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Today, I am blogging from our Annette Levine Moot Court Room. Next Thursday, November 5, the seven justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court will sit at the bench behind me to hear the criminal case of State v. Swaney. I invite you to attend a brunch with the court followed by the oral argument. But first, let me tell you a little about the case.
In May 2001, 20-year-old Carrie Nelson was bludgeoned to death during a robbery in a state park office where she worked near Luverne, MN. Fingerprints were found. There was also DNA evidence taken from a watch which appeared to be ripped from someone's arm at the scene. But otherwise, the evidence trail was cold.
Six years later, BCA contacted law enforcement officers in other states and asked them to check their databases for possible matches with the DNA profiles taken from the watch found at the crime scene. BCA got a response from authorities in South Dakota who had found a possible DNA match with Randy Swaney. That information led BCA investigators to match a palm print and fingerprints found in the park office where Nelson was murdered. Later, BCA identified witnesses who could testify that Swaney smoked a brand of cigarettes found at the scene and owned a similar watch.
In May 2007, Swaney was charged with the first-degree murder of Carrie Nelson. Before his trial, another prisoner named Anthony Flowers told others that he (Flowers) was responsible for the murder of a state park worker. But Flower's DNA and fingerprints did not match any evidence found at the scene. The trial judge allowed defendant Swaney to offer evidence that Flowers was the perpetrator, but did not allow the defendant to offer evidence that Flowers had kidnapped and released another women just three weeks before Carrie Nelson's murder.
The trial judge also allowed an investigator to testify about his interrogation of Swaney's wife Dawn, even though she did not testify at trial. For example, over the defendant's hearsay objection, the jury heard that the investigator questioned the wife as to where Swaney had purchased the watch.
In August 2008, after a four-week jury trial, Swaney was found guilty of first-degree murder of Carrie Nelson and was immediately sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Swaney appealed is conviction to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
There are several trial errors presented by defendant Swaney to the court, but the two central issues appear to be:
First: whether the trial court erred in not allowing the defendant to show that the alternative perpetrator Flowers had previously kidnapped another woman; and
Second: whether the trial court erred in permitting the investigator to testify about his questioning of Swaney's wife when the questions implied hearsay answers that were not subject to cross examination.
These are fascinating evidentiary issues that will be the subject of a lively argument in this moot court room next Thursday when the Minnesota Supreme Court visits the Hamline law campus.
Before the oral argument, there will be a brunch at Klas Center in the Kay Fredericks Room, at 9:30 a.m.
You are all invited to the brunch and to the oral argument. Now, your attendance at this important event should be a no-brainer. Think about it. Even after you graduate from law school, how many chances will you have to observe a Supreme Court argument? And how many times will you be able to converse and shake the hands with a justice? Do you get my point here?
So please RSVP right away with Deb Lange at firstname.lastname@example.org and join us next Thursday, November 5.
One other tip: please dress up. This is after all a court appearance.
See ya next week.