A district judge ruled that the prosecution didn't prove its case in the fatal stabbing after a fight at a Chaska bar. The defendant, jailed for nine months, was freed.
A Carver County murder trial met an extraordinary end this week when the judge threw out the case midtrial, allowing the defendant to walk out of the courthouse a free man after being jailed for nine months.
Jesse J. Rogers, 32, was released an hour after being cleared of the second-degree murder charge Wednesday, after the prosecution rested its case. He was accused of fatally stabbing Jason Foster, 34, following a bar fight in Chaska in June.
The decision devastated Foster's family and stunned Carver County Attorney Mark Metz.
"It was taken out of the jury's hands," Metz said Thursday. "They are the pulse of the community to determine what's acceptable."
Rogers, of Minneapolis, told authorities all along that he was acting in self-defense when he grabbed a pocketknife and stabbed Foster in the head, chest and leg after the fight moved to the parking lot of Kelley's Bar. Rogers said he was hit in the face, then surrounded by five men outside near his car.
When he was arrested, he told police that he "did what he had to do" during the scuffle early on the morning of June 3. Foster, a regular at the bar, died later at a Chaska medical center.
At trial, prosecutors called about 20 witnesses to testify. When they wrapped up, defense attorney J. Anthony Torres and co-counsel Anita Jehl made a motion to dismiss the case. Carver County District Judge Richard Perkins granted the motion, deciding that the prosecution didn't prove its case with sufficient evidence and acquitting Rogers.
Joseph Daly, a professor at the Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, said it was an unusual call. "It's not done often, but it is done," he said. "It's legal and proper when the judge makes that determination."
Torres said the prosecutor's downfall was that the central witnesses were Foster's friends, who were involved in the initial altercation and later followed Rogers into the parking lot.
"What we had here was the circling of the wagons by [Foster's] friends to cover up what happened that night," he said. He said many of the witnesses were intoxicated that night, gave conflicting stories or often had "memory lapses." Torres said some witnesses were the assailants who admitted they formed a "half-moon" around Rogers, which forced him to back up, then defend himself.
Foster's family is upset by the outcome and did not want to be contacted for comment, Metz said.
"The family was obviously devastated and hurt and didn't understand why the jury didn't decide this case," he said. "I was shocked. I've never seen anything like it in my 15 years."
Kaitlyn Walsh is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.