598 N.W.2d 352 (Minn. 1999), C3-98-786, State v. Bauer

Docket Nº:C3-98-786.
Citation:598 N.W.2d 352
Opinion Judge:[8] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, Justice
Party Name:STATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Vincent Stephen BAUER, Appellant.
Case Date:July 29, 1999
Court:Supreme Court of Minnesota
 
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598 N.W.2d 352 (Minn. 1999)

STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,

v.

Vincent Stephen BAUER, Appellant.

No. C3-98-786.

Supreme Court of Minnesota

July 29, 1999.

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Syllabus by the Court

When a competent and knowledgeable witness testifies that an exhibit is a substantially accurate representation of something the witness independently observed, sufficient foundation has been laid to use that exhibit to illustrate the witness's testimony regarding that observation.

It was error to permit a medical examiner to give an opinion that the victim's assailant intended to kill her. However, at trial, the appellant did not argue that the killing was unintentional and the state presented other, substantial evidence of intent. Thus, appellant failed to show that the error was prejudicial or affected the outcome of the case and admission of the opinion testimony was not plain error.

Evidence of prior abuse and threats between the defendant and the victim is admissible to show the existence of a strained relationship and to put the acts

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for which the defendant is charged into proper context.

Although a trial court should generally give a limiting instruction whenever evidence of past acts is admitted pursuant to Minn. R. Evid. 404(b), absent a request for such an instruction, reversal is not required unless the failure to give the instruction rises to the level of plain error.

A victim's out of court statement, although hearsay, is admissible under the "excited utterance" exception to the hearsay exclusion rule when the statement relates to a startling event and was made while the victim was still under the excitement caused by that event.

Although evidence of the victim's state of mind was irrelevant and therefore its admission was error, taken in the context of all the evidence presented at trial the state of mind evidence was insignificant and cumulative and its admission harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is not an abuse of discretion to exclude the full recordings of a defendant's interviews with police when the recordings contain irrelevant, repetitive, and self-serving statements, testifying witnesses have first-hand knowledge of what was said in the interviews, and the defense has full access to the recordings and is permitted to cross-examine the witnesses about the interviews.

It is not an abuse of discretion to exclude defense exhibits where the defense failed to lay foundation showing the relevance of the exhibits and the exclusion of the exhibits did not impact the defense witness's testimony.

It is not an abuse of discretion to limit the scope of an expert witness's testimony to areas within the expert's area of expertise and first-hand knowledge.

The evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict.

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Ann Brom McCaughan, Asst. State Public Defender, Minneapolis, for appellant.

Michael A. Hatch, Atty. Gen., Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Atty., Mark Nathan Lystig, Asst. Ramsey County Atty., St. Paul, for respondent.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

GILBERT, Justice.

Following a jury trial in Ramsey County District Court, appellant, Vincent Stephen Bauer, was found guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder for the 1996 killing of his estranged wife. On this direct appeal, appellant asks us to review several of the trial court's evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion. He also asks us to determine whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the jury's verdict. We affirm.

The facts of this case are as follows: In the early morning hours of March 20, 1996, 5-year-old Jonathan Bauer knocked on the back door of his neighbors' house in Saint Paul. After being let into the house, Jonathan told his neighbor that something was wrong with his mother, Susan Bauer. The neighbor's husband went next door to investigate.

The front door to Ms. Bauer's house was open and a set of keys was in the outside lock. Upon entering the house, the neighbor found appellant, Ms. Bauer's estranged husband, standing in the doorway between the living room and kitchen with appellant's and Ms. Bauer's other two children. He then saw Ms. Bauer, obviously injured or dead, lying on a sofa bed in the living room. The neighbor called 911 from the phone in Ms. Bauer's kitchen. The paramedics arrived at Ms. Bauer's house shortly thereafter. After briefly examining Ms. Bauer, they concluded that she was already dead.

