Olmsted County District Court File No. 55-CR-08-9412
Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mark A. Ostrem, Olmsted County Attorney, James P. Spencer, Assistant County Attorney, Rochester, Minnesota (for respondent)
Frederic Bruno, Bruno Law, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Chutich, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Smith, Judge.
Appellant challenges his conviction of first-degree manslaughter, arguing that (1) the circumstantial evidence presented at trial was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he caused the victim's death and (2) the district court erred by denying his motions for a disclosure of information pursuant to State v. Paradee, 403 N.W.2d 640 (Minn. 1987), and by failing to conduct an in camera review regarding the employment records of the state's expert witness. We affirm.
Following a jury trial, appellant Adam Brandrup was convicted of first-degree intentional manslaughter and fifth-degree assault. Brandrup was initially charged with second-degree felony murder, predicated on the state's theory that he, together with Joshua Lee, unintentionally killed the victim during the commission of an unspecified felony, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.19, subd. 2(1) (2008). The complaint was amended to add the count of first-degree manslaughter, unintentionally causing the death of another while committing a fifth-degree assault, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.20(2) (2008).
The charges stemmed from a bar fight that occurred near Club Amsterdam in Rochester, Minnesota. In the evening hours of October 1, 2008, Brandrup and a group of friends, including Lee, argued with another group of patrons in the bar. The eventual victim of the underlying offense was among this other group but not directly involved in the argument. As the argument escalated, M.O., a member of the other group of patrons, threw a pool ball that struck one of Brandrup's friends in the head. Brandrup's friends pushed M.O. through the front door and chased him. Brandrup and Lee left the bar shortly thereafter. Once outside, Brandrup and Lee encountered the victim. Apparently, believing him to be a member of M.O.'s group, Brandrup punched the victim on the side of his head and threw him to the ground. Lee then kicked the victim in his chest two to four times. A nearby security camera recorded the assault.
At trial, Brandrup testified that the victim attempted to block his path and that the victim approached him with clenched fists. Hoping to avoid a further altercation, Brandrup threw a "phantom punch." Brandrup testified that, although he believed the punch staggered the victim, the victim again attempted to block Brandrup's path. Brandrup also testified that, because he was nervous the victim might have had a weapon, he utilized a "take down" maneuver he had learned as a bar bouncer and, once the victim was on the ground, attempted to leave. Brandrup further testified that at this point Lee began kicking the victim, prompting Brandrup to pull Lee away and telling him to "knock it off" and "[t]hat's enough." When Brandrup and Lee left the scene, the victim was face down and motionless. Emergency personnel arrived within ten minutes of the assault and found the victim nonresponsive and without a pulse. Resuscitative efforts were unsuccessful. The county medical examiner pronounced the victim deceased at the scene.
Dr. Eric Pfeifer performed the autopsy. His examination revealed recent blunt force trauma to the victim's forehead, scalp, face, rib cage, arm, chest, and neck. Dr. Pfeifer determined that the actual cause of death was a consequence of "multiple blunt force injuries, " which caused "sudden death." Dr. Pfeifer explained in detail the effects that an arrhythmia or dysrhythmia, which is an abnormal or absent heart rhythm, had on the victim. Toxicology reports revealed the presence of alcohol and cocaine in the victim's system. Dr. Pfeifer deemed the victim's alcohol concentration, recent cocaine use, and pulmonary emphysema contributing factors to his death. Dr. Pfeifer testified that what ultimately killed the victim was an assault, after which he characterized the victim's death as a homicide.
Prior to trial, Brandrup moved for a Paradee disclosure, seeking access to Dr. Pfeifer's employment records. Brandrup argued that the disclosure would "directly affect the credibility, experience, and overall qualifications of Dr. [Pfeifer] to give any opinion concerning the issue of cause of death." Attached to the motion was an affidavit from Brandrup's attorney, alleging that Dr. Pfeifer had engaged in questionable behavior. Brandrup argued that this constituted a "plausible showing that [the] evidence [requested] is material and favorable to the defense, " sufficient to warrant an in camera review of the requested documents and possible disclosure. The district court denied the motion, concluding that Brandrup made "no showing as to how the confidential records at issue could be related to the defense or why the records are reasonably likely to contain information related to his case."
Brandrup's trial focused on the competing expert opinions of Dr. Pfeifer and Brandrup's expert, who testified that the victim's cause of death was "undetermined." On February 10, 2012, the jury found Brandrup guilty of manslaughter. Brandrup moved to vacate the verdict and for a new trial, arguing, in part, that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict. He also renewed his contention that the district court should have conducted an in camera review of Dr. Pfeifer's employment records. The district court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict, reasoning that it was within the jury's discretion to weigh the competing expert opinions regarding causation. Specific to the Paradee disclosure, the district court determined that, "[t]o this day, the request for Dr. Pfeifer's personal and confidential records remains baseless, irrelevant, and purely a fishing expedition by Brandrup." On April 30, 2012, ...