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State v. Cram

August 3, 2006



1. Any evidentiary errors were harmless.

2. Defendant's trial counsel was not constitutionally ineffective in challenging a restitution award when defendant provided no basis to contest the award.

3. The post-conviction court did not abuse its discretion in denying both defendant's petition for post-conviction relief and his motion for an evidentiary hearing when the record conclusively showed that defendant's trial counsel's representation fell within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance and was not constitutionally ineffective.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gildea, Justice

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


After a bench trial, Ronald Cram was found guilty of the first-degree murder of his wife, Colleen Cram, while committing domestic abuse. Cram was also found guilty of second-degree intentional murder, but not guilty of first-degree premeditated murder. The district court convicted Cram and sentenced him to life in prison. After Cram appealed his conviction to this court, we granted Cram's motion to stay the appeal during the pendency of post-conviction proceedings. On May 13, 2005, the district court denied Cram's petition for post-conviction relief. Cram then appealed the denial of post-conviction relief to this court. We consolidated the direct appeal and the post-conviction appeal. We now affirm Cram's conviction and the denial of post-conviction relief.

Early in the morning on December 5, 2001, St. Paul police and paramedics responded to Cram's 911 call from his home, arriving within five minutes of the call. Cram told the 911 operator that he was arguing with his wife and then she stopped breathing. The paramedics found Colleen Cram on the floor unconscious, ashen, and with marks on her body. She was not breathing, had no heartbeat, and had multiple bruises from the tips of her fingers to her head, back, abdomen, legs, and feet. Cram, who was agitated, very wet with perspiration, and pacing, told a member of the Rescue Squad something like "I did it this time." Asked by a paramedic how his wife got the marks on her body, Cram said, "I beat her up, I hit her."

When the police arrived, Cram told Officer Matthew Arntzen, "She has been f***ing with my mind for years and now I have hurt her." Cram told Arntzen that he had been married to the victim for 26 years. When Arntzen asked what happened, Cram said that "he had been arguing with his wife all night." Cram asked Arntzen, "Be straight with me, Officer, I am going away for a long time, aren't I?" Cram then said, "I really hurt her this time."

Following Cram's arrest, St. Paul Police Sergeant Investigator Bruce Wynkoop interviewed him at police headquarters. Audiotapes and a transcription of the interview were entered into evidence at trial. Wynkoop told Cram that Colleen Cram had died and showed Cram pictures of her taken at the hospital after her death. Cram told Wynkoop that they started fighting at about "6:00 o'clock last night." Cram said that his wife had asked Cram to hit her and he said, "It took her twelve f***in' hours last night before I hit her." Shortly afterward, Cram said, "it took her twelve hours to get me mad, damn mad." Cram said that he did not hit his wife until about 5 a.m. that morning, when he took a stick and "hit her in the butt ten, fifteen times." Cram said, "She told me to hit her with it and she'll answer." In Cram's words, "Finally, I got to where I swatted the shit out of her with [the stick] a couple of times." When asked why he hit his wife with the stick, Cram said, "Cause she demand I did it" and "She told me she'd answer me."

When Wynkoop asked if he felt "bad about what happened," Cram replied, "I'm not crazy." Cram then said, "I do know it was a bad f***in' thing when somebody dies" and "I'm not going to act like I'm nuts and not know the difference." When asked, "Why do you say 'most likely I did [hit her with my hands],'" Cram replied, "Cause I have before." Upon being confronted with evidence, Cram also admitted that he hit his wife with an electrical cord on the morning of the murder. According to Cram, his wife went and got [the cord] for me after the stick was broke. * * * Not only did I hit her with the damn electrical cord, * * * when she was telling me that she's not right and, and falling down, I hit her with it again, telling her it's bulls**t, quit your f***in' lying. * * * I hit her with the [doubled up] cord. Probably ten times telling her to get up.

Finally, Cram admitted that he hit his wife "[e]verywhere," using an open hand and his fists, and that he had "hit her in the past." Asked if he remembered hitting his wife with his hands more than ten times on the morning of the murder, Cram replied, "Yeah." Wynkoop then asked Cram, "When you were hitting her in the front of the body, ah, that wasn't cause she was demanding that you hit her or punish her, am I right there?" Cram ...

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