State v. Licari, C2-01-290.

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation659 N.W.2d 243
Docket NumberNo. C2-01-290.,C2-01-290.
PartiesSTATE of Minnesota, Respondent, v. Craig Robert LICARI, Petitioner, Appellant.
Decision Date17 April 2003

659 N.W.2d 243

STATE of Minnesota, Respondent,
Craig Robert LICARI, Petitioner, Appellant

No. C2-01-290.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

April 17, 2003.

659 N.W.2d 246
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Michael F. Cromet, Asst. Public Defender, attorneys for Craig Robert Licari, appellant

Mike Hatch, Atty. Gen., Thomas R. Ragatz, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jeffrey R. Edblad, Isanti County Atty., attorneys for State of Minnesota.

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


HANSON, Justice.

Appellant Craig Robert Licari (appellant) was charged with one count of second-degree intentional murder in connection with the death of his wife, Nancy Licari. Police discovered much of the evidence upon which appellant was convicted during a warrantless search of a storage unit rented by appellant. Appellant challenged the constitutionality of the search of the storage unit. The district court denied his motion to suppress, finding that the manager of the storage unit had actual authority to consent to the search. After a court trial on stipulated evidence, the district court found appellant guilty and sentenced him to 330 months in prison. The court of appeals affirmed on other grounds, holding that the manager did not have actual authority to consent to the search but that the investigating officer reasonably relied upon the apparent authority of the manager to consent to the search. See State v. Licari, No. C2-01-290, 2002 WL 4574, at *4-5 (Minn.App. Jan.2, 2002). We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand to the district court for further proceedings.

A. Missing Persons Report

On Saturday, April 24, 1999, Janet Hennes called the Isanti County sheriff's office to report that her sister, Nancy Licari, was missing. Deputy Sheriff Jim Johnson responded to Hennes's call and also talked to Nancy's mother, Kathleen Smith. Smith told Johnson that Nancy had not returned from a dinner meeting with appellant; her estranged husband, the previous evening; that Nancy had driven Smith's Ford Tempo to the meeting; and that Smith had expected Nancy to return in just a few hours.

The next day, Nancy's family reported that they had found a letter written by appellant that hinted strongly that he was suicidal. Isanti County Investigator Kory Erickson, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) Special Agent Jon Hermann and other officers swept the vicinity of the cafe at which appellant and Nancy reportedly had met on April 23, but they did not find appellant, Nancy or their automobiles. On Monday, April 26, Erickson and Hermann obtained information about Nancy's credit cards, which they used to try to locate her. Erickson then put out a Minnesota Crime Alert notification to local bars, restaurants and motels, requesting that anyone who had seen the missing persons or their cars call 911.

659 N.W.2d 247
Nancy's relatives and appellant's sister also told Investigator Erickson that appellant and Nancy were renting a storage unit at Big Closet Mini Storage (Big Closet), south of Isanti. Nancy's family told Erickson that Nancy made the payments on the unit, kept personal belongings in the unit, and usually held the key to the unit. The family did not have the key to the unit at that time; they told Erickson that Nancy had recently given the key to appellant. Erickson enlisted Isanti County Investigator Michael Ammend to check out the storage unit, telling him that the family had given Erickson permission to look inside the storage unit

B. Storage Unit Search

On the afternoon of Tuesday, April 27, Ammend met with Karen Eaves and learned that she was the manager of Big Closet. Eaves told Ammend that Nancy and appellant had rented a storage unit at Big Closet, that Eaves had a key to the unit, and that appellant was "the sole person on the lease." According to Ammend's testimony, "[Eaves] stated something about it's on the contract where they have a right to go into the storage shed whenever they—whenever they want, I guess, is the way—I don't remember her exact words, but that was the gist of it." Eaves then led Ammend to the storage unit. Ammend later testified that he hoped to find something in the storage unit "to indicate where [Nancy and appellant] might have been or have gone;" he did not feel that he was investigating a crime but rather was performing a "cursory search for the family." However, the Minnesota Crime Alert notification had warned that "[s]uspect [appellant] wrote note with [s]uicide & death!!!"

