County District Court File No. 13-CR-13-1022
Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Janet
Reiter, Chisago County Attorney, Nicholas A. Hydukovich,
Special Assistant County Attorney, Stillwater, Minnesota (for
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Melissa
Sheridan, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for
Considered and decided by Florey, Presiding Judge; Rodenberg,
Judge; and Bratvold, Judge.
trial for third-degree murder, under Minn. Stat. §
609.195(b) (2012), a district court does not abuse its
discretion by refusing to give a specific joint-acquisition
jury instruction based on State v. Carithers, 490
N.W.2d 620 (Minn. 1992), if the defendant and the decedent
were not spouses.
found appellant Aaron Jude Schnagl guilty of third-degree
murder for giving cocaine to a woman who later died.
Appellant argues that the evidence is insufficient to sustain
the conviction and that the district court erred by refusing
to instruct the jury on the defense's theory of joint
acquisition of the controlled substance. Appellant also
raises a number of pro se arguments. We conclude that the
evidence is sufficient to sustain the conviction, the
district court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to
give a joint-acquisition instruction, and appellant's pro
se arguments are unavailing. We therefore affirm
night of December 8, 2012, appellant and a 27-year-old woman,
D.J., were using cocaine and drinking alcohol at
appellant's house. Appellant claims that he and D.J.
jointly purchased and used the cocaine, he passed out, and
D.J. was gone when he awoke. D.J.'s body was found
approximately five months later floating in a pond about 440
yards west of appellant's residence. She was naked except
for a tank top.
cocaine was obtained at the home of E.T., appellant's
business partner. After obtaining several grams of cocaine,
appellant and D.J. went to appellant's house, where they
drank alcohol and used the cocaine. At 2:38 a.m., on December
9, appellant's burglar alarm went off. A dispatcher
called appellant at 2:40 a.m., and appellant gave a code that
cleared the alarm. He told the dispatcher that the cause of
the alarm was his girlfriend. At 3:07 a.m., the alarm went
off again. Appellant called the security company and said
that it was a false alarm.
started snowing in the early morning hours of December 9, and
the snow continued throughout the day. D.J.'s family
became concerned about her whereabouts. D.J.'s sister
called appellant. He told her that he and D.J. went to bed,
and he awoke to find she was gone, but she left her personal
things, including her purse, shoes, and cellphone at his
house. D.J.'s sister reported her missing.
deputy was dispatched to appellant's home. Upon arriving,
he saw appellant's truck in the ditch. He spoke with
appellant in appellant's home and observed some
women's clothes on the kitchen table, D.J.'s purse
and cellphone, and a pair of women's boots near the front
door. He did not see signs of a struggle. He took a taped
statement from appellant.
told the deputy that, on December 8, he and D.J. got back to
his house around 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. They hung out, were
sexually intimate, had four or five drinks, and went to bed
between 1:00 and 2:30 a.m. D.J. went to bed in her clothes.
Appellant awoke around 9:30 a.m., and D.J. was gone; he was
worried that she wandered off into the snow because that
morning he saw tracks in the snow in his yard that
"stopped at the woods." He searched for her using
his truck and got it stuck. The deputy asked why appellant
did not contact authorities, and appellant responded
variously that he did not know when D.J. woke, he was hung
over, and D.J. had "done this before." Appellant
said that he and D.J. did not use drugs that night, but later
admitted to using marijuana. The deputy gave appellant a
preliminary breath test, which indicated that appellant was
intoxicated. Appellant agreed to give a formal statement and
was transported to the sheriff's office.
warrant was obtained to search appellant's home and
truck. D.J.'s wallet, license, and cellphone were
recovered, as well as a purse, clothing, and women's
boots. In the trunk of appellant's BMW, investigators
discovered 12 pounds of marijuana. The following day, another
search was executed. A paper towel and a tissue containing
blood were collected from appellant's home; DNA testing
showed a male DNA profile. Trace blood samples from furniture
and a bed sheet matched D.J.'s DNA.
