Olmsted County District Court File No. 55-CR-10-8694
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and
Mark A. Ostrem, Olmsted County Attorney, Eric M. Woodford, Assistant County Attorney, Rochester, Minnesota (for respondent)
David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Davi E. Axelson, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Ross, Presiding Judge; Bjorkman, Judge; and Kirk, Judge.
Appellant Christopher Allen Trautman challenges his conviction of one count of third-degree murder and multiple counts of criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation, arguing that: (1) the district court violated the constitutional right to a public trial by keeping the courtroom locked during a portion of the proceedings; (2) the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction of third-degree murder; (3) the district court abused its discretion by denying his requested jury instruction; and (4) the district court abused its discretion by excluding certain evidence. We affirm.
The Friday after Thanksgiving 2010, the bars in downtown Rochester were crowded with people. Among these people were C.G. and several of his friends. At one point, two of C.G.'s friends, A.M. and D.R., left the group with plans to reconnect later. Shortly before midnight, A.M. or D.R. contacted C.G. on his cell phone and informed him of drink specials at another bar. C.G. and his companions began to walk to the bar. At the intersection of Broadway and Fourth Street, they entered the crosswalk on a green light with a walk signal. Shortly after crossing the median, C.G. encountered A.M. and D.R. walking in the opposite direction. The three men acknowledged one another and A.M. and D.R. turned around and began to cross the street with C.G. and his companions. When C.G. and A.M., who were bringing up the rear, were approximately one foot from the sidewalk, appellant drove through the intersection and struck them with his vehicle.
After the collision, appellant's passenger―who had seen and warned of the pedestrians prior to the collision―screamed that appellant "just hit those people." Appellant replied, "It's okay. I got to keep going." Appellant increased his speed and, in another nearby crosswalk, struck two more pedestrians, R.D. and T.C., who had been crossing the street with a walk signal. After the second collision, appellant's vehicle stopped and appellant left the scene on foot. Law enforcement apprehended appellant in the vicinity and, within two hours of the collisions, appellant's alcohol concentration was 0.21 and he had multiple narcotics in his system.
It is undisputed that, as a result of the first collision, A.M. died and C.G. suffered substantial bodily harm. It is also undisputed that, as a result of the second collision, both R.D. and T.C. suffered substantial bodily harm. The state charged appellant with 1 count of third-degree murder, 5 counts of criminal vehicular homicide, 15 counts of criminal vehicular operation, and 2 counts of failing to stop after a traffic accident with an individual. Appellant pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A jury trial followed. On the fifth day of trial, before the district court opened the courtroom, appellant's counsel moved for a hearing on juror tampering. The motion stemmed from information that A.M.'s mother had parked her vehicle, with two bumper stickers opposing drunk driving, in the same lot as the jury. The district court determined that rather than juror tampering or jury misconduct, the real question was "whether or not prejudicial information [had] been presented to the jury through direct or indirect means." The district court determined that it would individually question the jurors "as to what, if anything, they saw." The district court asked, "Any objection to me keeping the courtroom locked during this procedure?" Appellant's counsel replied, "No, Your Honor." The district court asked each juror whether he or she had read or listened to any reports about the trial, or seen any bumper stickers that address the subject matter of the case, and determined that the jury was not exposed to the relevant bumper stickers. After hearing a few more logistical matters, the district court opened the courtroom by 9:30 a.m.
The jury found appellant guilty of third-degree murder, 5 counts of criminal vehicular homicide, and 15 counts of criminal vehicular operation. The district court adjudicated appellant guilty and sentenced him to four terms of imprisonment, one term for each victim, including a 180-month ...