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State v. Thoresen

Supreme Court of Minnesota

January 2, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
Joseph Christen Thoresen, Appellant.

          Itasca County Office of Appellate Courts

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Matthew Frank, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and John J. Muhar, Itasca County Attorney, Grand Rapids, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Rachel F. Bond, Assistant Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.


         1. There was sufficient corroboration of the accomplice testimony.

         2. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying appellant's request for jury instructions on the reliability of testimony by witnesses under the influence of drugs and the credibility of testimony by an uncharged accessory after the fact.


          McKEIG, Justice.

         Joseph Christen Thoresen was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release. On direct appeal, Thoresen raises two issues. First, he argues that his conviction was based on uncorroborated accomplice testimony in violation of Minn. Stat. § 634.04 (2018). Second, he argues that the district court abused its discretion in denying his request for jury instructions regarding the credibility of drug users and uncharged accessories after the fact. We hold that the accomplice testimony was sufficiently corroborated and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the requested jury instructions. We therefore affirm.


         On June 21, 2016, David Haiman was killed on a remote trail in Itasca County. Following a police investigation, Thoresen was charged with several offenses, including first-degree premeditated murder. Minn. Stat. § 609.185(a)(1) (2018). His alleged accomplice, Kayleene Greniger, pleaded guilty to second-degree intentional murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. As a condition of her plea agreement, Greniger testified against Thoresen at his jury trial.

         According to Greniger, she and Thoresen were romantically involved and lived together in Grand Rapids when the victim was killed. On June 20, 2016, she and Thoresen smoked methamphetamine and marijuana, drank alcohol, and used cocaine with Haiman at their apartment. Thoresen, who was more than 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds, "aggressive[ly]" told Haiman, who was 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed about 180 pounds, that they needed to talk in the bedroom. Greniger, who is about 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed about 100 pounds, went to the bedroom with them. After they entered the bedroom, Thoresen and Greniger tied Haiman to a chair and repeatedly hit him.

         Lending support to Greniger's testimony about the assault she and Thoresen committed against Haiman in their apartment, a witness, J.D., testified that she observed that Haiman had multiple injuries that were consistent with being tied up and beaten. More specifically, Haiman told J.D. that Thoresen and Greniger had tied him up and would not let him go to work. Another witness, J.G., testified that he saw Thoresen throw Haiman up against the wall and later saw Haiman tied to a chair and lying on the floor of the bedroom. Another witness testified that he saw blood splatter on Thoresen's pants.

         Greniger testified that while Haiman remained bound to the chair, Thoresen removed Haiman's keys and phone from his pocket and took his car, leaving Haiman tied up.[1] Hours later, Thoresen untied Haiman and escorted him to Haiman's car, a maroon two-door sedan. When Greniger joined them a few minutes later, she saw Thoresen's machete between the driver's-side door and the seat. Thoresen's friend, R.G., testified that Thoresen and Greniger came to his house with a man who remained in the back seat of the "maroon" car they drove. Thoresen told R.G. that Thoresen "was looking for something to use to put a farm animal down that was injured and couldn't be saved." R.G. understood that to mean that Thoresen was going to kill a farm animal, but he did not see any farm animals with Thoresen and Greniger that day.

         According to Greniger's testimony, Haiman sat in the back seat as Thoresen then drove the trio to J.D.'s house, where they used more methamphetamine. There, Greniger and Thoresen took J.D's four-wheeler out for a ride on J.D.'s property, leaving Haiman and J.D. behind. Greniger testified that there was a baseball bat on the back of the four-wheeler. During their ride, Thoresen stopped, turned the four-wheeler off, and told Greniger that they were going to kill Haiman. Consistent with Greniger's testimony, J.D. told the jury that Greniger and Thoresen drove her four-wheeler around the property. Because J.D. was not watching closely, she admitted that she did not know whether they stopped during the ride. Thoresen and Greniger returned to J.D's house after the four-wheeler ride and consumed more methamphetamine with J.D. and Haiman. Greniger saw Thoresen grab two knives from J.D.'s house as they left and put them in Greniger's purse. She also saw the baseball bat in the car next to the machete.

         Greniger testified that with Thoresen driving and Haiman in the back seat, they next drove down a "trail in the woods," hit a puddle of mud, and the car started steaming. Thoresen stopped the car and told Haiman to check the oil. Greniger let Haiman out on the passenger side of the two-door sedan and put her head down to start rolling a cigarette. Greniger testified that Thoresen, meanwhile, got out of the driver's side with a baseball bat in his hand, walked to the front of the car, and hit Haiman on the head twice, knocking him to the ground. Greniger grabbed the knives from her purse, and Thoresen and Greniger stabbed Haiman multiple times. Greniger then cut off Haiman's head with the machete. Thoresen grabbed Haiman's body by the ankles and dragged it into the woods. He stuck a knife in Haiman's temple, placed the head in a bag, and threw the bag into the woods.

         A friend of Thoresen's, T.C., provided support for some of Greniger's testimony about the events in the woods. Greniger testified that, after the murder, she and Thoresen drove to T.C.'s house in Haiman's car. T.C. verified that Thoresen drove a red sedan to his house. Thoresen told T.C. that the car belonged to "a kid" whom Thoresen "had hit . . . in the head with a bat twice" and whose head he had cut off with a machete. T.C. also testified that he saw a bat among Thoresen and Greniger's things when they came to his house. Later, T.C. found a bat in his yard with a large red stain on it that he presumed to be ...

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