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State v. Petersen

Supreme Court of Minnesota

April 4, 2018

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Ryan David Petersen, Appellant.

         Ramsey County Office of Appellate Courts

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Rochelle R. Winn, Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The district court did not abuse its discretion when it rejected appellant's straight guilty plea to second-degree intentional murder after the court learned that the State had begun proceedings to indict appellant for first-degree premeditated murder.

          2. Sufficient evidence supports appellant's conviction of first-degree premeditated murder. The circumstances proved, examined as a whole, exclude beyond a reasonable doubt any reasonable inference other than that appellant premeditated the victim's murder.

         Affirmed.

          OPINION

          CHUTICH, Justice.

         In this appeal, we consider whether the district court (1) abused its discretion when it did not accept appellant Ryan Petersen's straight guilty plea to second-degree intentional murder and (2) based its finding of premeditation on sufficient evidence. In April 2016, Petersen, a client of Northstar Criminal Defense, went to the law firm's office and shot and killed the firm's law clerk. The State initially filed a complaint charging Petersen with second-degree intentional murder. At his second court appearance, Petersen attempted to plead guilty to this charge. The district court refused to accept Petersen's plea, however, when it learned that the State had amended its complaint to charge first-degree premeditated murder and was seeking a grand jury indictment. A grand jury indicted Petersen for first-degree murder 5 days later. Following a bench trial, the district court convicted and sentenced Petersen to life in prison without the possibility of release. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting the plea, and because the circumstantial evidence is consistent with first-degree premeditated murder and inconsistent with any other rational hypothesis, we affirm.

          FACTS

         The facts underlying the murder of Chase Passauer are not in dispute. Ryan Petersen hired D.A., from Northstar Criminal Defense, in March 2016, to represent him for criminal and civil matters. Petersen agreed to pay a flat fee of $10, 000 for D.A.'s services, and he had paid a total of $7, 000 to D.A. as of April 7, 2016, when Petersen terminated D.A.'s representation.

         On April 7, over a span of about 3 hours, a series of text messages exchanged between Petersen and D.A. about a parking issue and legal fees escalated to Petersen's murder of D.A.'s law clerk, 23-year-old Chase Passauer. That day, Petersen sent a text message to D.A., urgently requesting that D.A. call him. D.A. promptly responded by text message, informing Petersen that he could not call because he was preparing for court. D.A. suggested that Petersen contact Passauer at the firm's office to see if he could be of help. An hour later, Petersen sent another text message to D.A., explaining that he needed urgent help with a parking issue. D.A. replied within the hour, stating that he would not assist with the parking issue. Petersen then terminated D.A.'s representation and demanded that D.A. refund the $7, 000 that Petersen had paid to D.A.

         Petersen also communicated with his girlfriend during this time. He texted her about the parking issue and said that he was going to get his money back from his lawyer. Petersen told her in a phone call that he was going to shoot his lawyer.

         Angry and intent on getting his money back, Petersen left his business in St. Paul's East Side neighborhood and drove about 5 miles to the law firm's office in St. Paul's Cathedral Hill neighborhood. With his loaded .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun concealed under his clothes on his waistband, he then entered the building, climbed the stairs, and entered the unlocked doors to the law office.

         When Petersen entered the reception area, he noticed that the lights were not on in D.A.'s office. He confronted Passauer, who was alone in the office, sitting at the reception desk, about the whereabouts ...


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