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State v. Stern

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 10, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Melissa Jean Stern, Appellant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Stearns County District Court File No. 73-CR-11-7364.

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, MN; and Janelle P. Kendall, Stearns County Attorney, Carl Ole Tvedten, Assistant County Attorney, St. Cloud, Minnesota (for respondent).

David W. Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Tania K.M. Lex, Special Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant).

Considered and decided by Rodenberg, Presiding Judge; Halbrooks, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.[*]

RODENBERG, Judge.

On appeal from her conviction of gross misdemeanor criminal abuse by a caregiver of a vulnerable adult, appellant argues that the district court (1) abused its discretion in admitting the deceased complainant's statements under the residual exception to the rule against hearsay and (2) erred in failing to exclude those hearsay statements as violating the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution. We affirm.

FACTS

Heritage House is an assisted-living facility located in Kimball, housing approximately 18 residents. On April 10, 2011, injuries were discovered on one of the residents. In August 2011, Heritage House employee appellant Melissa Stern was charged with one count of gross misdemeanor criminal abuse by a caregiver of a vulnerable adult in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.2325, subd. 1(a) (2010).[1] Following a jury trial in January 2012, appellant was found guilty.

At the time the victim, M.G., was injured, he was in his mid-70s and had been a Heritage House resident for approximately five years. M.G. suffered from Parkinson's disease and needed assistance with many activities of daily living. M.G. also suffered from mild dementia. Heritage House staff described M.G. as a kind soul with a "terrific sense of humor" who was fun, but who could also be challenging from time to time.

On the morning of April 10, Patrice Nixon, a Heritage House aide, arrived before her shift began and was outside smoking a cigarette. Appellant, who typically worked as an aide during the overnight shift, approached Nixon and explained that she "had a rough night" with M.G. Appellant told Nixon that she could not get M.G. "off the toilet so she grabbed him by his junk." When appellant said "junk, " Nixon understood her to mean that she had grabbed M.G. by his genitals. Initially, Nixon did not know how to respond to appellant's comments. After the brief conversation, she went inside and started getting ready for her day.

That same morning, when Carrie Reynolds, another Heritage House aide, arrived at work, appellant also approached her to give an update regarding what had happened with the residents during her overnight shift. Appellant told Reynolds that M.G. had made her "very upset" and that she had reacted by grabbing his genitals and twisting them with her hand. At trial, Reynolds testified that hearing this from appellant shocked her because she had never heard another employee at Heritage House say anything similar about a resident.

When Nixon first saw M.G. that morning around 7:30 a.m., he was acting abnormal and was "agitated." Reynolds also noticed that M.G. did not come to breakfast, which was unusual for him. Reynolds first went into M.G.'s room around 9:00 a.m. but did not examine him at that time. When Nixon went to get M.G. from his room for lunch at around 11:30 a.m., he was still "not acting normal" and was throwing things, was uncooperative, and continued to act out. Reynolds and Nixon were discussing M.G. when they realized that each had been told by appellant that appellant had grabbed and twisted M.G.'s genitals. As a result, the two aides decided to check further on M.G.

Nixon and Reynolds went to M.G.'s room, and Nixon asked him what was wrong. Nixon testified that M.G. responded that he "hurt down there." Nixon and Reynolds asked M.G. permission to look at his genitals. M.G. agreed. The two aides saw blood and observed a laceration on M.G.'s penis. Nixon and Reynolds then called Joyce Quast, who had been the nurse manager at Heritage House for six years. Reynolds informed Quast that appellant had told her that M.G. had been uncooperative overnight and would not get off the toilet, which made appellant mad, and that she had grabbed ...


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