December 12, 2012, appellant, with his attorney present, gave
a statement to law enforcement. He said that on the day in
question he and D.J. shopped, picked up food, and then
stopped at his house where he "grabbed some stuff . . .
like a mixer." They then went to E.T.'s house for a
quick visit. Appellant and D.J. returned to appellant's
house where D.J. snorted "[p]robably ten" lines of
cocaine. Appellant said that there were, at most, five grams
of cocaine at his house that night. The next morning he may
have awoken as early as 7:00 a.m., and he saw that D.J. was
gone. He then went back to sleep for several hours. At some
point that morning, he searched his house and outside for
D.J. He saw tracks in the snow, but no sign of D.J. He texted
D.J.'s friends, and he texted his neighbor to see if the
neighbor had seen D.J. Then he searched for her using his
truck and got it stuck, after which he panicked because he
was "still intoxicated." He then drove to
E.T's. home in a third vehicle. During the interview, he
mentioned that his "house shoes" were missing.
However, investigators found those shoes in appellant's
bedroom when they executed the search warrant. When asked why
he did not contact police in the morning, appellant
responded, "Because I was still drunk . . . ."
owned an auto-repair shop next to appellant's business.
On December 9, 2012, after getting stuck and driving to
E.T.'s home in a panic, appellant called J.J. and asked
him to pick up a duffel bag from inside appellant's BMW.
J.J. went to appellant's house that day, grabbed a duffel
bag containing marijuana, and brought it to the home of C.B.
J.J. left the bag at C.B.'s house, E.T. called J.J. and
asked him to go to appellant and E.T.'s shop because he
was worried that "there may be stuff there." J.J.
went to the shop, grabbed some drug-related items, placed the
items in a paper bag, and placed the paper bag in the duffel
bag at C.B.'s house. J.J. eventually confessed to the
existence of the duffel bag, and authorities recovered it.
The paper bag contained benocyclidine pills, bags of
marijuana, and a digital scale. The duffel bag also contained
approximately 23 grams of cocaine and a type of sugar used as
a cutting agent to increase the volume of cocaine.
told investigators that he was only aware of the marijuana in
the duffel bag, and J.J. must have put the cocaine in the
duffel bag. J.J. later testified that he did not see the
cocaine when he briefly inspected the contents of the duffel
bag, but the cocaine may have been among the items that he
grabbed from appellant and E.T.'s shop.
was indicted on one count of third-degree murder. The
indictment alleged that appellant proximately caused
D.J.'s death by providing her with cocaine. At trial,
appellant testified in his defense that he did not give
cocaine to D.J. in exchange for money. He and D.J. together
bought about five grams of cocaine from E.T. for $80, with
each pitching in $40.
Strobl, a forensic pathologist, testified that nothing in
D.J.'s external examination suggested a cause of death,
and she could not say with any degree of medical certainty
what caused D.J.'s death. D.J. had a significant amount
of alcohol in her system, as well as cocaine, cocaine
metabolites, and a small amount of an antihistamine. The
doctor opined that her death could have been the result of
cocaine toxicity, hypothermia, or drowning. Dr. Strobl
testified that cocaine likely contributed to D.J.'s
death, either through direct cocaine toxicity, or as a result
of "unpredictable behavior" brought on by the use
of cocaine, such as leaving the house and dying from
hypothermia or drowning. Dr. Wigren, a forensic pathologist,
echoed Dr. Strobl's conclusion that the cause of
D.J.'s death could not be determined with any degree of
testified that on December 8, 2012, he went to Minneapolis to
pick up cocaine at appellant's request. Appellant gave
E.T. directions to an apartment building. When E.T. pulled
up, a guy came out, took a box of marijuana from E.T., and
left the cocaine. The marijuana had come from appellant's
home. Appellant and D.J. later showed up at E.T.'s home,
and appellant cut the cocaine, increasing its volume by
adding additional "stuff." Appellant created ten
ounces of cut cocaine, but reserved some of the uncut
cocaine. He packaged the cut cocaine and left it with E.T.,
but took "about 7 grams or so" of the uncut
cocaine, saying, "That will probably be enough."
E.T. sold some of the cut cocaine to other people that night,
including a person ...