The prosecutors who want to put Brian G. Fitch away in the coldblooded shooting of Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick will be allowed to use evidence that Fitch allegedly made threats to kill witnesses to the crime, a judge ruled Thursday.
Defense attorneys had wanted to exclude that evidence and had filed a motion to suppress it, but Dakota County District Judge Mary Theisen denied their motion, saying the alleged witness assassination plot speaks to a "consciousness of guilt" on Fitch's part.
Her decision came after arguments Thursday from defense attorney Gordon Cohoes that the alleged plot was not relevant. "It's not a confession," he said in court.
Jurors would be "extremely terrified" of Fitch if they hear the allegations and might want to put him in prison simply to protect themselves, Cohoes said.
Fitch, 40, is accused of gunning down Patrick on July 30 and then engaging in a shootout with three St. Paul police officers hours later as they hunted him down. Fitch was shot eight times before he was captured.
Jury selection began Monday with some 93 prospective jurors summonsed to Stearns County District Court for the possibility of serving. Eleven jurors have been chosen so far after about 50 interviews; 12 jurors and two alternates are needed before the trial can begin. The case was moved to St. Cloud due to publicity surrounding the case in Dakota County.
Gun's origin suppressed
Theisen granted a defense motion Thursday to suppress evidence that the gun Fitch used was stolen. Prosecutor Phillip Prokopowicz said the gun was stolen from an Eden Prairie homeowner. Authorities determined that it passed through several hands before it wound up with Fitch, he said. Theisen said the gun's origin isn't relevant to the murder case, however.
Theisen delayed until Friday morning a ruling on another defense motion that seeks the identity of a confidential informant who spoke to police after officer Patrick's death.
Defense attorney Lauri Traub said she read a transcript that showed the informant may have some information that's beneficial to her client. Theisen didn't have a copy of the transcript, however, and said she would need one more day to review the record before making a ruling.
Details of plot
It was the defense motion on the alleged plot to kill witnesses that took the most time Thursday, with Cohoes arguing that the prosecution's plan to include it was "extremely prejudicial" and of limited value to the murder charge. "It does not make their case," he said.
The details of the plot came out in court Tuesday morning.
Fitch was in a medical facility at the Oak Park Heights prison when he allegedly drew a map showing the location of a witness' home and slipped it under the cell door of another inmate. Fitch also named two witnesses and spoke to the inmate about finding someone outside prison to have them killed, prosecutors said.
One of the named witnesses had told police that Fitch had said he would shoot a police officer if he were ever pulled over. The other witness had said Fitch was driving a green Grand Am on the day officer Patrick was shot. Video taken from officer Patrick's police car shows the license plate of the green Grand Am that he pulled over shortly before he was shot three times and killed.
"Yes, it's prejudicial," said prosecutor Prokopowicz, arguing to keep the murder plot evidence in the trial. "Every piece of evidence we put in is prejudicial."
Jury selection will continue Friday morning. Theisen said she expects to have a jury by the end of the day.