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State v. Paul

June 22, 2006


Hennepin County.


District court did not err when it admitted evidence of defendant's statement during a custodial interrogation because record supported the court's finding that defendant, after first invoking his right to counsel during the interrogation, initiated further discussions with the police and then knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to counsel.

State's comments during closing argument about the conduct of certain witnesses did not rise to the level of prosecutorial misconduct.


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

Took no part, Page and Gildea, JJ.

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


On January 21, 2005, a Hennepin County jury found appellant, Leroy Roderick Paul, guilty of first-degree felony murder during a drive-by shooting and second-degree felony murder for the November 7, 2002, shooting death of Fred Williamson. The jury acquitted Paul of first-degree premeditated murder. The district court sentenced Paul to life in prison for first-degree felony murder during a drive-by shooting. Paul raises two issues on appeal: (1) the court erred when it denied his motion to suppress evidence of his custodial interrogation; and (2) he is entitled to a new trial based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument. We affirm.

The legal issues before us focus on Paul's custodial interrogation and the state's closing argument, but a summary statement of the facts is necessary to provide the context in which these issues arise. The night before Fred Williamson was killed, appellant Leroy Roderick Paul and his friend Kenneth Spencer spent the evening at a nightclub and then drove in Spencer's black Chevrolet Tahoe to the north Minneapolis home of a woman they had met at the club. The following morning, Paul drove in Spencer's Tahoe to attend a pretrial hearing on an unrelated matter. Paul met his girlfriend, Kesha Dent, at the courthouse, and after the hearing the two drove in the Tahoe to a north Minneapolis café. After they parked in front of the café, Paul and Dent encountered Williamson, Bryan Herron, and Antonio Wilson, all of whom had just finished breakfast and were walking toward their vehicle, a Chevrolet Cavalier. Paul and Williamson had been friends for years, but had recently had a falling out. Williamson's friend, Herron, had also been friends with Paul, and Herron had a child with--and was engaged to--Paul's sister. Herron ultimately became a key prosecution witness at Paul's trial.

Williamson approached Paul and the two men got into an argument. Herron testified that during this confrontation, Paul drew a .40 caliber gun out of the waistband of his pants, put a bullet in the chamber, and then put the gun at his side, but did not point it at anyone. Wilson testified that he did not see Paul with a gun during this confrontation. Dent testified that while Paul and Williamson argued, she walked into the café and ordered food for herself and Paul.

After a few minutes, Williamson, Herron, and Wilson walked across the street and got into the Cavalier. Herron drove, Williamson rode in the front passenger seat, and Wilson rode in the back seat behind Williamson. While they were driving, Williamson, still agitated from the argument with Paul, reached under the front seat and retrieved a 9 millimeter gun, which he then loaded with one bullet. Herron and Wilson took the gun away from Williamson, and Wilson removed the bullet from the chamber.

As the Cavalier approached a stoplight a few blocks from the café, what witnesses described as a "black truck" pulled up on the passenger side of the Cavalier. Herron and Wilson both testified that they thought the black truck was the same vehicle they had seen Paul getting out of at the café. As the black truck pulled even with the Cavalier, the driver of the black truck fired shots into the Cavalier. One shot struck the front passenger door. Another shot hit Williamson, entering his body below the right armpit. Wilson acknowledged on cross examination that he "didn't see who the shooter was," but Herron testified that, although he ducked when the first shot was fired, he was "a hundred percent" certain that Paul was the shooter. After the shooting, Herron drove Williamson to the emergency entrance of Hennepin County Medical Center, where it was determined that Williamson had died.

There was conflicting testimony regarding the specific whereabouts of Paul, Dent, and Spencer on the morning of the murder. Dent testified that while they were outside the café, Paul asked her to go inside to order their food, and then he left, saying that he would be "right back." Dent testified that Paul did not return, and Spencer picked her up at the café. But Spencer indicated on cross examination that he did not pick up Dent at the café that day. Dent further testified that she met Paul at a home in north Minneapolis, and Dent and Paul then drove in Dent's car to their Apple Valley apartment. Dent testified that Paul told her that day "that Fred had shot at him, and he had shot back at him, and it was self-defense." She also testified that Paul told her to tell the police "that [Paul] was with me. He didn't leave out of my eyesight." Spencer testified that when he saw Paul around 12:15 p.m. on November 7, Paul told him that "he thought he killed Fred." Spencer testified that he "started tripping out" upon hearing this statement and asked Paul what he had done to Williamson. Paul then responded that he had not done anything.

At Hennepin County Medical Center, Herron had walked away from the hospital after leaving Williamson at the emergency room. The police obtained a description of Herron from hospital staff and subsequently found Herron walking in the middle of traffic approximately one block from the hospital. When Herron first spoke with the police, he acknowledged being with Williamson, but failed to mention that there had been a third person in the Cavalier at the time of the shooting. Herron said that he could not recall the name of the café where he had eaten breakfast, and described the shooter's vehicle as a "larger gray vehicle" and "possibly a van." He also stated that he had no information on the shooter.

The police went to the intersection where the shooting occurred. In the northeast corner of the intersection, the police discovered shattered glass and two .40 caliber Smith & Wesson shell casings that appeared to have been run over by a vehicle. A forensic scientist later concluded that the bullet recovered from Williamson's body was "most consistent" with .40 caliber ammunition. Personnel from the Minneapolis police department crime lab examined the Cavalier in which Williamson had been riding and found a bullet hole in the front passenger door window frame, a fired bullet, a broken front passenger window, a blood-like substance, two unfired 9 millimeter bullets, and three cell phones.

