.*fn2 The district court denied Angus' pretrial motion to exclude all Spreigl evidence, but reserved its final ruling until "the end of the state's case in chief."

In its opening statement, the state attempted to show that, as part of a plan to commit various criminal acts, Angus, Stewart, and McNeill had conspired to shoot someone on the evening Basta was shot. The state discussed how the three had laughed together after the shooting. Angus' opening statement countered by suggesting that McNeill was the instigator and leader of the group that night and that Angus was a bystander. The statement emphasized that McNeill bought the ammunition, decided where to drive, and encouraged the shooting. It portrayed Angus as a dreamer who fantasized and played games, comparing him to Peter Pan, "the boy that never grew up."

McNeill testified against Angus and described the times when he, Stewart, and Angus had driven around talking about robbing people, but that they had never actually robbed anyone. He explained how he and Stewart had discussed needing a gun to rob people and that Stewart had told him that Angus had a gun. McNeill stated that although the gun belonged to Angus, Stewart usually carried it. He further testified that Angus wanted to steal cars at "gunpoint" from people, and then sell the vehicles. He also testified how he, Stewart, and Angus had discussed "trying to take over" a part of town by making people pay Stewart, McNeill, and Angus for "protection."

McNeill then testified about the evening of Basta's shooting. He admitted that he drove the car, promoted the idea of "first blood," provided the ammunition, and first spotted Basta. But he explained that all three men had discussed shooting someone and that Angus had stated that it was easier to kill than to rob. He testified that Stewart and Angus were the ones who decided that he should turn around and follow Basta. He also testified that immediately before Stewart fired the gun, Angus did nothing to try to stop Stewart. McNeill stated that after Stewart shot Basta, Angus said he wanted to go to another place and shoot someone to achieve "second blood."

Sergeant Younghans testified about the defendants' interrogations and identified where McNeill's and Stewart's statements corroborated Angus' answers. The state offered testimony of Stewart's and Angus' friends, who said that Angus was more typically the leader of the group. The state's witnesses testified about Angus' activities with a group that dressed in military fatigues and played war games in area parks and that Angus was one of the group's highest-ranking leaders.

After the state concluded its case in chief, it renewed its motion for the admission of the Spreigl evidence to demonstrate Angus' intent for murder. The state argued that there was conflicting evidence from the only two eyewitnesses to the shooting and to what had been discussed in the car before Basta was shot: McNeill testified against Angus and his credibility was attacked, and Angus argued that he was merely acting out a fantasy and had no intentions of actually carrying through on the shooting. The state argued that evidence of Angus' past criminal conduct was necessary to show his "whole character" and to demonstrate that he was willing to follow through on criminal behavior. Angus objected, arguing that Spreigl evidence was unnecessary because the state had a strong case based on Angus' statement to the police and McNeill's testimony. Angus additionally argued that the state's real reason for offering the Spreigl evidence was to show Angus' character, an improper use of Spreigl evidence.

The district court allowed all three prior bad acts into evidence, stating that the acts had been shown by clear and convincing evidence, each was relevant to the charged crime, and the probative value of each outweighed any prejudice against Angus. Before testimony about each incident was presented, the court instructed jurors not to use the evidence for an improper purpose.

Angus did not testify. He called one witness, a former girlfriend of McNeill's who testified that McNeill had a reputation of being untruthful. The jury returned a guilty verdict on the two first-degree murder counts and the lesser-included count for second-degree murder. The court sentenced Angus to life in prison.

This appeal from the postconviction court's denial of relief is Angus' first appellate review of his conviction for first-degree murder. The issues before us are whether the district court erred in (1) sustaining the state's Batson objection to Angus' peremptory challenge of an African American veniremember or (2) admitting evidence of three prior incidents as Spreigl evidence.


We first address the state's Batson objection to Angus' peremptory strike of an African American veniremember. Angus argues that the state did not establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination and that the court incorrectly bypassed the first step of the Batson analysis. Angus also argues that he met his burden of showing a race-neutral reason for the peremptory challenge and that the court incorrectly determined that the reason was a pretext for racial discrimination.

The state argues that the district court properly found that Angus' peremptory challenge against veniremember #38 was pretextual. The state contends that (1) Angus used an earlier peremptory challenge to strike an African American male who stated that he could be fair, (2) Angus did not explain to the court why a veniremember's "credibility" would make a juror less fair to appellant than another juror, and (3) the existence of a race-neutral reason to excuse the first African American prospective juror does not compel the conclusion that Angus did not also have a discriminatory intent in striking him.

The United States Supreme Court has long recognized that denying participation in the jury system based on a person's race is unconstitutional. Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 308 (1880). In Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 89 (1986), the Court determined that the state's use of a peremptory challenge to exclude a potential juror based solely on the potential juror's race violates the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Later, the Court clarified that Batson also applied to a defendant's use of peremptory challenges based on race. Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42, 46 (1992). The Court emphasized one of the "multiple ends" that Batson was designed to address--the right of a juror not to be excluded from serving on a jury based on race. Id. at 48-49 (citing Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 406, 409 (1991)).

In Batson, the Court set forth a three-part test for trial courts to follow when a party objects to a peremptory challenge.

First, the [party challenging the strike] must make a prima facie showing that the [party who struck the juror] has exercised peremptory challenges on the basis of race. Second, if the requisite showing has been made, the burden shifts to the [party who exercised the peremptory strike] to articulate a race-neutral explanation for striking the jurors in question. Finally, the trial court ...

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