County Office of Appellate Courts
Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael
O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Jean Burdorf, Assistant
County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent.
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Saint
Paul, Minnesota, Melissa Sheridan, Assistant Public Defender,
Eagan, Minnesota, for appellant.
district court did not clearly err by finding that appellant
failed to make a prima facie showing that respondent had
exercised a peremptory challenge to a potential juror on the
basis of race.
district court did not abuse its discretion by excluding
irrelevant evidence and speculative argument.
Maurice Nathaniel Wilson was convicted of first-degree
premeditated murder, Minn. Stat. §§ 609.05,
.185(a)(1) (2016), on an accomplice-liability theory for his
involvement in the murder of Anthony Fairbanks. On appeal,
Wilson asserts that the district court made two errors.
First, he argues that the district court clearly erred by
denying his Batson objection to the State's
peremptory challenge of prospective juror 29. Second, he
argues that the district court abused its discretion by
refusing to allow him to develop an alternative theory to
explain why the murder weapon was found in a storage unit
rented to an alleged accomplice. We affirm.
facts of this case are fully discussed in our decision in
State v. Onyelobi, 879 N.W.2d 334 (Minn.
2016). The State's theory in both
Onyelobi and here was that Anthony Fairbanks was a
heroin addict, as were his sister and mother, and that
Wilson, Wilson's girlfriend (Maureen Onyelobi), and David
Johnson supplied heroin to the Fairbanks family. Typically,
Fairbanks or his sister would call a designated telephone
number (the 208 number) to arrange a heroin purchase, and
Wilson, Onyelobi, or Johnson would answer and make the sale
February 19, 2014, Wilson and Fairbanks were indicted in
federal court for conspiracy to sell narcotics. On February
28, 2014, Wilson was arrested on the indictment and detained
at the Cass County Jail in Fargo, North Dakota. As of March
8, 2014, the date of Fairbanks's death, authorities had
not yet arrested Fairbanks.
same day, Onyelobi rented a storage unit in Plymouth and was
issued a personalized entrance code to the facility.
Surveillance video from that day showed Onyelobi arriving in
a two-tone van and entering her unit for the first time
around 4:15 p.m. She stored a cardboard box and duffel bag in
p.m., Wilson called Onyelobi at the 208 number from the Cass
County Jail. When Wilson asked Onyelobi whether Johnson was
with her, she responded affirmatively and told Wilson that
Johnson was talking to Fairbanks. Wilson expressed to
Onyelobi, and later to Johnson, the urgency in "tak[ing]
care of" Fairbanks. Onyelobi and Johnson told Wilson
that Fairbanks was never alone. Wilson responded that
"the countdown is on, " and taking care of
Fairbanks should have been the "first thing" they
did. The State, in its opening statement, characterized this
phone call as Wilson placing a "hit" on Fairbanks.
p.m., Onyelobi returned to her storage unit as a passenger in
the two-tone van. After spending approximately 6 minutes in
her unit, she returned to the van and left.
9:30 p.m., Fairbanks arrived at his mother's apartment
and shortly thereafter told his sister that he was leaving to
purchase heroin from Onyelobi. Immediately before Fairbanks
left, his mother overheard him tell someone on the phone:
"Yeah, Bro, I'm comin' right now, and I'm
alone. I'm not coming with anybody. I'm by
myself." Later forensic investigation revealed that the
person with whom Fairbanks had been talking had called him
from the 208 number while located near the area where
Fairbanks's body was later found.
before 10:00 p.m., a witness who lived two blocks from
Fairbanks's mother heard three gunshots. From his
second-floor window, the witness saw a body lying on the side
of the street. A van stopped near the body for 5 to 10
seconds and then drove north. At 10:04 p.m., the witness
called 911; the witness later identified the two-tone van
owned by Onyelobi as the vehicle he saw that night. Law
enforcement personnel recovered four discharged shell casings
from the scene. The medical examiner determined that the
cause of death was two gunshot wounds to Fairbanks's head
and the manner of death was homicide.
10:24 p.m., surveillance video showed Onyelobi's two-tone
van return to the storage facility. A male wearing a white
jacket with decals left the passenger side of the van and
attempted to access the facility using Onyelobi's
personalized code. Access was denied because the facility was
closed for the night. The next morning, Onyelobi returned to
the storage facility, entered her unit, and returned to her
van a few minutes later.
March 11, 2014, police discovered that Fairbanks's sister
frequently called the 208 number. Police also were notified
of the federal indictment and through this information
learned that Wilson was in custody, that Onyelobi was his
girlfriend, and that Onyelobi owned a two-tone van matching
the one identified by the witness.
cell-phone data, police located the phone associated with the
208 number at the Red Roof Inn in Plymouth. Police found the
two-tone van in the Red Roof Inn parking lot, and hotel
records confirmed that Onyelobi rented a room on March 6,
2014 and was not scheduled to check out until March 15. When
officers arrived at Onyelobi's room, Johnson answered the
door. From the door, officers could see a racquetball-sized
clear plastic bag containing a white substance. Police
entered the room, froze the scene, and waited for a search
warrant. Onyelobi arrived approximately 30 minutes later.
After obtaining the search warrant, police found the phone
connected to the 208 number and the white jacket with decals
worn by the man who attempted to enter Onyelobi's storage
unit on the night of March 8.
arrested Onyelobi for possession of a controlled substance
and brought her to the police station for questioning. At one
point, police left the interrogation room but continued to
monitor Onyelobi. They saw her try to insert a small key into
an exposed electrical outlet. Officers seized the key and
determined that it opened Onyelobi's storage unit. After
obtaining a warrant, police searched the storage unit and
found a gun, which was later determined to be the weapon that
fired the four discharged shell casings found near
was charged with first-degree premeditated murder, Minn.
Stat. §§ 609.05, .185(a)(1) (2016) (Count I), and
second-degree intentional murder, Minn. Stat. §§
609.05, .19, subd. 1(1) (2016) (Count II). Both counts were
charged on an accomplice-liability theory. Following a jury
trial, Wilson was convicted of both counts, and the district
court sentenced him to life imprisonment without the
possibility of release on Count I.
first claim on appeal is that the district court clearly
erred by denying his Batson objection to the
State's use of a peremptory challenge to exclude a black
prospective juror at trial. We reject Wilson's claim
because the district court's conclusion that Wilson
failed to establish a prima facie case of racial
discrimination was not clearly erroneous.
challenges allow a party to strike a prospective juror that
the party believes will be less fair than some others and, by
this process, to select as final jurors the persons they
believe will be most fair." State v. Reiners,
664 N.W.2d 826, 833 (Minn. 2003). The Equal Protection Clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment, however, prohibits purposeful
racial discrimination in jury selection. U.S. Const. amend.
XIV, § 1; Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 84
(1986). To decide whether the exercise of a peremptory
challenge violates the Fourteenth Amendment, we follow the
Supreme Court of the United States' three-step
Batson framework for determining whether a
peremptory challenge is motivated by racial ...