State v. Caldwell

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation322 NW 2d 574
Docket Number51505.,No. 49437,49437
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Roger Sipe CALDWELL, Appellant, and Roger Sipe CALDWELL, Petitioner, Appellant, v. STATE of Minnesota, Respondent.
Decision Date06 August 1982

322 N.W.2d 574 (1982)

STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,
Roger Sipe CALDWELL, Appellant, and
Roger Sipe CALDWELL, Petitioner, Appellant,
STATE of Minnesota, Respondent.

Nos. 49437, 51505.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

August 6, 1982.

322 NW 2d 576

Robert D. Goodell and Douglas W. Thomson, St. Paul, for appellant.

Warren Spannaus, Atty. Gen., St. Paul, Alan L. Mitchell, County Atty., John E. DeSanto and Mark S. Rubin, Asst. County Attys., Duluth, for respondent.

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

AMDAHL, Chief Justice.

This is a consolidated appeal by Roger Sipe Caldwell from his first-degree murder conviction and from the denial of his motion for a new trial on the ground of newly-discovered evidence. We reverse and remand.

Roger Caldwell was arrested on July 6, 1977, in connection with the June 27 murders of Elisabeth Congdon, an elderly Duluth heiress, and her nurse, Velma Pietila. On August 5, 1977, a St. Louis County grand jury indicted him on two counts of murder in the first degree. Because of the extensive publicity surrounding the matter, Caldwell moved for and was granted a change of venue to Crow Wing County. He was found guilty as charged and was given two consecutive life sentences. His wife, Marjorie Caldwell, subsequently was arrested and charged with aiding and abetting and conspiracy to commit murder. She was tried and acquitted of all charges.

Appellant married Marjorie Congdon LeRoy, the adopted daughter of Elisabeth Congdon, in 1976, shortly after Marjorie moved to Colorado. Both had been married previously. Marjorie was one of the beneficiaries of several trusts established by the Congdon family, some of which were to terminate at specified times after the death of Elisabeth Congdon. The total value of the inheritance that Marjorie was eventually to receive as a result of the death of Elisabeth Congdon was estimated at $8,200,000. At the time of the murders, Marjorie was receiving trust income of $22,000 per year from one of the trusts, and appellant was unemployed.

Marjorie Caldwell had a history of extravagant spending. By the spring of 1977, the Caldwells were in serious financial trouble. They had purchased property that they intended to use as a horse ranch, but they were unable to make the payments and lost the property. They then moved into the Holland House Hotel in Golden, Colorado, where they lived until June 28, 1977, when they went to Duluth for Elisabeth Congdon's funeral. Despite their financial problems, they bought a horse for Rick LeRoy, Marjorie's 16-year-old son for $5,500. In January of 1977, the Caldwells also purchased some turquoise and silver jewelry for $3,500, and took a vacation at a mountain resort at a cost of $5,100. The check that appellant gave the resort was returned, however, because the account had been closed.

On May 25, 1977, appellant went to Duluth, intending to try to obtain from the Congdon trustees $750,000 with which to purchase a ranch and a $50,000 loan to pay debts. Appellant brought with him two letters from Rick LeRoy's doctor that stated living on a ranch would benefit Rick's health. One of them, which falsely stated that Rick had cystic fibrosis and was involved in testing an experimental drug for the FDA, later proved to have been forged. The trustees turned down appellant's request for funds.

The Caldwells had previously received an insurance settlement of $74,000 to compensate them for property that had been stolen from their home. The check had been issued to Marjorie Caldwell and two copayees to whom Marjorie owed $51,000. After receiving the check, the Caldwells persuaded the insurance company to reissue it to Marjorie and a fictitious payee. Appellant then endorsed the check to Marjorie in the name of the fictitious payee. On June 1, he told Marjorie's cousin, Thomas Congdon, who

322 NW 2d 577
was one of the trustees of the Congdon trusts as well as a beneficiary, that he was worried that criminal charges would arise from this matter and from the bad check he gave the resort. At a second meeting with Congdon on June 18, appellant told Congdon that they had no money, and he requested $25,000 from the trusts to hire F. Lee Bailey to represent them in connection with their financial difficulties. The following day, Thomas Congdon gave the Holland House Hotel a personal check for $400 to keep the Caldwells from being evicted from their rooms

On June 20, 1977, the Golden State Bank in Golden, Colorado, repossessed the Caldwells' three cars. An arrangement was made with the bank whereby Rick LeRoy was allowed to use one of the cars for transportation to work if he returned it to the bank parking lot every night. On June 22, a gas station attendant took from appellant and Rick LeRoy a Carte Blanche credit card that had been obtained in the name of E. M. Congdon. The Caldwells had run up $756.85 on the account, which was never paid. On the following day, Marjorie Caldwell and appellant pawned some jewelry and received in return a check for $3,000. They cashed the check at a bank, receiving $10 and $20 bills. Some of this money was used to pay overdue horse boarding bills.

