The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed a Minneapolis man's first-degree murder conviction for a 2006 gang-related slaying because a Hennepin County judge was wrong to exclude evidence that there could have been a different shooter.
The opinion released Wednesday means a likely retrial for Calvin Ferguson, 28, a member of the Rolling 30s Bloods who is serving a life sentence for the shooting death of Irene M. Burks, 22.
Burks, a nursing assistant, was shot as she walked into a house on the 2500 block of 12th Avenue S. in Minneapolis. Burks' friend and her 6-year-old daughter were at the doorway when prosecutors alleged Ferguson crossed the street and shot her.
According to the opinion, witnesses gave a somewhat vague description of the suspect. After Burks' mother heard information that the shooter was a man named "C.J." or "B.J.," Ferguson's street names, police prepared a photo lineup. Only one of three witnesses, Burks' friend, was able to pick Ferguson out of the six-person lineup. He was indicted for first-degree murder.
During Ferguson's trial, a cellmate in the Anoka County jail testified that Ferguson told him a fellow gang member called "Izzy" was supposed to shoot Burks, and if "Izzy (had) taken care of it, (Ferguson) wouldn't have had to do it." It was the only testimony that indicated why Burks was murdered.
In the appeal, Ferguson's attorneys argued that District Judge Margaret Daly violated his constitutional right to a complete defense when she denied a motion to introduce evidence that connected Christopher Jennings, an acquaintance of Burks, to the shooting.
Ferguson's attorneys argued that Jennings' initials are C.J., he was listed as C.J. in Burks' cellphone contacts, he had a tattoo of the letters C.J. on his arm, and Burks spoke to him on the phone three days before the shooting. His physical description was similar to Ferguson, and he also drove a car that matched a description of the car witnesses saw at the scene. He was also arrested for a gun violation that year but was not in jail when the shooting occurred.
The judge ruled that it was not enough foundation to produce evidence to the jury and denied the motion. The Supreme Court disagreed, saying the evidence pointed toward an "inherent tendency" to connect Jennings to Burks' murder. Because the jury might have reached a different verdict if it had known about the Jennings information, the Supreme Court concluded that it infringed on Ferguson's constitutional rights.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921