Judge rejects new trial in murder of 11-year-old

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 28, 2007 - 8:58 PM

Testimony exonerating convicted killer Eugene Fort was deemed inaccurate and witnesses lacked credibility.

The mother of 11-year-old Marcus Potts exhaled in relief Friday because the man convicted of killing her son in 1990 failed to win a new trial despite contending that another man confessed.

"Whew!" said Verona Potts. "It's been a long two-week wait."

Eugene Fort was convicted in May of first-degree murder for stabbing Marcus 44 times on a snowy December night when the boy interrupted the crack dealer burglarizing the Potts' north Minneapolis home.

Footprints in the snow led to Fort's home a few doors down, and he was long considered the prime suspect. But it wasn't until recent years, when advanced testing could be done on blood drops collected at the Fort home, that the blood was found to be Marcus'.

Fort's attorney, Michael Colich, moved for a new trial soon after conviction on the grounds that Paul Rice, the killer's cousin, had confessed to fellow inmates that he was the perpetrator. Fort and his lawyers contend that Rice confessed in two incidents -- at the Hennepin County jail and at the Lino Lakes prison.

The hearing came more than three months after assistant prosecutors Judy Johnston and Steve Redding won a conviction based on the blood samples, Fort's confessions to inmates, inconsistent statements to police and sightings of Fort near the scene that night.

But Hennepin County District Judge Jay Quam found that the witnesses who testified on Fort's behalf at the hearing lacked credibility because they were inaccurate and inconsistent and because they failed to provide details. He found it unlikely that a new trial would yield a different result. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 8.

Quam's 20-page ruling said he was "mindful of the devastating impact" his decision would have on Fort, but the evidence presented for a new trial was lacking. Fort still can appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Two weeks ago, Quam conducted a daylong evidentiary hearing into whether Fort deserved a new trial. Fort wept as an inmate told Quam that Rice had confessed.

The judge determined that one inmate, David Carriger, actually heard Rice say he was being blamed for the crime even though he didn't commit it.

Quam's ruling said that although Tyrone Washington signed an affidavit saying he heard Rice say he had "popped" someone, he unequivocally said in testimony that he did not hear Rice confess to killing Marcus.

Quam determined that the central testimony to the case was from Anthony Lee, who claimed he heard the confession and placed the initial call to Colich's office. But the judge was troubled by Lee's claim that Rice confessed to having "shot a little boy." He noted that Lee repeatedly made the shooting reference to other inmates and he found no credible explanation for the inconsistency.

"If Mr. Rice were the actual killer and legitimately confessed, he would, at a minimum, accurately state the manner in which he committed the murder," Quam wrote.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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