The Little Canada man convicted earlier this month of manslaughter for fatally shoving another man into oncoming traffic should be retried, his attorney said.
In a motion filed Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court, attorney Bruce Rivers wrote that Michael J. Merten III should receive a new trial for the following reasons: interests of justice, the accident or surprise could not have been prevented by ordinary prudence, and because the conviction was not justified by the evidence, or was contrary to the law.
A jury convicted Merten on Nov. 12 of first-degree manslaughter and acquitted him of second-degree murder with intent and second-degree murder without intent while committing a felony.
Jurors were confused by the law, Rivers said Wednesday, and should have acquitted Merten of manslaughter if they found no evidence to convict on the felony murder counts. Elements required for a second-degree murder or manslaughter conviction are the same, he said.
"The very thing they used to acquit him of felony murder is what they used to convict him of manslaughter," Rivers said. "They would have to have found that my client acted with the intent to cause bodily harm" to convict him of either murder or manslaughter.
Evidence at trial showed that on the evening of Aug. 20, Merten, 41, became embroiled in an argument with Preston Hilgren, who called his father, Robert Hilgren, 47, for backup. The three men tussled on the frontage road of a mobile home park in Little Canada off of Rice Street just north of County Road B2. Merten lived in the park, and the Hilgrens had been visiting friends there that evening.
Preston Hilgren fled soon after his father arrived. Witnesses testified that Merten ran across Rice Street followed by Robert Hilgren. Merten and Robert Hilgren bumped chests in the middle of the road. At one point, Merten pushed Robert Hilgren, who was struck and killed by an SUV.
Rivers has contested that Merten acted in self-defense, an argument bolstered by one 911 caller who said that it appeared as if Merten was trying to run from the fight and ask passing motorists for help.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Rachel Kraker told jurors that Merten started the scuffle with Preston Hilgren and then finished the fight by running into the street and calling out for Robert Hilgren. Robert Hilgren's wife and a motorist both testified that Merten's push seemed timed with the arrival of an SUV.
The motion is expected to be heard in court sometime before Merten's sentencing on Dec. 23.
If a new trial is granted, Merten would only be retried on the manslaughter count and not the two murder counts.
At trial, it was Rivers who offered the manslaughter count as an option for jurors to consider. The move is available to defense attorneys in such cases, and is not unusual.
Asked why he presented the option given the possible legal confusion, Rivers said, "The defense has a duty to ask for lesser [charge] if it makes sense to, and I thought it made sense in this case."
Police are investigating the armed robberies of Walgreens locations in White Bear Lake and Maplewood that happened back-to-back Friday.
A short time later, a Walgreens in White Bear Lake was robbed by a suspect with a similar description. Investigators from the Maplewood and White Bear Lake police are working to determine if the robberies are connected with others in the metro area.
Anyone with information about the suspect is asked to call 651-767-0640 or 9-1-1. Anonymous text message tips can be sent by texting the word Maplewood and the tip information to TIP411 (847411).
A St. Paul city vehicle was stolen from a work site Monday, and when it was recovered, the city employee's sandwich was also missing.
Bana Nong, 31, whose residence is unknown, allegedly took the city-owned 2014 Ford Focus from Seventh and Wabasha streets, according to one count of motor vehicle theft filed against him Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court.
According to the complaint: A city public works employee parked the car in the area so he could inspect a construction site. He left the car running and its orange strobe light activated. The employee was walking in front of the car when he heard a car door close.
"...he turned to see the Focus driving the wrong way down Wabasha Street," the complaint said.
The employee activated the car's global positioning system to help police trace its location.
Police stopped the Ford Focus on Selby Avenue near Mackubin Street and arrested Nong.
"[The city employee] recovered the car and indicated that a sandwich was missing from his lunch box and that the orange strobe light had been disabled and possibly broken," the complaint said.
Nong allegedly told police that he took the car, then said he didn't want to speak any more, ending the interview.
Nong was cited for theft in a September incident for allegedly stealing a $28.99 bottle of liquor from 1st Grand Avenue Liquors in St. Paul.
A St. Paul man stuffed burning mail into the mail slot of a local fire station and urinated on the front steps, according to charges filed Thursday in Ramsey County District Court.
Marc O. Norberg, 60, allegedly told police that he thought there was a vacuum space inside the station and wanted to see if a fire would be contained in it. Norberg is charged in Ramsey County District Court with one count of attempted first-degree arson for the May 30 incident.
According to the complaint: St. Paul firefighters returned to their station at 860 Ashland Avenue about 4 a.m. that day. They had been on a call, and were gone for five minutes.
"Upon their return, they smelled smoke coming from the front entrance of the station," the complaint said. "When they went to check it out, they found a rug on fire just inside the front door."
The firefighters extinguished the flames and discovered Norberg stand outside by the front door.
"It appeared that Norberg had also urinated on the front steps leading to the door," the complaint said.
Police arrested Norberg, who was allegedly captured on in-squad video admitting to starting the fire.
In a police interview later that day, Norberg allegedly said he used his cigarette lighter to light some mail and then stuffed it through the fire station mail slot. Norberg told police he thought the fire station contained a vacuum space inside.
"He said he knocked on the door and rang the buzzer, and nobody came to the door," according to the complaint. "Later in the interview, in response to questions about whether he intended to hurt anybody by setting the fire, he said he wasn't trying to hurt anybody or burn the building down, but he was trying to get their attention. He believed there was someone in the building. When asked what he thought someone would be doing if they were in the building at 4:00 in the morning, he said, 'sleeping.' "
Norberg told police that he was on medication for a depressive condition, and had to leave his apartment nearby because the building was condemned.
A St. Paul woman stole a store owner's cell phone while he was helping a disabled customer, according to charges filed Wednesday.
Dasheron D. Sinclair, 22, allegedly high fived a friend after taking the phone from the owner of Chick N Chips on Rice Street. Sinclair is charged in Ramsey County District Court with two counts of misdemeanor theft.
According to the complaint: On June 15, Sinclair entered the store with a woman and two men. The group ordered food at the counter. Surviellance video showed that the store owner was helping a disabled customer near the front counter. The store owner placed his cell phone on the counter.
"The video further showed one of the females, Dasheron Dane Sinclair (DOB 10-02-92), the defendant herein, taking the cell phone from the counter, concealing it in her shirt, and exiting the store," the complaint said.
Sinclair high fived one of the men on the way out, according to the charges.
The store owner followed the women to Sinclair's home and called police. When she was quesitioned by police, Sinclair denied having the phone. She then allegedly said she sold the phone for $200. Sinclair was arrested and taken to the Ramsey County jail, where under futher questioning she denied stealing the phone.