650 N.W.2d 190 (Minn. 2002), C9-01-741, State v. Taylor

Docket NºC9-01-741.
Citation650 N.W.2d 190
Party NameSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Robert Marlyn TAYLOR, Appellant.
Case DateAugust 30, 2002
CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota

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650 N.W.2d 190 (Minn. 2002)

STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,

v.

Robert Marlyn TAYLOR, Appellant.

No. C9-01-741.

Supreme Court of Minnesota

August 30, 2002.

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Syllabus by the Court

1. Prosecutor did not knowingly engage in misconduct that reasonably could have influenced grand jury's decision to indict, and district court therefore properly denied criminal defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment based on claims that prosecutor improperly asked for an indictment on a lesser-included offense, made inappropriate arguments, improperly instructed grand jurors that they did not have all of the evidence, and presented evidence of prior bad acts.

2. On their face, depression and an indifferent attitude toward police are not inherently discriminatory reasons for peremptory strike of juror, and therefore the reasons offered by prosecutor for the strike were race-neutral.

3. District court's finding that criminal defendant did not carry his burden of proving that peremptory strike was motivated by racial discrimination was not clearly erroneous.

4. District court did not abuse its discretion by admitting a 911 tape into evidence that was relevant to criminal defendant's state of mind around the time of the murder and not unduly prejudicial, or in admitting evidence of an object found near victim's body that could not be ruled out as the murder weapon.

5. Circumstantial evidence of guilt excluded beyond a reasonable doubt any reasonable inference other than guilt, where the evidence provided a motive for criminal defendant to be angry with the victim and where blood spatter matching the victim's DNA was found on clothing criminal defendant admitted wearing on the night of the murder.

6. Given that closing argument reference to O.J. Simpson was made not so much to compare appellant to Simpson as to make allegations about police officers, and that comment was not a theme of closing argument, and where appellant failed to object to comment, we conclude comment does not constitute plain error that warrants new trial.

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Michael C. Davis, Special Asst. State Public Defender, St Paul, for Appellant.

Michael A. Hatch, Minnesota Atty. Gen., St. Paul, Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Atty., Michael Richardson, No. 91388, Asst. County Atty., Minneapolis, for Respondent.

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

OPINION

ANDERSON, RUSSELL A., Justice.

Appellant Robert Marlyn Taylor was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder for the killing of John Turner and sentenced to life in prison. In this direct appeal, he argues inter alia that the indictment should have been dismissed due to prosecutorial misconduct during grand jury proceedings, that the state's peremptory strike of a juror from the venire constituted purposeful racial discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, that the district court improperly admitted the recording of a 911 call into evidence, and that the evidence was insufficient to convict him. We affirm.

John Turner ran an antique business from his home in south Minneapolis, which was filled with antiques and collectibles, including antique tools. Turner also owned the house next door, which he rented to appellant's estranged wife and children. Appellant sometimes lived with his wife and did occasional odd jobs for Turner. On the evening of December 24, 1999, Turner had his daughters and a friend over for dinner. Turner planned to meet another friend for breakfast the next morning, but when the friend telephoned at breakfast time, he reached Turner's answering machine. When Turner failed to arrive at his wife's home 1 for Christmas dinner, his wife and daughter drove to his home and found his front door unlocked, several lights on inside, and the kitchen faucet running. They found Turner's body in a pool of blood, in the same clothing he wore the previous evening at dinner. Turner's wallet was missing.

Police noted signs of a struggle around the body. A round-handled metal "die stamp" 2--approximately 4 inches long and weighing 5 1/2 pounds--was found near the body. Blood found on the die stamp matched the DNA profile of Turner. A medical examiner concluded that Turner received eight blows to the head and face with a heavy object, that blunt force trauma caused Turner's death, and that the die stamp could have been the death weapon. Nearly every bone in Turner's skull was fractured. According to the medical examiner, the eight blows could have been accomplished within seconds, and the time of death was between 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. Turner had wounds on both hands that could be consistent with defensive wounds.

