Office of Appellate Courts Hennepin County
Jeffrey C. Dean, Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Jack Nordby, Plymouth, Minnesota, for appellant.
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Lee W. Barry, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent.
1. Failure to satisfy the limitations period in Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4(a) (2012), which requires that a petition for postconviction relief be filed within 2 years after a conviction becomes final, does not deprive a postconviction court of subject matter jurisdiction over a petition.
2. The postconviction court did not abuse its discretion when it concluded that appellant's newly discovered evidence of an alleged confession by an alternative perpetrator did not entitle him to a new trial.
3. The postconviction court did not abuse its discretion when it concluded that appellant's witness-recantation evidence did not entitle him to a new trial.
4. The chief judge did not abuse his discretion when he denied appellant's motion to remove the entire Fourth Judicial District bench for cause.
Considered and decided by the court without oral argument.
Following a jury trial, the district court convicted appellant Brian Keith Hooper of three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced him to three concurrent sentences of life imprisonment with the possibility of release. We affirmed Hooper's convictions on direct appeal and the denial of his first two petitions for postconviction relief. See Hooper v. State (Hooper II), 680 N.W.2d 89 (Minn. 2004); State v. Hooper (Hooper I), 620 N.W.2d 31 (Minn. 2000). The present appeal involves Hooper's third petition for postconviction relief, in which Hooper alleges that he is entitled to a new trial based on newly discovered evidence that: (1) he is innocent; (2) the trial judge's law clerk improperly dissuaded a defense witness from testifying at Hooper's trial; (3) the State withheld important evidence from him; and (4) three trial witnesses have recanted their testimony. Hooper also appeals the denial of his motion to remove all current and former judges of the Fourth Judicial District for cause. We affirm.
In April 1998, the police discovered the body of 77-year-old Ann Prazniak in her bedroom closet. Her killer had wrapped her in beige packaging tape and placed her in a cardboard box. The medical examiner concluded that "the cause of [Prazniak's] death was asphyxiation caused by the layers of packaging tape covering [Prazniak's] mouth and nose, a broken rib that [had] put pressure on her chest, and the upside down and tightly curled position of her body." Hooper I, 620 N.W.2d at 34.
A police investigation followed. Neighbors identified several individuals who had entered Prazniak's apartment in the weeks leading up to the discovery of her body, including Hooper and Chalaka Lewis. Hooper admitted to entering Prazniak's apartment on several occasions to have sex and smoke crack. However, he denied that he was involved in Prazniak's murder. Lewis's account was different. Although she initially denied knowledge of the murder, she eventually gave the police a detailed statement that implicated Hooper.
At trial, the State presented testimony from Lewis, L.J., C.B., C.K., and L.F., among others. Lewis testified that she had smoked crack in Prazniak's apartment building on the night of the murder. While she was searching for more drugs, Lewis saw Hooper in the doorway of Prazniak's apartment. Hooper offered crack to Lewis in exchange for her agreement to serve as a lookout for Hooper at the front door of Prazniak's apartment. Lewis agreed. Hooper then went into the bedroom of Prazniak's apartment and shut the door. A few minutes later, Hooper emerged from the bedroom. He found rolls of beige packaging tape in a desk drawer and demanded that Lewis tear off strips of the tape for him. Hooper then took the strips of tape into the bedroom. When Lewis later entered the bedroom, Hooper told her not to touch the closet door. Four other witnesses—L.J., C.B., C.K., and L.F.—each testified that Hooper independently admitted to them that he had killed Prazniak. The jury found Hooper guilty of three counts of first-degree murder. Hooper I, 620 N.W.2d at 35-37; see Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(1) (2012) (first-degree premeditated murder); Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(3) (2012) (first-degree felony murder while committing burglary); id. (first-degree felony murder while committing kidnapping). The district court convicted Hooper of each count and sentenced him to three concurrent sentences of life imprisonment with the possibility of release after 30 years.
Hooper filed a direct appeal, which we stayed to allow Hooper to pursue his first petition for postconviction relief. In that petition, Hooper alleged a claim of newly discovered evidence based on the testimony of C.G., who asserted that his girlfriend and Lewis had "hurt a lady." Hooper I, 620 N.W.2d at 37. The postconviction court denied Hooper's petition because the newly discovered evidence was not material and would not produce a more favorable result at trial. Hooper appealed the denial of his petition. We vacated the stay of his direct appeal and consolidated the two appeals. We affirmed Hooper's convictions and the denial of his first postconviction petition. Id. at 41. As relevant here, we explained that "[the] newly discovered evidence would at most support a theory that Lewis was an accomplice to the murder[, ] an assertion irrelevant to the issue of [Hooper's] own guilt." Id.
