County District Court File No. 02-CR-16-796
Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Anthony
C. Palumbo, Anoka County Attorney, Marcy S. Crain, Kelsey R.
Kelley, Assistant County Attorneys, Anoka, Minnesota (for
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Adam
Lozeau, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge;
Schellhas, Judge; and Kirk, Judge.
district court's failure to give a limiting instruction
sua sponte regarding the admission of relationship evidence
was not plainly erroneous.
reinstated appeal, appellant challenges his felony
convictions for domestic assault and theft of a motor
vehicle. Appellant asks this court to reverse and remand for
a new trial, arguing that (1) the district court committed
plain error that affected his substantial rights by allowing
relationship evidence to be presented under Minn. Stat.
§ 634.20 (2014), without instructing the jury sua sponte
on its proper use; (2) the state committed prosecutorial
misconduct during its closing argument; and (3) the district
court abused its discretion when it allowed the state to
present impeachment evidence. Appellant argues that the
cumulative effect was to deny him the right to a fair trial.
Russell Wayne Melanson was charged with felony (1)
kidnapping, (2) domestic assault, (3) theft of a motor
vehicle, and (4) false imprisonment, for events that took
place on January 29, and 30, 2016. The matter proceeded to a
jury trial in May 2016. At trial, M.B. testified that on the
morning of January 29, 2016, she woke up in her bed at her
home in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and saw appellant. M.B. and
appellant had previously lived together and had a sexual
relationship. M.B. said that appellant put a belt around her
neck and choked her.
next thing M.B. remembered was waking up in the rear cargo
space of her moving Ford Explorer. M.B. said that it was dark
outside and that appellant was driving her vehicle, which she
had not given him permission to do. M.B. was lying face down
with her TV, clothing, and other personal items on top of
her. Her arms and legs were bound with string, and she had
duct tape wrapped around her mouth and head. M.B. said that
she felt dried blood in her ear, her face was heavy, her arm
was numb, and she could not see out of one eye. M.B. said
that she passed in and out of consciousness, but she
remembered making two stops-one inside a garage adjacent to
the home of an acquaintance, and the other on a dirt road.
During one of the stops, M.B. said that appellant untied her
and allowed her to move up to the front seat, and she told
him that she needed to go to the hospital. M.B. also noticed
during one of the stops that her leg was hurt. M.B. further
testified that another male was present in the vehicle at
some point during the drive, and that he may have also
said that, on January 30, she woke up back in her bed with
appellant sitting next to her. M.B. testified that appellant
told her he was sorry and that he would never do that again.
M.B. texted a friend, who called her phone. Appellant became
angry when he heard the friend's call, and got on
M.B.'s phone and argued with the friend before leaving.
M.B.'s friend arrived to check on M.B., and then left and
returned with another friend. The other friend called the
police and took M.B. to the hospital.
Rapids police officer responded to the hospital and spoke to
M.B. The officer testified at trial that M.B. had extreme
bruising on both eyes, blood coming out of her ear canal, and
swelling on the left part of her face. The officer took
photographs of M.B.'s injuries, which were admitted into
evidence. The officer acknowledged that M.B. appeared to be
"out of it," but testified that M.B. told her that
she remembered waking up in her bed on January 29 with
appellant holding a belt over her. M.B. also told the officer
that she blacked out after that. At trial, M.B. described her
injuries as a broken bone in her throat, bleeding in her
brain, and cysts behind her kneecaps. M.B. said that the
effects of her injuries are ongoing-she now stutters, cannot
fully open her mouth, and has memory loss.
left the hospital with her friend and went home prior to
being discharged. M.B. resides in the basement area of a
house that she shares with a male friend and his three
children. Upon returning home, M.B. discovered that her
vehicle was gone, the lock was cut off of the closet in her
room, her TV was gone, and other personal belongings were
missing. The next day, M.B. texted appellant using her
roommate's son's phone to ask where her vehicle and
belongings were. Copies of the text messages were admitted
into evidence. Appellant texted M.B. to say that he did not
have any of her "shit" and that he left her vehicle
in Robbinsdale. Law enforcement later recovered
appellant's vehicle in Robbinsdale.
Anoka County Sheriff's investigator spoke to M.B. at her
home on January 31 and testified at trial. The investigator
observed and photographed M.B.'s injuries, M.B.'s
basement living area, as well as the broken lock. The
photographs were admitted into evidence. The description that
M.B. gave to the investigator about what happened on January
29 and 30 was generally consistent with what she testified to
at trial and what she told the police officer at the
hospital. The record shows that, throughout her statements,
M.B. consistently identified appellant as the person who
choked her with a belt and assaulted her, and as the person
who took her vehicle without her permission. However, the
record also shows that there were some inconsistences in
M.B.'s statements, which appellant's counsel
emphasized for the jury at trial. When appellant's
counsel cross-examined M.B. about the inconsistencies at
trial, M.B. became agitated and said that she could not think
February 5, detectives recovered and searched appellant's
vehicle. In the trunk, they found a tool bag that belonged to
M.B.'s husband, a bag containing duct tape, a black
leather belt, and a navy canvas belt. A mixture of three or
more individuals' DNA was found on parts of both belts,
and a forensic scientist testified that M.B.'s DNA could
not be excluded as a contributor to the mixtures.
Appellant's counsel argued that the belts may have been
included in items that M.B. acquired from Craigslist and gave
to appellant, which would explain why her DNA was present on
to trial, the district court issued preliminary evidentiary
rulings allowing the state to introduce impeachment and
relationship evidence at trial, over appellant's
objection. At trial, the state presented the relationship
evidence through M.B.'s testimony without objection.
Appellant did not testify, but his girlfriend K.C. testified
as an alibi witness. K.C. testified that appellant was with
her from 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. on January 29 until 6 a.m. or 7
a.m. on January 30. When asked why she remembered January 29
specifically, K.C. said that it was the night she and
appellant first kissed. However, she also testified that she
met appellant in September 2015 and that they had been in a
romantic relationship since then. The state impeached
K.C.'s credibility with a 2013 misdemeanor theft
conviction and a 2014 misdemeanor false name to a police
officer conviction; appellant did not object.
jury found appellant guilty of domestic assault and theft of
a motor vehicle and not guilty of the two remaining charges.
The district court imposed a 45-month career-offender prison
sentence for the domestic-assault conviction, and a
concurrent 26-month prison sentence for the theft of a motor
vehicle conviction. Appellant filed a direct appeal, but was
granted a stay of appeal to petition for postconviction
relief. In his postconviction petition, appellant argued that
he was improperly sentenced as a career offender for the
domestic assault. ...