State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Warren James Northrup, Appellant.

State of Minnesota, Respondent, vs. Warren James Northrup, Appellant. A05-2309, Court of Appeals Unpublished, February 13, 2007.

This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2006).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A05-2309

 

State of Minnesota,
Respondent,

vs.

Warren James Northrup,
Appellant.

 

Filed February 13, 2007

Affirmed

Peterson, Judge

 

St. Louis County District Court

File No. K9-04-600330

 

Lori Swanson, Attorney General, Kelly O'Neill Moller, James P. Barone, Assistant Attorneys General, 1800 Bremer Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55101-2134; and

 

Melanie Sue Ford, St. Louis County Attorney, St. Louis County Courthouse, 100 North Fifth Avenue West, Suite 501, Duluth, MN  55802 (for respondent)

 

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Marie L. Wolf, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue Southeast, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN  55414 (for appellant)

 

            Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Crippen, Judge.*


U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

PETERSON, Judge

            This appeal challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction of attempted second-degree murder.  Appellant argues that evidence that he struck the victim twice in the head with a metal pipe and then continued kicking the victim in the head after the victim had collapsed to the ground was insufficient to prove intent to kill.  We affirm.

FACTS

            On Halloween in 2003, parties were going on at the homes of appellant Warren James Northrup and his neighbor, S.P.  The people at appellant's house periodically attended the party at S.P.'s house.  At some point, a group of people from S.P.'s house came over and pounded on the door of appellant's house and threatened the people inside.  The group left when appellant, holding a knife, tried to run out of his house toward them. 

            Later, the victim wandered into appellant's backyard.  The victim was the only person in the backyard at the time.  The people at appellant's house went outside and told the victim to leave.  The victim, who was stumbling back and forth and having trouble walking, left appellant's backyard and walked toward the front of the house.  Appellant and his friends went back into appellant's house, and the victim came into appellant's house through the front door. 

            Appellant testified that he was surprised and frightened when he saw someone come through the front door and rush at him, so he grabbed the closest object, which happened to be a metal pipe.  Appellant used the pipe to hit the victim on the head from behind.  Neither appellant nor the victim said anything before appellant hit the victim.  Appellant hit the victim on the head with the pipe a second time, and the victim fell to the floor.  Someone pulled appellant away from the victim, and another person grabbed the pipe.  Appellant got away from the person restraining him and stomped or kicked the victim on his head. 

            When the assault ended, the victim lay unconscious, bleeding profusely from the head.  Appellant testified that the incident happened very quickly, he was defending himself and his home, and he felt justified in what he did.  Appellant's girlfriend testified that she said to appellant, "[I]t's called anger management," and appellant replied, "[N]o, it's called stupid people doin' -- walkin' into my house, or comin' in my house." 

            Dr. Juhn Han was the on-duty physician when the victim was brought to the emergency room.  The victim was unresponsive.  A CT scan showed a displaced skull fracture on the left side, which means that the bones are separated, and bleeding under the scalp. 

            Dr. Robert Donley, a neurosurgeon, was called in to examine the victim.  On the CT scan, Donley observed extensive hemorrhages in the left hemisphere of the brain and extensive skull fractures in two specific areas.  Donley performed a craniotomy on the victim.  Donley removed bone fragments from the victim's brain but was unable to replace all of them because "there were too many pieces."  Donley testified that the skull fractures appeared to have resulted from a great deal of force.

            The victim was hospitalized for 18 days and underwent a total of three surgeries. As a result of the brain injury, the victim suffered from aphasia, which is a loss of ability to select or interpret words; anarthria, which is an inability to pronounce words and form logical sentences; and apraxia, which is a loss of memory skills.  It is possible that the learning disabilities may be permanent.  The victim has also been diagnosed with epilepsy caused by the scar tissue in his brain and had a grand-mal seizure in April 2005.  He has had to relearn how to walk and talk. 

            A jury found appellant guilty of attempted second-degree murder and first-degree assault.  The district court sentenced appellant to an executed term of 156 months in prison for the attempted-second-degree-murder conviction.  This appeal challenging the conviction followed.

