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State v. Boettcher

Supreme Court of Minnesota

July 17, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Colton Tyler Boettcher, Appellant.

         Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Mark S. Rubin, St. Louis County Attorney, Victoria D. Wanta, Jessica G. Foschi, Assistant County Attorneys, for respondent.

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Chang Y. Lau, Assistant State Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         The court of appeals erred by applying a factual-relationship standard, rather than a direct-causation standard, when considering whether fire damage to real property was a result of appellant's offense.

Reversed and remanded.

          OPINION

          ANDERSON, JUSTICE.

         A cabin in northern Minnesota was burglarized and then destroyed in a fire. Trail camera pictures showed the truck of appellant Colton Tyler Boettcher at the scene, and the property owner's generator was later found in his truck. Boettcher was charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree arson. A jury found Boettcher guilty of burglary but did not reach a verdict on the arson charge. The State declined to retry Boettcher for arson. After determining that the arson was factually related to the burglary, the district court ordered Boettcher to pay restitution for the destruction of the cabin. The court of appeals affirmed. Because we conclude that the court of appeals erred by applying a factual-relationship standard, we reverse and remand to the court of appeals for reconsideration under the direct-causation standard.

         FACTS

         In 2010, when Z.D. returned from military service in Iraq, he built a cabin near Culver. The cabin was built on weekends, over a number of years, by Z.D. and his father. Z.D. and his family vacationed there frequently. In November 2014, Z.D. closed the cabin for the winter. When Z.D. returned the following spring, the cabin was an "ash pile." Z.D. shared with law enforcement his pictures from two motion-detection trail cameras that he had set up on the property. These cameras provided a series of photographs that showed individuals entering onto his land, carrying away property, and leaving the cabin in flames.

         Following a law enforcement investigation, the State charged Boettcher with several offenses involving Z.D.'s cabin, including first-degree arson, Minn. Stat. § 609.561, subd. 1 (2018), and second-degree burglary, Minn. Stat. § 609.582, subd. 2(a)(1) (2018). Boettcher pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial.

         In describing their investigation, law enforcement officers testified as follows. The trail camera pictures implicated Boettcher and his friends Tyler Klennert and Brody Dunham in several ways. Pictures from the first trail camera captured images of three distinct individuals, and the timestamp on the pictures was December 13, 2014, the same date of four known cabin burglaries committed by Boettcher, Klennert, and Dunham. Moreover, pictures from the second trail camera captured images of a distinctive headlight pattern that closely resembled the headlights of Boettcher's truck.

         When law enforcement officers spoke with Klennert about the destruction of Z.D.'s cabin, he provided the officers misleading information about Boettcher's involvement, claiming that he did not remember a burglary with an arson.[1] After the officers told Klennert that they had found an item from Z.D.'s property in the back of Boettcher's truck, Klennert admitted that Boettcher had started the fire.[2] More specifically, Klennert said that all three of them were inside the cabin. As he was "grabbing stuff," Klennert noticed that it was starting to get smoky, and he saw Boettcher lighting things in the room on fire. He said that "things were already burning and so . . . he grabbed a few things and got out of there" and that "Brody got out of there too and ultimately so did Colton." Like Klennert, Dunham provided officers misleading information about Boettcher's involvement in the destruction of Z.D.'s cabin.[3]

         Klennert testified to the following facts at trial. Dunham cut the lock on a gate to get onto the Z.D. property. All three then got out of the truck, and all three went into the cabin. A television, generator, DVDs, and ammunition were taken from the cabin before it was destroyed. When asked about specifics, Klennert testified, "I really don't remember much of any of it honestly . . . ." After refreshing his recollection with the transcript of his plea hearing, Klennert then testified that Boettcher started the fire. On cross-examination, although Klennert testified that "something like a lighter or matches" were used to light the fire, he also testified, "I don't know how to explain it exactly." Klennert testified that the three left quickly after the fire was started. On redirect, Klennert elaborated further: "[T]he more we talk about this, the more it has been coming back to me . . . . I do remember him [Boettcher] starting the fire, yes." He ...


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