Despite these difficulties, Marjorie Caldwell continued to look for real estate to buy. She attempted to enter into several purchase agreements in early 1977, which soon fell through when the Caldwells failed to make payments. Nevertheless, on the weekend preceding the murders, Marjorie asked her real estate agent to show her certain property with a sale price of $1,300,000.

On Friday, June 24, Rick LeRoy found a note from appellant on his bed at the Holland House Hotel. The note stated that appellant and Marjorie would be with real estate people all day Saturday and Sunday and that Rick could stay out until 12:30 both nights. Accompanying the note was $50 in cash, which appellant left for Rick to use for dates and gasoline. The real estate agent never saw appellant during that weekend. Rick LeRoy did not see him between Wednesday, June 22, and Monday, June 27, although he claimed to have seen two bodies sleeping in the bed in his mother's room at about 1:30 a. m. on June 27.

At about 7:00 on the same morning, Elisabeth Congdon's day nurse discovered the body of Velma Pietila on the landing on the main stairway of the Congdon mansion in Duluth. She ran to Elisabeth Congdon's bedroom and found Miss Congdon lying dead with a pillow covering her face. Police found strands of hair clutched in both of Velma Pietila's hands, a dark-colored nylon stocking tied around her left wrist, and a damaged candlestick near the body. An autopsy showed that Pietila had died of a skull fracture and loss of blood. An autopsy of Elisabeth Congdon's body revealed that the bruises on her body were inflicted shortly before her death. Marks on her left wrist and little finger indicated that she had worn a watch and a ring that were removed after she died. Miss Congdon was determined to have died of suffocation at approximately 2:00 on the morning of June 27.

Upon searching the mansion, police discovered what they suspected to be the intruder's point of entry. A pane of glass in the upper sash of a basement window was broken, and a mark that appeared to have been caused by a foot impression was found on a sofa underneath the broken window. During an experiment conducted at appellant's trial, a police officer whose arm was smaller in circumference than appellant's was unable to reach through the broken window and unlatch the sash without dislodging a piece of glass. Various parts of the mansion were dusted for fingerprints. Police found no latent fingerprints in Miss Congdon's bedroom, but discovered a small, poor-quality latent print on the candlestick. Appellant was eliminated as a possible source of this fingerprint, and none of his fingerprints were found elsewhere in the Congdon home. However, an analysis of hairs found near Velma Pietila's body showed that they "could have" been appellant's

322 NW 2d 578
hairs. Bloodstains that were collected from the bathroom and the stairway were compared with blood samples taken from Pietila, Congdon, and appellant. All were discovered to have type O blood. Blood found on a pillowcase near Miss Congdon's head had one of the same enzyme types as appellant's

The car that Velma Pietila drove to the Congdon mansion on the night of June 26 was missing when the police arrived the following morning. A maintenance man discovered the keys to that car in a trash can at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at 8:30 a. m. The police found the car itself at 11 a. m. in the airport's short-term parking lot, and they discovered the parking ticket for the car in the same trash can in which the maintenance man found the keys. The time stamped on the ticket was 6:35 a. m. No fingerprints were found on the ticket, and the only fingerprint in the car that was identified proved to be that of Mrs. Pietila's husband. A blood stain of Type O blood was found on the floor of the car.

At 9:30 on the same morning, appellant came into the Golden State Bank in Golden, Colorado to notify a loan officer, John Hannagan, that Rick LeRoy had to take one of the Caldwell cars from the bank parking lot at an earlier time than usual in order to get to work by 8:30.1 Hannagan noticed nothing unusual about appellant's demeanor or appearance.

At approximately 1:45 that afternoon, Bertha Huskins, the desk clerk at the Holland House Hotel, received a telephone call from appellant. He instructed her to leave a message for Marjorie to pick him up. When Ms. Huskins asked him where Marjorie should go, appellant replied, "It doesn't matter, she knows."

At 7:00 on the morning of Tuesday, June 28, appellant telephoned the owner of the Wild Wood Farms, where the Caldwells boarded a horse, and stated that his mother-in-law had been killed and that the inheritance "of about $10,000,000" would cover the bills and the purchase of a horse for Rick. Later...

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