Saint Paul police and Dr. Michael McGee, an Assistant Ramsey County Medical

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Examiner, were called to the scene. They found Ms. Bauer on the sofa bed in the living room. A telephone cord and a metal coat hanger had been wrapped tightly around her neck. In addition to the injuries caused by these ligatures, investigators observed multiple soft tissue injuries on Ms. Bauer's face, neck, chest, and hands, and an L-shaped abrasion on her left calf. After conducting an autopsy, Dr. McGee determined that the cause of Ms. Bauer's death was "[a]sphyxia due to ligature strangulation" and that Ms. Bauer was most likely killed between 10:00 p.m. on March 19 and 12:00 midnight on March 20, 1996.

Appellant did not testify at trial, but in several interviews with police gave his version of the events surrounding Ms. Bauer's killing. Appellant and Ms. Bauer began dating in 1984, were married in 1988, and separated in early 1996. They had three children. In January 1996, Ms. Bauer filed for and was granted an order for protection prohibiting appellant from having contact with her. Despite this order, Ms. Bauer willingly continued to have contact with appellant and permitted him to have contact with the children.

Appellant said that he was at Ms. Bauer's house on the afternoon of March 19, 1996 but left at approximately 2:30 p.m. He said that from there, he went to a dentist's office in Newport where Ms. Bauer had a dentist appointment. Appellant stated that from the dentist's office, he went to a shopping mall in West Saint Paul where he purchased clothes for his children and then went to a bar in North Saint Paul where he played pool until late in the night. After leaving the bar, he went to the trailer home of a friend in Oakdale, where he was residing. One of the other tenants of the trailer confirmed that appellant returned there at approximately 12:15 a.m. on March 20.

Appellant said that he went to Ms. Bauer's house on the morning of March 20 to drop off the clothes he had purchased for his children. According to appellant, when he arrived at Ms. Bauer's house he saw the front door open. Appellant said that he then entered the house and saw Ms. Bauer lying on the sofa bed. He touched Ms. Bauer's face to see if she was all right, but found that she was already dead. Appellant said that he then sent one of his children to the neighbor's house for help while he got the other children dressed.

When asked if he knew who had killed his wife, appellant told the police that he suspected Quang Tran, the boyfriend of Rebecca Haas, a friend of Ms. Bauer's. Appellant suggested that Tran was upset with Ms. Bauer for interfering in Tran's and Haas' relationship.

At appellant's trial, the jury heard of several instances of Tran's past violent behavior. Both the defense and the state placed particular emphasis on the events of March 17, 1996, two to three days before Ms. Bauer's killing. On that date, Tran called Ms. Bauer's house several times looking for Haas. When Ms. Bauer informed him that Haas was not there, Tran became angry and threatened to kill both Haas and Ms. Bauer. Ms. Bauer then called the police, who arrived and took a statement from Ms. Bauer. Sometime after the phone calls, Haas and her children arrived at Ms. Bauer's house for dinner. After dinner, as Haas was preparing to leave, Tran arrived at Ms. Bauer's house and began smashing the windows of Haas' car with a hammer. Ms. Bauer called the police, but Tran fled before they arrived. Haas gave the police Tran's address, but Tran was not at home when officers went there to investigate.

According to police records, at 11:45 p.m. that same evening, Ms. Bauer called 911 and reported having just heard a window break in the front of her house. Police records indicate that an officer was dispatched to Ms. Bauer's house at 11:53 p.m. and arrived at 11:56 p.m. The officer discovered that a piece of brick with a note

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attached had been thrown through Ms. Bauer's window. The unsigned note read:

My Family not you bisness. You F**k with me to much time. My kid say you no have husband no mor So you lonely me and my Friend come F**k you OK? He have long hair you like him. you stay away bich or I F**k you OK. I not joking.

Ms. Bauer said that she suspected Tran had written the note. The officer attempted to locate Tran at Haas' house, but Tran was not there.

On the morning of March 20, after discovering Ms. Bauer's body, the police located Tran and interviewed him in connection with the March 17 brick throwing incident and Ms. Bauer's killing. Tran told the officers that he was at work from approximately 11:00 p.m. on March 17 to approximately 7:00 a.m. on March 18. Tran's employer verified that computer records from March 17 indicated that Tran's electronic access card had been used at Tran's place of employment multiple times during that time period. As for the evening of Ms. Bauer's killing, March 19, Tran told the police that he was at home watching videos.

Tran was arrested but was released shortly thereafter because of a lack of evidence. Prior to releasing Tran, the...

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