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State v. Powell

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

August 26, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
Lonnell Javey Powell, Appellant.


Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CR-11-27891

Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Elizabeth Johnston, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent).

David Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Lydia M. Villalva Lijò, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant).

Considered and decided by Smith, Presiding Judge; Schellhas, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.

SMITH, Judge

We affirm appellant's conviction of second-degree murder because there is sufficient evidence to support the conviction and because appellant's level of voluntary intoxication did not vitiate his ability to form the requisite intent to commit murder. We also address appellant's pro se procedural-due-process and ineffective-assistance-of-counsel arguments.


On September 2, 2011, a group of individuals, including the eventual victim S.H., gathered at a Minneapolis home intending to go downtown for the evening. At approximately 9:00 p.m., appellant Lonnell Powell arrived at the gathering with two of his friends. Individuals in the home were drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. According to Powell, he consumed five beers, roughly 45% of a bottle of vodka, and smoked marijuana. Powell recognized a few of the individuals in the home and, after flirting with a woman, gave her his phone number.

Around 11:30 p.m., the group that had originally gathered at the home and Powell and his two friends began "not getting along out of nowhere." Powell began arguing with S.H. and T.M. and eventually punched both men in the head. The fight escalated to involve all of the adult males in the home, and pitted Powell and his friends against S.H. and T.M. The altercation caused significant damage inside the home and the men utilized broken furniture as weapons. Eventually, Powell and his friends exited the residence and walked to where their van was parked.

Before entering the residence, Powell, who normally carried a handgun, had placed it inside the engine compartment of the van. While Powell's friends laughed about the incident, Powell lifted the hood of the van and removed the handgun. Powell loaded a bullet into the chamber, readying it to be fired, and began approaching the residence. Two individuals who had followed Powell and his friends to the van pleaded with Powell not to reenter the home. One of the individuals twice attempted to physically prevent Powell's reentrance into the home. According to the individual, Powell appeared "crazy, " "very determined, " and "too busy trying to do what he was doing."

Powell entered the home, confronted S.H., and shot him. The individual who attempted to block Powell's reentrance saw Powell shoot S.H. and, after the first shot, fled to remove the children from the home. The individual testified that, as she ran, she heard S.H. beg for his life between the first shot and those that followed. Witnesses recalled hearing five or six shots. S.H. died at the scene. Witnesses also observed Powell aiming his handgun at T.M., the other man with whom Powell had fought earlier in the evening and who fled to a nearby bedroom. A bullet was recovered from a wall in this bedroom.

Witnesses identified Powell as the shooter after reviewing a photographic line-up. Using the telephone number that Powell had provided to one of the women at the home, investigators discovered that the telephone number matched one of Powell's aliases. Following his arrest, Powell was charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. A grand jury later indicted Powell for the first-degree murder of S.H. and attempted first-degree murder of T.M.[1]

Powell elected to have a bench trial during the voir dire process. After the state rested, the district court informed Powell of his right to remain silent. Powell testified on his own behalf. Powell testified that at least four hours before the shooting he smoked two PCP-laced cigarettes. The amount of PCP Powell ingested was similar to that which he had ingested on previous occasions. Powell testified that although PCP often made him feel paranoid and caused hallucinations, he experienced neither of those symptoms on the night of the shooting. Powell did not dispute that he shot S.H. or that he fired his handgun at T.M. Rather, Powell declared that he was "pretty messed up" and only remembered the initial altercation inside the house and had no recollection of retrieving the handgun. Powell testified that he remembered the following: (1) placing his gun inside the van; (2) flirting with a woman inside the home; (3) having a physical altercation with S.H. and T.M.; (4) being angry following the fight; (5) seeing S.H. on the floor; (6) fleeing the scene; and (7) disposing of his gun. Powell also called a witness to substantiate his alleged level of ...

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