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State v. Bridges

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 30, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
Brian Donnell Bridges, Appellant.


St. Louis County District Court File No. 69HI-CR-08-657

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Karen B. Andrews, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Mark Rubin, St. Louis County Attorney, Duluth, Minnesota (for respondent)

Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Renée Bergeron, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Rodenberg, Presiding Judge; Larkin, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.


Appellant challenges his convictions on charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, first-degree burglary, and third-degree assault. He argues that the district court erred by (1) denying his motion for a mistrial, (2) denying his request to introduce alternative-perpetrator evidence, (3) admitting evidence of an unrelated shoplifting, and (4) concluding that a search-warrant application provided probable cause to search his residence. We affirm.


During the early morning of June 3, 2008, a man entered P.B.'s home in Hibbing and repeatedly sexually assaulted her. The police were called to the scene and collected bedding and a Trojan Magnum condom wrapper from P.B.'s bed, where the assault occurred. P.B. reported that the assailant wore a ski mask, rubber gloves, and a dark, "slippery nylon" jacket. She said that he "wasn't real tall, " around 5'9" or 5'10", with a "smaller thinner build." She also reported that he did not sound like an "Iron Ranger" and that his dialect "sounded black." Appellant Brian Donnell Bridges, a black male, was a similar height and weight at the time of the crime, and he was staying at B.E.'s apartment, approximately two blocks from P.B.'s house.

The police obtained a warrant to search B.E.'s apartment, based on allegations of an unrelated theft. The search-warrant affidavit alleged that Bridges stole a bottle of champagne from a nearby liquor store. During the search, the police found an empty bottle of champagne and Amtrak tickets in Bridges's name from a trip to Washington, D.C., in April 2008. The police also found a black nylon jacket, Trojan Magnum condoms, and a latex glove. Believing that those items were related to P.B.'s sexual assault, the police froze the scene and obtained a second warrant to further search the apartment. During the second search, the police found a pair of latex gloves in a garbage can. When Bridges arrived at the apartment, the police took him into custody. An investigator observed scratches and bruising on Bridges's right forearm and elbow, bruising near his left elbow, and what appeared to be a bruise on his left knee.

While in custody, Bridges told the police that he spent the evening of June 2 with B.E.'s children at B.E's mother's trailer home and that he returned to B.E.'s apartment between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. He further stated that he called his daughter's mother, who brought his child to the apartment around 2:30 a.m. He said that B.E.'s brother and a friend came over, watched the end of a movie, and everyone went to sleep after B.E.'s brother and his friend left. After witnesses failed to corroborate Bridges's statement, he changed his story and told the police that he was at B.E.'s apartment alone the evening of June 2 and went to bed around 2:00 a.m.

B.E.'s sister, C.B., testified that she saw Bridges on the evening of June 2 and that he was wearing a black jacket that looked like the jacket the police recovered during the search of B.E.'s apartment.

Analysts at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) tested DNA obtained from several items that the police collected during their investigation. Testing revealed that the condom wrapper recovered from P.B.'s bed contained a mixture of DNA from at least three males. Neither Bridges nor P.B.'s boyfriend were excluded as contributors to the DNA. Bridges was excluded as a contributor to DNA from hair on P.B.'s bedding. DNA from two of the gloves found in B.E.'s apartment matched P.B. The BCA tested 22 hairs found on the black jacket. The DNA from two hairs matched Bridges. The DNA from one hair matched P.B. The cuff of the jacket contained blood with a mixture of DNA. P.B. could not be excluded as a contributor to this DNA mixture.

Respondent State of Minnesota subsequently charged Bridges with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, first-degree burglary, and third-degree assault.[1] A jury found Bridges guilty of all four charges and also found three aggravating factors. The district court sentenced Bridges to consecutive prison terms of 312 and 48 months. Bridges appeals.



Bridges argues that the district court abused its discretion by denying his mistrial motion, which was based on the jury's exposure to documents that had not been offered or received as evidence. "[A] mistrial should not be granted unless there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would be different" if the event that prompted the motion had not occurred. State v. Spann, 574 N.W.2d 47, 53 (Minn. 1998). "[T]he district court is in the best position to evaluate whether prejudice, if any, warrants a mistrial." State v. Marchbanks, 632 N.W.2d 725, 729 (Minn.App. 2001). The denial of a motion for a mistrial is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. State v. Jorgensen, 660 N.W.2d 127, 133 (Minn. 2003).

The mistrial motion stemmed from the black nylon jacket that the police found in B.E.'s apartment, which was received as evidence at trial. The district court provided the jacket to the jury during its deliberations. A juror examined the jacket and found, in an inside pocket, two receipts dated April 26, 2008, from a store in Union Station in Washington, D.C. The district court became aware of the jury's discovery of the receipts when a juror wrote the following note to the court during deliberations: "While examining the jacket in question, I, . . ., came across two receipts inside an 'inside' pocket. Do you want us to disregard?" The district court held a hearing on the matter. Bridges moved for a mistrial, arguing that the receipts were "never introduced as a piece of evidence" and that he was "afraid there may be a taint on the jury that can't be excised with an instruction from the [c]ourt."

With the consent of both parties, the district court called the juror who wrote the note to provide testimony regarding the documents. The juror explained that as the jurors "started discussing . . . the jacket, " they "ended up noticing a little bit of white that was on . . . the inside jacket pocket." The juror further explained that he "examined just to see what they were, and [he] mentioned that they were from Washington, D.C., but there wasn't any much further discussion on them, just it wasn't something brought to us."

In evaluating Bridges's motion, the district court relied primarily on State v. Winningham, 406 N.W.2d 70 (Minn.App. 1987), review denied (Minn. July 15, 1987). The district court noted that in Winningham, "there was evidence [that] the [c]ourt had determined was not admissible in that case, [which] got in [to jury deliberations] by mistake, and the appellate court decided that under those facts there's no way that the defendant had a fair trial." But the district court reasoned that unlike the circumstances in Winningham, the receipts here "could have been admitted" if they "had been found and offered into evidence." The district court acknowledged that there was "prejudice to [Bridges] because [the receipts were] found in the pocket of the jacket, essentially tying the jacket to him, given the fact the jury heard evidence that he was in D.C. at that time." But the district court noted that there was other evidence that tied ...

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