Appellant's sister Edith Taylor testified that appellant spent several hours cooking and drinking alcoholic beverages at her home in St. Paul on the afternoon of December 24. Appellant's sister Brenda Adams testified that around 9 p.m. that evening appellant had a few drinks at her home in St. Paul but that he was not intoxicated. Brenda and appellant argued

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over a family matter and appellant left. Soon Edith arrived at Brenda's house, intoxicated. Brenda asked Edith to leave, and Edith said she was going to go back home and, according to Brenda, "punch [appellant] in the head." Edith returned to her home to find appellant sleeping. Appellant woke up and argued with Edith, and Edith called 911 at approximately 12:50 a.m. Over the objection of defense counsel the recording of the 911 call was played for the jury, including the following exchange:

Edie: Stop it, Bobby ...

Bobby: You'll get it to ...

Edie: Stop don't try to cut me stop. Stop.

Male voice: Don't try to cut her, see you're drunk(commotion) (inaudible) * * *.

Bobby: I don't give a f---k about Brenda, f---k Brenda, I told you I've been having a dream, Brenda f---k me (inaudible) * * *.

* * * *

Edie: ... you hurt her feelings that was wrong.

Bobby: I'll go to Brenda's house. I'll slap Brenda's f---king face you know why?

Edie: You hurt Jenae's feelings ... Brenda's feelings.

Bobby: (inaudible) F---k Jenae ... F---k Jenae.

Later on the same tape, Edith and the 911 operator had this exchange:

Operator: Is he drunk?

Edie: Yes.

Operator: And you want him out of your home?

Edie: Yes, right away.

Operator: Okay. Has he been abusive at all Edith?

Edie: Yes.

Operator: Has he hit you?

Edie: Yes.

Operator: Okay with his hands or with another item? Hands?

Edie: Yes.

Operator: Anything else?

Edie: No.

Police were dispatched to Edith's home at 12:50 a.m., and appellant left after some protest. As he walked away he told police he was going to Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Brenda went to her father's home sometime after midnight to bring him his Christmas present and stayed at her father's house for an hour. Shortly after her arrival appellant knocked on the door. He identified himself, asked to be admitted, and said that he needed some help, but his father refused to admit him.

After discovering Turner's body, police canvassed Turner's neighborhood, initially speaking with appellant at his wife's home. Appellant told police that he went to Turner's house at about 2:30 a.m., Turner let him inside, and he unsuccessfully tried to call his wife. Appellant said he left after speaking with Turner for about ten minutes. In a second interview that day appellant told police he spent Christmas Eve at his sister's home and returned to his wife's home at about 2 a.m. but could not unlock the door. Seeing lights on in Turner's house, he asked Turner for a key to his wife's home, but Turner refused to give appellant a key because of recent marital problems between appellant and his wife. Appellant said that he went from Turner's house to the home of his friend Marion Anderson and stayed there most of the next day until he returned to his wife's home. During a third interview appellant added that he left St. Paul around 1:30 a.m. on a bus to Minneapolis and arrived at his wife's home 45 minutes to an hour later.

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Marion Anderson initially denied that appellant had been at his home on Christmas morning but later told police that appellant arrived at his house between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., appeared somewhat intoxicated, and wore a black leather jacket and bib overalls over blue jeans. The two men drank alcoholic beverages most of the day, and appellant bought more beer a few times using money he had in his wallet.

During their investigation of the crime scene, police collected a cigarette butt from Turner's kitchen sink. Turner's daughter testified that she cleaned his kitchen after dinner on Christmas Eve, that nothing was in the sink after she cleaned, and further that she would not have left anything in the sink. Appellant told police that he had smoked a Newport cigarette while at Turner's house and may have run water over it and put it in the garbage. DNA on the recovered cigarette matched neither appellant nor Turner, however.

During a fourth interview at the police station appellant said that on Christmas Eve he wore the same jeans he was wearing for the interview. Police asked whether he owned bib overalls, and appellant admitted he did, that he could have been wearing them on Christmas Eve, and that his two pairs of overalls were at his wife's house. During a break in the interview, police observed appellant brush the right sleeve of his leather jacket, then wet his finger and wipe the sleeve. Following the interview appellant was arrested. The leather jacket and a pair of overalls found at appellant's wife's house contained bloodstains. According to experts at trial the stains on the overalls were the result of "impact spatter," the overall's bloodstains matched the DNA profile of Turner, and the DNA profile "would not be...

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