Two police sergeants were initially assigned to investigate the murder. These investigators visited with Williamson's family, contacted parole and probation officers, "did some background on [Paul]," processed the Cavalier, and attempted unsuccessfully to locate cooperative witnesses. One year after the shooting, in November 2003, after one of the investigators was transferred to a different unit and the other retired, Sergeant Michael Keefe was assigned to continue the investigation.

In January 2004, Keefe interviewed Herron. At that time, Herron was being held in federal custody in connection with drug and firearm charges. In February 2004, Herron entered into a plea agreement on the federal charges in which he was required to provide "substantial assistance" with the Williamson murder investigation and other cases in exchange for the federal prosecutor's motion for a downward sentencing departure. Keefe interviewed Herron again in February 2004. Keefe also obtained statements from Dent, Wilson, and Spencer that month. Paul was then arrested on March 8, 2004, on an unrelated warrant for terroristic threats.

Before Paul was taken to the jail, Keefe interrogated him at the police department regarding the Williamson murder and another murder in which Paul was a suspect. The interrogation was videotaped by the police. During this interrogation, Paul denied shooting Williamson, denied knowing Williamson well, denied knowing Williamson's nickname, denied ever going to the café with Dent, denied ever riding in Spencer's truck with Dent, identified certain photographs of people related to the investigation, and indicated that he was unable to definitively identify people in other photographs--including Williamson. On March 17, 2004, the state charged Paul by complaint with Williamson's murder. A grand jury later returned an indictment charging Paul with first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree felony murder while committing the crime of a drive-by shooting.

Before trial, Paul moved to suppress evidence of his custodial interrogation on the basis of a Miranda violation. The district court denied Paul's motion. Paul's trial began and the jury was sworn on Tuesday, January 18, 2005. The state called Keefe as a witness, and during his testimony, Keefe described Paul's statement during his custodial interrogation. During its closing argument, the state made reference to the "world" in which several witnesses lived, and at one point referred to the witnesses as "these people." Paul did not object to the comments.

The state rested on January 20, 2005, and the defense rested the same day without presenting any witnesses. After deliberating for nearly six hours, the jury found Paul guilty of first-degree felony murder during a drive-by shooting and second-degree murder, but not guilty of first-degree premeditated murder. This direct appeal followed. Paul raises two issues on appeal: (1) the court erred when it denied his motion to suppress evidence of his custodial interrogation, and (2) he is entitled to a new trial based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct during the state's closing argument because the state "subtly injected racial issues and distinguished between the jurors' world and the world of the defendant, victim, and witnesses."*fn1


We first address Paul's argument that the district court erred when it denied Paul's motion to suppress evidence of his custodial interrogation based on an alleged Miranda violation. On appeal, Paul argues that during the interrogation he invoked his right to counsel, but Sergeant Keefe failed to terminate the interrogation, and that Paul "eventually succumbed to [Keefe's] badgering and refusal to let him call an attorney."*fn2 The state concedes that Paul invoked his right to counsel, but asserts that Keefe then attempted to terminate the interrogation, after which Paul initiated further discussions with Keefe. The state further asserts that after reinitiating the conversation, Paul made an effective waiver of his right to have counsel present for questioning.

After a Rasmussen hearing, the district court reviewed the Scales*fn3 videotape of Paul's interrogation and ruled that Paul's "statement was freely and voluntarily given," and denied Paul's motion to suppress his statement. The court made no specific findings of fact regarding the circumstances of Paul's purported waiver. We review legal conclusions regarding a purported Miranda waiver de novo to determine whether the state has shown by a fair preponderance of the evidence, under the totality of the circumstances, that a suspect's waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. State v. Burrell, 697 N.W.2d 579, 591 (Minn. 2005).

In Miranda v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court held that a criminal suspect has the right to counsel during custodial interrogations. 384 U.S. 436, 471 (1966). Fifteen years later, the Court established in Edwards v. Arizona that an accused, * * * having expressed his desire to deal with the police only through counsel, is not subject to further interrogation by the authorities until counsel has been made available to him, unless the accused himself initiates further communication, exchanges, or conversations with the police.

451 U.S. 477, 484-85 (1981) (emphasis added). We have noted that there are three steps to the Edwards analysis. State v. Munson, 594 N.W.2d 128, 138-39 (Minn. 1999). We first determine whether the suspect invoked his right to counsel during a custodial interrogation. Id. Then, if it is shown that a suspect invoked his right to counsel, "courts may admit responses to further questioning only on finding that [the suspect] (a) initiated further discussions with the police, and (b) knowingly and intelligently waived the right invoked." Id. at 139 (citing Smith v. Illinois, 469 U.S. 91, 95 (1984)).

As noted earlier, the parties agree that Paul invoked his right to counsel; therefore, the first step of the Edwards analysis is satisfied. The state argues that after Paul invoked his right to counsel, Keefe honored Paul's request and attempted to terminate the interrogation, and that Paul initiated further discussions. Our review of the Scales videotape confirms the state's contention. The following excerpt of the exchange between Keefe and Paul began with the two men seated across from each other in an interrogation room:

MK: And if people were pointing the finger at me, I'd say, wait a minute, let me explain, but before I do it, I'm gonna have to read you your rights, okay? And you know that you have the right to remain silent?

LP: Yeah, I know.

MK: You don't have to talk to me.

LP: Well, can I use the phone, so I can call my lawyer while we [are] having this conversation?

MK: Um, no. If you want to talk to; you want to talk to a lawyer now or that ...

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