St. Louis County District Court File No. 69DU-CR-11-4180
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Michael Everson, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mark S. Rubin, St. Louis County Attorney, Duluth, Minnesota (for respondent)
Samantha J. Schmidt, Bruno Law, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Smith, Presiding Judge; Johnson, Judge; and Rodenberg, Judge.
Appealing from his first-degree arson conviction in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.56, subd. 1 (2010), appellant Adam Leroy Seavey argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain his conviction because the circumstantial evidence fails to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. We affirm.
In April 2011, J.B. purchased a duplex that required extensive renovation. J.B. and his fiancé K.R. lived in the upper unit and rented out the lower unit. J.B. hired several contractors to perform work both inside and outside the duplex. He hired appellant's company, Solid Work Concrete, to replace a concrete retaining wall that supported one of his garages. J.B. verbally agreed to pay appellant approximately $12, 000 for his work. Appellant completed work on the retaining wall in August 2011. He sent J.B. a final bill for approximately $15, 000. J.B. refused to pay appellant for his work because he claimed that the retaining wall violated the building code, was structurally deficient, and was built without a required permit.
J.B. testified at trial that, in September, he received a telephone call from appellant regarding the unpaid bill wherein appellant threatened to break J.B.'s legs if J.B. did not pay within five days. J.B. suggested that appellant file a lien, and J.B. testified that appellant responded that "he doesn't deal with courts, [and] he'll take care of [J.B.] his way." Soon after this threat, J.B. reported seeing appellant's work truck parked in the alley behind J.B.'s home. J.B. also testified that appellant telephoned him multiple times but J.B. refused to answer.
Several incidents of vandalism then occurred at J.B.'s home, all around 12:30 a.m., on several different nights. In early November, a rock was thrown through J.B.'s truck windshield. Less than a week later, a rock was thrown through the home's front picture window. A few days after that, a rock broke the car window of one of J.B.'s tenants. Finally, a brick was thrown through the lower bedroom window of J.B.'s home. After that incident, J.B. installed security cameras around his home. J.B. testified that he then encountered appellant in court regarding a civil matter and appellant stated, "Don't think for a second those cameras are going to stop me or save you or stop me from smashing your stuff." In early December, windows were broken on J.B.'s garage.
On December 16, 2011, J.B. stayed up late watching television and his surveillance monitors. Around 12:30 a.m., J.B. saw a person walk up to his house carrying a one-gallon milk jug. J.B. saw the person put the jug on his porch, start a fire, and run away. An arson investigator later determined that the milk jug had contained gasoline. J.B. woke K.R. and their two tenants and went outside to extinguish the fire. J.B. provided his surveillance footage to law enforcement and told them about his history with appellant. The surveillance footage was not sufficiently clear to allow identification of the arsonist, but showed a male wearing dark clothing, including a blue winter coat, a black hooded sweatshirt, and a ski mask. A police officer called appellant around 3:00 a.m. to discuss the arson and appellant agreed to meet the officer at a location several blocks from his home.
Appellant's wife, T.J.S., testified that she went to bed around 10:15 on the night of the arson while appellant stayed up doing the laundry and dishes. She also testified that they parked their cars close to their house. T.J.S. stated that she did not hear any doors open or close after she went to bed and did not hear any vehicle noises. T.J.S. woke up around 3:00 a.m. when the police called, and appellant was in bed with her at that time. Appellant testified that he did not leave the house that evening and was not the person in the surveillance footage.
T.J.S. later contacted appellant's sister, who is a Duluth police officer. T.J.S. showed the sister a Wal-Mart receipt from around 2:00 p.m. on December 15 reflecting that appellant had purchased a black hooded sweatshirt, black sweatpants, and a ski mask. The sister turned the receipt over to law enforcement. Appellant testified at trial that he purchased the ski mask for his kids because it was winter and that he bought the clothing "[t]o be comfy." During the trial, the jury viewed video footage both of appellant making his Wal-Mart purchases and of the surveillance video of the arsonist, and was ...