Hooper filed a second petition for postconviction relief in 2003. Hooper II, 680 N.W.2d at 91. In that petition, Hooper argued, among other things, that he was entitled to a new trial because C.B. and C.K. had recanted their trial testimony. Id. at 94. The postconviction court denied Hooper's second petition without holding an evidentiary hearing. Id. at 91. On appeal, Hooper argued, in relevant part, that the postconviction court abused its discretion when it summarily denied his second postconviction petition. Id. at 96. We affirmed. Id. at 98.
In July 2011, Hooper filed his third petition for postconviction relief. At that time, Hooper also submitted a motion to remove all current and former judges of the Fourth Judicial District for cause. The chief judge of the Fourth Judicial District denied Hooper's motion, but assigned Hooper's third petition to a judge who had neither presided over Hooper's jury trial nor heard either of Hooper's prior petitions for postconviction relief. Hooper did not file a writ of prohibition challenging the chief judge's denial of his motion.
In his third petition, Hooper asserted that he was entitled to a new trial for four reasons. First, he argued that L.J., C.B., and C.K. had each recanted their trial testimony. Second, he advanced a newly-discovered-evidence claim and a false-testimony claim based on an affidavit from A.A., who stated that Lewis had told him that she had "killed an old lady." Third, he asserted a newly-discovered-evidence claim based on an affidavit from T.E., who stated that the trial judge's law clerk had dissuaded him from testifying at Hooper's trial. Fourth, he alleged a Brady claim arising out of alleged promises that the State had made to C.B. in exchange for his testimony at Hooper's trial. See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). In response to the petition, the State argued that Hooper's claims were time-barred under Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4 (2012); were procedurally barred under the rule from State v. Knaffla, 309 Minn. 206, 243 N.W.2d 737 (1976); and did not merit relief.
The postconviction court concluded that two of Hooper's claims—those related to the newly discovered evidence of Lewis's confession and L.J.'s recantation—warranted an evidentiary hearing. After the evidentiary hearing, the postconviction court denied relief. With respect to Lewis's alleged confession to A.A., the postconviction court concluded that Hooper's newly discovered evidence was doubtful and would not produce a more favorable result at trial. With respect to L.J.'s alleged recantation of his trial testimony, the court was not reasonably well satisfied that L.J.'s trial testimony was false or that the jury might have reached a different conclusion in the absence of L.J.'s testimony. The postconviction court summarily denied relief on the remaining claims in Hooper's petition, concluding that they were either meritless or procedurally barred under Knaffla.
Before turning to the questions presented in Hooper's third petition for postconviction relief, we first address a procedural matter. In the postconviction court, the State responded to Hooper's petition by arguing, among other things, that the petition was untimely under Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4(a). The court, however, considered the limitations period in connection with only one of Hooper's claims—the claim based on Lewis's alleged confession to A.A.—and concluded that the claim was not time-barred. The court did not consider whether Hooper's other claims were timely under subdivision 4(a).
In an appeal from the denial of a petition for postconviction relief, we generally first consider whether the petition was brought no later than "two years after . . . an appellate court's disposition of petitioner's direct appeal." See Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4(a)(2). However, under subdivision 4, if a petitioner's conviction became final before August 1, 2005, we instead consider whether the petition was filed within 2 years of that date—that is, by July 31, 2007. Act of June 2, 2005, ch. 136, art. 14, § 13, 2005 Minn. Laws 901, 1097-98. In this case, Hooper's convictions became final before August 1, 2005. Hooper thus had until July 31, 2007, to file his third petition for postconviction relief. Hooper's third petition was untimely because he filed it on July 25, 2011—nearly 4 years after the time allotted for filing a petition had expired.
Yet the State does not raise the applicability of Minn. Stat § 590.01, subd. 4(a), on appeal, and therefore arguably has abandoned the argument. Brocks v. State, 753 N.W.2d 672, 675 n.3 (Minn. 2008) ("Failure to brief or argue an issue on appeal results in waiver of that issue on appeal."). We have yet to address, however, whether the limitations period in subdivision 4(a) limits the subject matter jurisdiction of a postconviction court or whether the State may waive its application because it is an affirmative defense. See Lussier v. State, 821 N.W.2d 581, 583 n.1 (Minn. 2012) (declining to address "whether the statute of limitations set forth in Minn. Stat. § 590.01, subd. 4(a), is an affirmative defense that is subject to waiver"). If the limitations period restricts the postconviction court's subject matter jurisdiction, then the appropriate disposition on appeal would be to remand to the postconviction court with instructions to dismiss the petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See In re Skyline Materials, Ltd., 835 N.W.2d 472, 478 (Minn. 2013) (remanding to the district court with instructions to dismiss the appeal because the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case). If, on the other hand, the limitations period is an affirmative defense subject to ...