D E C I S I O N

            The state must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt all of the essential elements of the crime with which the defendant is charged."  State v. Ewing, 250 Minn. 436, 442, 84 N.W.2d 904, 909 (1957).  In reviewing a claim of insufficient evidence in a criminal case, this court determines "whether, under the facts in the record and any legitimate inferences that can be drawn from them, a jury could reasonably conclude that the defendant was guilty of the offense charged."  State v. Race, 383 N.W.2d 656, 661 (Minn. 1986) (quotation omitted).  We review the evidence in the light most favorable to the conviction and "assume that the jury believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved any contrary evidence."  Id. (quotation omitted). [1]

            A person who "causes the death of a human being with intent to effect the death of that person or another, but without premeditation," is guilty of second-degree murder.  Minn. Stat. § 609.19, subd. 1(1) (2002).  "Whoever, with intent to commit a crime, does an act which is a substantial step toward, and more than preparation for, the commission of the crime is guilty of an attempt to commit that crime . . . ."  Minn. Stat. § 609.17, subd. 1 (2002).

            An essential element of attempted second-degree murder is that the defendant acted with intent to effect the death of a person.  "‘With intent to' . . . means that the actor either has a purpose to do the thing or cause the result specified or believes that the act, if successful, will cause that result."  Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 9(4) (2002). 

            Intent . . . is a permissible inference from all the facts and circumstances and is a jury question.  The task of inference is for the jury.  Where there is a question of whether the defendant intended to kill or only injure, any conclusion must be drawn from the totality of circumstances.  This includes the defendant's conduct and defendant's statements made at the time of the act.

 

State v. Alladin, 408 N.W.2d 642, 648 (Minn. App. 1987) (citations omitted), review denied (Minn. Aug. 12, 1987).  The "jury may infer that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of his actions and a defendant's statements as to his intentions are not binding on the jury if his acts demonstrated a contrary intent."  State v. Cooper, 561 N.W.2d 175, 179 (Minn. 1997).

            Appellant argues that a combination of circumstances, including the victim's intoxicated state and unannounced entry and the group of people that earlier had come to appellant's house and made threats, made it reasonable for him to feel fear when he realized that someone was in his house and presented a reasonable explanation for why he struck the victim in the head.  But appellant acknowledges that a reasonable jury could have found that, even if he was frightened by the victim entering his house, the amount of force used was not a reasonable response to the threatened harm. 

            Appellant struck the victim twice with a metal pipe, and the victim fell to the floor.  Someone grabbed the pipe.  Appellant then broke away from a person who was trying to restrain him and continued kicking or stomping on the victim's head.  The assault crushed the victim's skull and caused a brain injury.  When repairing the skull, a neurosurgeon was unable to replace all of the bone fragments because "there were too many pieces."  The most significant and lasting effects of the brain injury, some of which may be permanent, are that the victim had to relearn how to walk and talk and suffers from aphasia, anarthria, apraxia, and epilepsy.  Consistent with Donley's observation, the blows inflicted by appellant had to have been inflicted with a great deal of force to cause such a severe injury.

            Although appellant claims that he acted out of fear, there was evidence that he acted out of anger, including appellant's girlfriend's comment about "anger management," appellant's response, and appellant attempting to run out of the house with a knife to confront the group that had come to his house earlier.  Considering appellant's acts of repeatedly striking the victim with a metal pipe and kicking or stomping on the victim's head after he had fallen to the ground, together with the severity of the victim's injury, the jury could infer that appellant acted with the intent to effect the victim's death.  See Aladdin, 408 N.W.2d at 648 (rejecting defendant's argument that attack was "a sudden assault committed without the intent to kill" and upholding finding of intent to kill when defendant repeatedly attacked victim with a meat cleaver, attempted to strangle her, and continued striking her while blood ran down her face).

            Appellant argues that the jury may have been influenced by the prosecutor's emphasis of appellant's anger during closing argument.  But appellant does not argue that the prosecutor committed misconduct.  Appellant states that the prosecutor's argument "was less a dispassionate recounting of the evidence than a play to the passions and prejudices of the jury."  A prosecutor may argue reasonable inferences from evidence in the record and is not constrained to deliver a colorless argument.  State v. Porter, 526 N.W.2d 359, 363 (Minn. 1995).

            The evidence was sufficient to support appellant's conviction of attempted second-degree murder.

            Affirmed.


*   Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.

[1] Appellant cites the stricter standard of review applicable to convictions based solely on circumstantial evidence.  Although evidence of appellant's intent was circumstantial, the record contains direct evidence that appellant committed the acts causing the victim's injury.  See State v. Coley, 468 N.W.2d 552, 555 (Minn. App. 1991) (stating in sexual-assault case, that victim's uncontradicted testimony about what she experienced constituted direct evidence of the crimes at issue); see also Bernhardt v. State, 684 N.W.2d 465, 477 n.11 (Minn. 2004) ("Direct evidence is evidence that is based on personal knowledge or observation and that, if true, proves a fact without inference or presumption.") (quotations omitted)).