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State v. Lilienthal

Supreme Court of Minnesota

February 1, 2017

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
Adam John Lilienthal, Appellant.

         Anoka County Office of Appellate Courts

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Anthony C. Palumbo, Anoka County Attorney, Kelsey R. Kelley, Assistant Anoka County Attorney, Anoka, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Robert D. Sicoli, Sicoli Law, Ltd., Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Anthony M. Bussa, Bussa Law, LLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.


         1. The district court did not commit plain error in admitting evidence of appellant's post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence during the State's case-in-chief.

         2. Any error by the district court in permitting the State to discuss appellant's post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence in closing argument was harmless.

         3. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant's request to give a jury instruction on defense of dwelling.



          HUDSON, Justice.

         Following a jury trial, appellant Adam John Lilienthal was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(1) (2016), and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release. On appeal, Lilienthal contends that the district court committed reversible error when it admitted evidence of his post-arrest, pre-Miranda silence during the State's case-in-chief, when it allowed the prosecutor to discuss Lilienthal's silence in closing argument, and when it denied his request for a defense-of-dwelling jury instruction. Because we conclude that the district court did not commit reversible error, we affirm.


         Adam Lilienthal and Scott Yorek met through a mutual friend in February 2014. After learning that Yorek needed a place to stay, Lilienthal agreed to rent Yorek a room in his house in Andover. Yorek moved into Lilienthal's house later that month. Lilienthal and Yorek agreed that Yorek would pay $100 per week in rent, though disputes later arose as to whether and how timely those payments were made.

         On June 17, 2014, Lilienthal and Yorek had a disagreement during which Lilienthal demanded that Yorek move out. Lilienthal called the police from a neighbor's house around noon to report that Yorek made threats on his life during their disagreement. The responding officer spoke to Yorek, found no reason to make an arrest, and then explained to Lilienthal that if he wanted Yorek to move out, he would have to use eviction procedures. Later that afternoon, Lilienthal went to the Anoka County courthouse to initiate an eviction action and obtain a restraining order. But after being told the eviction process required the payment of a fee and a hearing, Lilienthal left the courthouse with the uncompleted paperwork and returned home.

         While Lilienthal was at the courthouse, Yorek left the house for an appointment. When Yorek returned to the house later that evening, he discovered that Lilienthal had changed the locks. Yorek knocked on the door and windows in an effort to have Lilienthal allow him inside. Lilienthal, wanting Yorek to leave, called two friends to ask for help. Shortly thereafter, he called the police to report that Yorek was trying to get into his house. Lilienthal called the police again 10 minutes later and told the dispatcher that he had let Yorek into the house to retrieve his belongings, but that Yorek was unwilling to leave. The officers who responded to Lilienthal's calls spoke to Yorek and advised him to stay in his room and avoid Lilienthal if he chose to remain in the house that night. The officers then left, leaving Yorek and Lilienthal alone in the house.

         The parties' versions of events diverge regarding what happened next. At trial, Lilienthal testified that he found Yorek upstairs in his rented room, talking on the phone while a lit torch was burning on the bed. Lilienthal claimed that Yorek turned toward him while grabbing for the torch, and then, Lilienthal, in fear for his life, pushed Yorek onto the bed, which started the bed on fire. The State, however, offered testimony and forensic evidence to establish that Lilienthal first poured gasoline on Yorek and then lit the gasoline on fire.[1]

         The parties agree that after the fire started in Yorek's room, Lilienthal left the house and got into his truck. A friend whom Lilienthal had called before the fire began arrived at the house. As Lilienthal drove away, he shouted to his friend to "[g]et out of here" because his house was on fire. Lilienthal's friend called 911 to report the fire. The person who had been on the phone with Yorek during the confrontation also called 911 to report what he believed was a life-threatening altercation between Yorek and "his landlord."

         The responding officers arrived to find Yorek severely burned, lying in front of the house. Yorek told the officers, paramedics, and other witnesses that Lilienthal had thrown gasoline on him. After speaking with neighbors, the officers obtained the license plate information for Lilienthal's truck and learned that he owned a cabin in northern Minnesota. The officers ...

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