The Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the murder conviction of a man who shot his father-in-law, rejecting a claim that the jury should have been given the option to convict him of "heat-of-passion" manslaughter.
Steven Bernard Radke is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the 2007 shooting death of Darrell Buesgens. Radke, whose estranged wife and children were staying with Buesgens, shot and killed him during a confrontation in his back yard in Emily, Minn.
Radke claimed he fired in self-defense after Buesgens, who was armed with a shotgun, approached him. Radke's estranged wife said Radke, who arrived at the rural home armed, shot her father, then ran inside and told her they were fleeing to Mexico. A Crow Wing County jury rejected Radke's self-defense claim and convicted him in 2009.
Radke appealed on multiple grounds, arguing in part that the trial judge should have given the jury a "heat-of-passion" instruction, allowing them to conclude that Radke's reason was clouded by fear.
The Supreme Court ruled that Radke's actions did not fit either element required for "heat-of-passion" manslaughter -- a killing in the heat of passion, caused by words or acts "that would provoke a person of ordinary self-control under the circumstances."
The Supreme Court reasoned that Radke's decisions to go to Buesgens' home, hide with a loaded rifle and chamber another round were rational decisions, not ones made in the heat of passion.
Because Radke was the aggressor, the court also rejected his claim that his lawyer should have presented evidence of Buesgens' reputation for violence and that prosecutors should not have withheld police reports from his father-in-law's past. The justices also ruled that he was not unfairly convicted because a prosecutor inflamed the jury by calling him "an enraged predator" and comparing him to Rambo.
Although Justice Alan Page acknowledged the language as "colorful," it was a reasonable way to convey the prosecutor's version of events, he wrote in the unanimous opinion.