Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CR-12-1801.
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Peter R. Marker, Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)
Cathryn Middlebrook, Interim Chief Appellate Public Defender, Leslie J. Rosenberg, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Larkin, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.
Appellant challenges his conviction of intentional second-degree murder, arguing that the district court erred in denying his presentence motion to withdraw his Alford plea. Appellant also challenges the district court's restitution order. We affirm.
Respondent State of Minnesota charged appellant Brent Lanier Lynch with one count each of intentional and unintentional second-degree murder. The complaint alleged that police officers found Lynch's girlfriend, C.M.L., dead after they were called to a Saint Paul residence at around 6:00 a.m. on March 3, 2012. When officers arrived, they found C.M.L.'s body in a second-floor bedroom, face up and partially clothed on a bed. There were bruises on C.M.L.'s arms, and marks and scratches on her hands. C.M.L.'s head was covered in blood that appeared to have come from her mouth, nose, and eyes. A large blood splatter about 12 inches in diameter was on the wall two feet from C.M.L.'s head. Officers also found blood at the bottom of the stairs near the back door to the residence, on the stairs to a second-floor landing, on the base of a wooden bookcase, and on the carpet in the second-floor hallway.
The complaint further alleged that the police spoke to Lynch's mother, B.L., who told them that Lynch called her at around 3:00 a.m., asking for a ride because "[C.M.L.] let somebody steal the damn car." B.L. did not provide Lynch with a ride because she could tell that he had been drinking. She told the police that Lynch "gets crazy" and "it terrifies her" when he drinks. B.L. asked G.J. to pick up Lynch and C.M.L. Around 4:00 a.m., G.J. found Lynch and C.M.L. and dropped them off at the Saint Paul residence. At 6:00 a.m., Lynch called G.J. to the residence to check on C.M.L. G.J. found C.M.L. bloody and unresponsive. P.G., a neighbor with nursing training, came over and attempted chest compressions on C.M.L. She observed that C.M.L. was cold to the touch. Lynch told P.G. that C.M.L. was intoxicated, he tried to throw her on the bed but missed, and her head hit the floor.
Another individual, P.J., came over and called 911. Lynch said, "No, don't call, don't call. I don't know what I'm going to do. Don't call the police; I have to talk to my mom first." Lynch left the house and the police apprehended him in the area a short time later after he got into a taxicab. He fought with the police who apprehended him and later said, "It wasn't supposed to go down like this. This wasn't supposed to happen. It was the alcohol." He also told jail staff, "Please be nice to me. I'm here for a long time."
The complaint alleged that the Ramsey County Medical Examiner determined that C.M.L.'s cause of death was traumatic head injury due to physical assault. The medical examiner noted that C.M.L. had contusions on the back of her head and chin, lacerations on both lips, left eye contusions, fractured nasal bones, diffuse cerebral edema, subarachnoid hemorrhages, numerous contusions of the body, and a fractured rib. The complaint also alleged that Lynch had four prior felony convictions, resulting from charges of terroristic threats against a girlfriend, third-degree assault, and criminal damage to property.
While in jail awaiting trial, Lynch wrote a letter to his brother. In the letter, Lynch attempted to convince his brother to say that C.M.L. accidently fell down the stairs. The state obtained the letter and intended to use it as evidence against Lynch at trial.
On September 10, 2012, Lynch offered a guilty plea, under a plea agreement, to the unintentional-second-degree-murder charge. The district court rejected the plea, finding that Lynch had not provided a sufficient factual basis. Four days later, Lynch entered an Alford plea to intentional second-degree murder under a new plea agreement. Lynch's attorney went through an on-the-record colloquy with Lynch describing an Alford plea, including that such a plea "allows a defendant to enter a guilty plea without admitting guilt"; "the [s]tate would recite to the [c]ourt the testimony and evidence that they would present to the jury in order to seek a conviction"; Lynch would have to agree that the state would present that evidence to the jury if the case went to trial; Lynch would have to agree "that there would be a substantial likelihood that [he] could be convicted of the charge of intentional murder in the second degree based on [the] evidence and testimony that the [s]tate would present to the jury"; and the court would have to find that evidence sufficient to support a conviction of the charge. Lynch stated that he understood the Alford plea process and that he did not have any questions.
Next, Lynch pleaded guilty, his attorney reviewed his plea petition with him, and Lynch stated that he understood his rights and that he was giving up his trial rights by pleading guilty. Following Lynch's waiver of rights, the prosecutor offered "a packet of information to supplement the facts, " including the police reports, photographs, and final autopsy report. The district court accepted the packet without objection. The prosecutor then described, piece by piece, the evidence the state would present to the jury at trial. After each description, Lynch acknowledged that the evidence described would be presented to the jury. After the prosecutor described all of the evidence, he asked Lynch if he agreed that "the total of that would be enough evidence to convict [him] of the charge of second-degree intentional murder" and if he ...