County Office of Appellate Courts
Swanson, Attorney General, Karen B. McGillic, Assistant
Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Chuck Hanson,
Brown County Attorney, New Ulm, Minnesota, for respondent.
Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jessica
Merz Godes, Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul,
Minnesota, for appellant.
Because appellant did not assert at trial that his medical
privilege barred admission of medical evidence the State
offered, appellant did not preserve for appeal his contention
that the privilege barred the admission of this evidence.
Because any error in the admission of medical evidence did
not affect appellant's substantial rights, appellant is
not entitled to a new trial based on the admission of this
GILDEA, CHIEF JUSTICE.
Miguel Angel Vasquez appeals his first-degree murder
conviction. Vasquez argues that the district court committed
reversible error when the court admitted into evidence
testimony from his treating physicians and a burn expert.
Because we conclude that any error in the admission of the
challenged evidence did not substantially influence the
verdict, we affirm.
a bench trial, the district court found Vasquez guilty of the
premeditated murder of Amber Lechuga. Lechuga and Vasquez
shared an apartment in Springfield. They had been
romantically involved and have two children together. The
State's theory was that Vasquez murdered Lechuga because
their relationship had deteriorated, and she was seeing other
men. The State contended that Vasquez was angry over
Lechuga's decision to end their romantic relationship,
and that he murdered Lechuga at their apartment and then
attempted to hide her body and destroy evidence of his
found Lechuga's body on September 25, 2014, when they
responded to Vasquez's 911 call that he had been
assaulted. As they were investigating the scene near where
Vasquez placed his call, police found Lechuga's body in
the back of a burned-out van that Vasquez had been driving,
and they found Lechuga's severed head in a black garbage
bag a short distance from the van.
officers arrived on scene in response to Vasquez's 911
call, they found Vasquez walking along the highway about two
and a half miles south of Sleepy Eye. Vasquez reported that
after driving south from Sleepy Eye for fifteen minutes, he
was involved in a rear-end collision. He said that he got out
of the van, was struck on the head and knocked out by unknown
assailants, and woke up in his burning van doused in
gasoline, with his clothing and the van on fire. He said he
was able to call 911 because he retrieved his cellular phone
from the front cup holder in the burning van.
noticed that Vasquez smelled like burnt hair, the hair on his
head was singed, and he had burns and scrapes on his body.
Officers did not, however, observe any signs of a head
injury. An emergency medical technician examined Vasquez and
found some scratches, singed hair, burns, and a blister on
his abdomen, but no sign of a head injury. The technician
looked for soot in his mouth, nose and ears, but found none.
Police also photographed Vasquez's burns, the back of his
head, singed hair, and lacerations. Vasquez was then
transported to Sleepy Eye Medical Center (SEMC) for
treatment, and later to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC)
for further treatment.
addition to the physical evidence at the scene of the burned
van, police also gathered evidence from the couple's
apartment. Police found a sheathed knife in a backpack, a
.22-caliber Marlin-brand rifle, and a machete, all in a
closet. Lechuga's blood was on the front sight of the
rifle, the muzzle, and just inside the barrel. DNA swabs of
the grip and trigger of the rifle revealed a DNA profile that
matched Vasquez, but police did not find any fingerprints on
bedroom where Vasquez and Lechuga slept, police found
.22-caliber ammunition with brass-plated bullets. Testimony
at trial showed that the Marlin rifle was capable of firing
this brass-plated ammunition. Testimony also showed that the
bullet fragments recovered from Lechuga's head were
brass-plated and had rifling marks consistent with a
also found two other firearms, a Mossberg .22-caliber rifle
and a shotgun in a closet. Investigators found latent
fingerprints from Vasquez on the Mossberg rifle but
determined that it could not have fired the fatal shots.
bed where Lechuga typically slept, investigators found a
large, still-wet blood stain at the head of the bed. The
blood was Lechuga's and the size of the blood stain was
consistent with the amount of blood expected from a gunshot
to the head.
also found garbage bags in the apartment that were similar to
the white bag found underneath Lechuga's burned torso and
the black bag that contained her head. Finally, investigators
found a box containing several BIC lighters.
of their investigation, police also interviewed Vasquez while
he was hospitalized. During these interviews, Vasquez gave
different accounts of the van fire. For example, Vasquez
claimed that only the gasoline in the van had been on fire
and not his clothing but then also said that his clothing and
the van were on fire. He also told inconsistent stories about
where he was in the van when he regained consciousness. And
Vasquez failed to give a consistent account of how he grabbed
his phone from the van- first he said he retrieved his phone
by reaching into the van, and then later he said he got his
phone by jumping into the driver's seat of the van.
also gave differing accounts of the accident. Initially, he
was unable to describe the car that hit him, but later he
described the car as maroon or black. Vasquez's account
of the assault also differed over time. He initially
described being seated in his van when he was struck from
behind. Later, he described being hit while walking back
toward the other car.
investigators spoke to Vasquez at the hospital, they
suggested that his injuries were not consistent with his
story that he woke up in a van fully engulfed in flames.
Vasquez maintained that the reason for his minor injuries was
that he got out quickly, removed all of his clothing, and
took off running. At the end of the interview, investigators
told Vasquez that ...