County Office of Appellate Courts
Alan Zornes, pro se.
Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota, and; Brian
J. Melton, Clay County Attorney, Moorhead, Minnesota, for
postconviction court did not abuse its discretion when it
summarily denied appellant's second petition for
postconviction relief because, even if appellant proved the
facts alleged in the petition at an evidentiary hearing, the
petition, files, and records of the proceedings conclusively
show that appellant is entitled to no relief.
and decided by the court without oral argument.
case involving first-degree murder, appellant Tracy Alan
Zornes appeals from the denial of his second petition for
postconviction relief. At issue is whether the postconviction
court abused its discretion when it denied the petition
without holding an evidentiary hearing. Because the court
properly exercised its discretion, we affirm.
February 2010, Megan Londo and John Cadotte died after being
beaten, stabbed, and left in a burning apartment. The police
investigation focused on Zornes, whom officers found hiding
in a remote makeshift campsite in the woods about two weeks
after the murders. When he was arrested and searched,
officers found a folding knife in Zornes's pocket. At
Zornes's campsite, police also found a hammer, a box
cutter,  a screwdriver, and a pair of scissors.
jury indicted Zornes on two counts of first-degree
premeditated murder, Minn. Stat. § 609.185, subd. (a)(1)
(2016). Zornes pleaded not guilty and demanded a
jury trial. The jury found Zornes guilty of both counts of
first-degree murder, and the court sentenced Zornes to
consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility
direct appeal, Zornes argued that the probative value of the
pocketknife, box cutter, scissors, screwdriver, and hammer
was outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice because the
items were not directly tied to the crime scene or murders.
State v. Zornes (Zornes I), 831 N.W.2d 609');">831 N.W.2d 609, 624-26
(Minn. 2013). He contended that the district court committed
reversible error by admitting these items into evidence.
Id. at 624. In affirming the convictions, we
concluded that the probative value of the items in question
was not outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice because
the items "were directly tied to Zornes and were the
same type of weapon use[d] in the crime." Id.
at 626. We also observed that the State did not mention the
box cutter, scissors, and screwdriver during the case.
first petition for postconviction relief, Zornes raised
claims of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate
counsel. These claims were based on trial counsel's
failure to argue, during Zornes's pretrial motion to
suppress the pocketknife, that the pocketknife could not have
inflicted the victims' wounds. Zornes v. State (Zornes
II), 880 N.W.2d 363');">880 N.W.2d 363, 369-71 (Minn. 2016). We affirmed
the postconviction court's summary denial of the first
petition. Id. at 373. We concluded that even if the
claims were not barred by State v. Knaffla, 243
N.W.2d 737 (Minn. 1976), the record conclusively showed that
Zornes was not entitled to relief. Zornes II, 880
N.W.2d at 370.
January 2016, Zornes hired a private investigator to look
into his case. Zornes also retained a forensic pathologist to
review the crime scene information and offer her opinion on
whether the tools found at the campsite could have caused the
victims' wounds. In her report, the forensic pathologist
opined that the victims' wounds did "not fit well to
the proffered knife and hammer, " suggesting that the
tools from the campsite were not the murder weapons.
subsequently filed a second postconviction petition,
asserting the following claims:
1. The prosecution failed to provide him with a number of
documents that he only recently has discovered, which he
believes is a Brady violation;
2. The forensic pathologist's report provided newly
discovered evidence of actual innocence;
3. His investigator discovered new evidence of recantations
of trial witnesses;
4. Trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing
to strike jurors who were biased;
5. Trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing
to conduct an ...