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Hennepin County v. State of Minnesota

April 17, 2013

HENNEPIN COUNTY EUGENE ERICK FORT, PETITIONER, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

SYLLABUS When a defendant petitions for post-conviction relief on the ground that new evidence has been identified, the defendant must satisfy all four prongs of the Rainer test before relief will be granted. Rainer v. State, 566 N.W.2d 692 (Minn. 1997). The post-conviction court did not abuse its discretion when it denied an evidentiary hearing on the defendant's petition for post-conviction relief based on allegations of newly discovered evidence. When a defendant makes a post-conviction motion seeking new forensic testing, the defendant must show that, at the time of trial, the evidence to be tested was not subject to DNA testing because the technology for the testing was not available at the time of trial or that the DNA testing was not available as evidence at the time of trial. The post-conviction court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the defendant's motion for new forensic testing because the defendant failed to meet the threshold required for relief.

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

Office of Appellate Courts

Affirmed.

Considered and decided by the court without oral argument.

OPINION

ANDERSON, Paul H., Justice.

Eugene Erick Fort appeals the post-conviction court's denial of his petition and motion for post-conviction relief, actions which he brought following his first-degree murder conviction for the 1990 killing of Marcus Potts. We affirmed Fort's conviction for first-degree premeditated murder on direct appeal. See State v. Fort (Fort I), 768 N.W.2d 335 (Minn. 2009). The basis for Fort's post-conviction appeal is his request for an evidentiary hearing to consider evidence he asserts is new and exculpatory. More specifically, Fort seeks a hearing to consider: (1) newly discovered eyewitness testimony, which he claims buttresses his alternative-perpetrator theory; and (2) whether he is entitled to have DNA testing of a sample from a 12-inch smear found at the crime scene. The post-conviction court denied Fort's petition and motion without granting an evidentiary hearing. The court did so on the ground that Fort did not meet the standard for receiving an evidentiary hearing that we previously articulated in Ferguson v. State, 645 N.W.2d 437 (Minn. 2002), and Opsahl v. State, 677 N.W.2d 414 (Minn. 2004). We affirm.

In the early morning hours of December 15, 1990, 11-year-old Marcus Potts was stabbed 44 times and, as a result, died in his north Minneapolis home.*fn1 Potts's mother discovered her son's body upon her return from work at approximately 2:00 a.m. She called 911 for assistance. During the initial crime scene investigation, police officers noticed a set of footprints in the snow covering that was on the ground at the time of the murder. A police dog accompanying one of the officers followed the prints from a side door of the Potts's home to a neighboring house, where Fort lived. This information led the police to focus on Fort as a suspect. As part of their investigation, the police obtained and executed a search warrant for Fort's home and interviewed Fort several times.

On December 27, 1990, the police obtained a second search warrant for Fort's home. Using specialized equipment, which had not been available during the December 15 search, the police detected eight drops of blood in Fort's home. But the blood samples were too small to be tested using the technology that was available in 1990. By 2001, DNA-testing technology had advanced sufficiently so that the samples could be tested. The 2001 test results showed that the blood samples from Fort's home matched Potts's DNA. In addition to the DNA evidence, four witnesses told police investigators, and ultimately testified at trial that while Fort was in jail during the December 1990 investigation, he confessed that he murdered Potts.

On December 7, 2006, a Hennepin County grand jury indicted Fort on two counts of first-degree murder: first-degree premeditated murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(1) (2012), and first-degree murder while committing a burglary, Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(3) (2012). Following a jury trial in May 2007, Fort was found guilty of both counts. During jury deliberations, however, a man placed a telephone call to Fort's trial counsel and said that P.R., Fort's cousin, had confessed to Potts's murder. Based on this evidence, Fort requested a new trial and the district court held an evidentiary hearing on September 14, 2007, to consider the alleged confession by Fort's cousin. The court denied Fort's request for a new trial, convicted Fort of both counts of first-degree murder, and sentenced Fort to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Fort appealed his conviction to our court. We affirmed Fort's conviction of first-degree premeditated murder, but we vacated his conviction of first-degree murder while committing a burglary on the ground that a defendant may only be convicted of one count of first-degree murder in connection with a single murder. Fort I, 768 N.W.2d at 344. We denied Fort's petition for rehearing.

On July 14, 2011, Fort brought a "Petition for Post-Conviction Relief." Within this document, Fort petitioned for post-conviction relief, seeking an evidentiary hearing regarding "newly discovered" testimony from an acquaintance, A.Z., who would testify about the whereabouts of P.R. in the hours before Potts was murdered. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 1a (2012), in his "Petition" Fort also requested DNA testing on a sample from a 12-inch smear found at the crime scene. Under the statute, such a request should be characterized as a motion rather than a petition. Id. On February 9, 2012, the post-conviction court denied Fort's petition for post-conviction relief and, treating Fort's request for DNA testing as a motion, denied Fort's request for DNA testing. Fort then appealed to our court.

Fort's appeal raises two issues for our review: first, whether the post-conviction court abused its discretion when it denied, without an evidentiary hearing, Fort's petition for post-conviction relief based on the alleged newly discovered A.Z. testimony; and second, whether the post-conviction court abused its discretion when it denied, without an ...


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