Eaves unlocked the outer gate surrounding the facility and then removed the lock from the door to appellant's unit. While still standing outside, Ammend opened the garage-style door to the unit and looked inside. On the floor of the storage unit, Ammend saw a blue object that he recognized as either a blanket or a sleeping bag. Next to the blue object was a pillow with a "reddish-brown substance on it." Upon seeing this substance, Ammend stepped into the unit to see what was under the pillow. From a vantage point "two or three steps" inside the unit, he saw "what appeared to be the top of a head which had hair and [a] lot of reddish-brown substance on the head." Ammend concluded that the reddish-brown substance was blood.

Ammend testified that he immediately exited the unit "at that point [because] it appeared to be a crime scene." He told Eaves to leave and then secured the unit with crime scene tape. Next, Ammend notified Investigator Erickson and Special Agent Hermann of what he had found. Upon arriving at the scene, Hermann stepped into the unit to confirm that the person inside was in fact dead. Aside from these intrusions by Hermann and Ammend, no one entered the unit until Erickson and another investigator obtained a search warrant. The affidavit supporting the warrant summarized the investigation to this point, including the discovery of a body in the storage unit.

When Isanti County and state BCA officers later entered the storage unit with the warrant, they determined the body was that of Nancy Licari. She had been severely beaten about the face. They also found a baseball bat with Nancy's blood on it and a tennis shoe print in the victim's blood.

C. The Arrest

On Wednesday, April 28, investigators traveled to Minneapolis after learning that someone had been using Nancy's credit

659 N.W.2d 248
cards to buy jewelry and videocassette recorders at two Target stores in Minneapolis. They met with security personnel at the stores and requested documentation of those transactions. The Target personnel told police that a man had caused a problem at Target because he was trying to buy jewelry with a card that had Nancy's name on it. The investigators left behind a photo of appellant and asked Target staff to assist the police in locating him

Agent Hermann testified that he then visited a nearby pawnshop and acquired records showing that appellant had pawned a videocassette recorder there. Investigators also learned that a car matching the description of Kathleen Smith's Ford Tempo had been seen parked on a street in south Minneapolis.

Finally, a manager from one of the Target stores they had visited contacted the investigators to announce that store security had apprehended and were detaining appellant. The apprehension and detention was executed by an off-duty Minneapolis police officer who had seen the information on appellant (including a photograph) left behind by the investigators. The officer acknowledged that he had no other grounds to arrest appellant because appellant was not committing any crime in Target; he testified that he made the arrest based on the "probable cause pick-up" request left by the BCA. The officer searched appellant and found he was carrying the keys to the Big Closet storage unit, as well as Nancy's credit cards. The hat and clothing appellant was wearing were stained with blood.

When investigators searched the Ford Tempo, they discovered a purse, a wallet, a driver's license and a jacket belonging to Nancy. They also found a partial package of "Swisher Sweets;" crime scene investigators had found the same cigars at the storage unit.

D. Additional Investigation

After the arrest, investigators reviewed computer records from the Big Closet security system which showed that appellant had entered and exited the storage facility on April 23. The investigators also confirmed that the blood on appellant's clothes matched Nancy's blood, appellant's fingerprints matched those found on the bat, and one of the shoes appellant was wearing matched the shoe print found in the storage unit.

Some time after the arrest, the Isanti investigators acquired surveillance videotape and sales records from the Target stores and the pawnshop, which showed appellant buying videocassette recorders at the stores and pawning them at the pawnshop.

On May 3, investigators obtained a copy of the rental agreement for the Big Closet unit. The agreement provided, in pertinent part:

Relocation. Lessor reserves the right to relocate Lessee, without expense to Lessee, to any compartment of comparable size.
Access to Premises. Lessor and its employees and agents shall have the right to enter the premises at all reasonable times for the purpose of inspection, cleaning, repairing, altering or improving the premises or the building; however, Lessor shall not thereby unreasonably interfere with Lessee's use of said premises.

E. Procedural History

Appellant was charged with second-degree intentional murder. He filed suppression and dismissal motions challenging the constitutionality of the search of the storage unit. The district court denied

659 N.W.2d 249
appellant's motions, reasoning that because the rental agreement gave Big Closet manager Eaves the right to enter the storage unit for purposes of "inspection," she had the actual authority to consent to Investigator Ammend's search of the unit. Further, the court held that Ammend's observation through the open door of blood on the pillow fit...

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