Olmsted County District Court File No. 55-CR-10-6759
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and
Mark A. Ostrem, Olmsted County Attorney, James P. Spencer, Assistant County Attorney, Rochester, Minnesota (for respondent)
David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Suzanne M. Senecal-Hill, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge; Larkin, Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.
Appellant challenges his convictions of stalking, terroristic threats, and child endangerment, arguing that the district court erred by admitting relationship evidence under Minn. Stat. § 634.20 (2010). We affirm.
Respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant Daniel John Stehr with stalking, terroristic threats, and child endangerment. The complaint alleged that on September 8, 2010, Stehr called his estranged wife, A.S., and asked to see their two children before he went to work. When A.S. brought the children to Stehr's residence, Stehr took them into the house. A.S. followed them inside and observed Stehr sitting on the couch with both children. Stehr told the children that he was going to kill himself. Both children were crying, and A.S. told Stehr to stop scaring them. The older child ran to A.S., and she held the child in her arms. While holding the younger child, Stehr stood up and grabbed a handgun from the back of his waist. He held the gun to his temple and threatened to shoot himself. After A.S. yelled at him to stop, Stehr walked toward a bedroom and pointed the gun at A.S., who still had her child in her arms. Eventually, Stehr let go of the younger child. A.S. left the residence with both children and called the police.
Prior to trial, the state filed notice of intent to offer evidence of prior similar conduct under Minn. Stat. § 634.20. The state intended to present testimony from A.S. that, on previous occasions, Stehr held her down and punched the floor next to her head, pushed her against a wall and punched the wall next to her head, grabbed her arm and her jaw, and verbally abused her. The state also intended to play a recording of Stehr's telephonic threat to kill A.S. Lastly, the state intended to present the testimony of a neighbor that six to eight weeks before the alleged offense, she heard Stehr yelling at A.S. for 30 minutes, during which he said "shut up" and called her a "b-tch."
At a pretrial hearing, Stehr argued, among other things, that the probative value of the state's proffered similar-conduct evidence, colloquially known as "relationship evidence, " was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The district court ruled that the evidence was admissible, finding
[t]hat the evidence is of similar conduct and is very relevant to illuminate the nature of the relationship between [Stehr] and his estranged wife. I do believe that the state has limited the introduction of the evidence so as not to be cumulative and it clearly would not be confusing. I think that the probative value clearly outweighs any prejudicial effect. Unfortunately, the evidence itself is going to be difficult to listen to. It does illuminate the relationship and does demonstrate the threats of violence toward [A.S.].
At trial, the state presented some but not all of the relationship evidence. A.S. testified that Stehr had been verbally abusive since the beginning of their marriage and that his abuse became physical over time. She testified that Stehr would grab her arm, put his hand around her neck, tower over her, and call her derogatory names such as "idiot, " "stupid, " and "b-tch." A.S. described an incident during which Stehr "had been upset about something and had kind of towered over [her] until [she] was on the floor and then had kind of went over [her] and punched the floor next to [her] head and hurt his hand pretty bad." The state then played the recorded telephone conversation that ...