ST. CLOUD – A prisoner who briefly shared a cell with murder defendant Brian G. Fitch in December testified in Stearns County District Court on Wednesday that Fitch told him he wanted two people dead, both of them key witnesses in Fitch’s murder trial.
Claude Crockson, a 41-year-old inmate serving a sentence for assault and first-degree burglary, appeared in court in handcuffs and an orange prisoner’s jumpsuit. Asked to point out Brian Fitch, he raised his hands and pointed at the defendant.
“Do you know Brian Fitch?” asked prosecutor Richard Dusterhoft.
Crockson said he did, and told the story of how last December he had had surgery, ending up in a medical unit at Oak Park Heights prison. Fitch was there, too, recovering from eight gunshot wounds he sustained in a shootout with St. Paul police officers the day he was captured.
Fitch is charged with first-degree murder and three counts of attempted first-degree murder in the July 30 death of Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick. Fitch is accused of killing the 47-year-old officer during a routine traffic stop and then getting into a shootout with police.
Fitch told Crockson that he had a good “lick” (target for a robbery) — a woman in Oakdale.
“He didn’t want anything from the lick,” Crockson testified. “He just wanted them dead.”
The target, Crockson said, was Taya Moran, Fitch’s ex-girlfriend, who had become a witness for the state in his murder trial.
Moran testified last week that Fitch owned a black handgun with a laser sight. Her description matches the Smith & Wesson 9mm semi-automatic that authorities have said was used to kill Patrick. Moran testified last week that she and Fitch got into an argument so alarming that she called the Oakdale police. Fitch flipped out, she said in court, and in an emotional tirade the night before Patrick was killed, Fitch said he would shoot any police officer who pulled him over.
In court Wednesday, Crockson said Fitch drew a map of the Oakdale neighborhood where Moran lived at the time. A copy of the detailed map was shown in court, with a half-dozen businesses, street names and Moran’s apartment building all marked. There’s an “X” on the apartment building and the words “top floor” written next to it.
Crockson said he called police to tell them about the map, and it was eventually turned over to Bureau of Criminal Apprehension special agent Chris Olson. Olson said he drove the neighborhood described in the map and said it’s accurate.
Crockson said he never acted on the plan to rob and kill Moran, but Fitch gave him another name of someone he wanted dead: Laurie Pocock, the Mendota Heights woman who sold Fitch the green Grand Am he was allegedly driving when Patrick was killed. The car is plainly visible in video from Patrick’s squad car. The driver of the Grand Am cannot be seen.
Pocock testified last week that Fitch bought the car from her.
Crockson won’t get out of prison until 2020, but he denied defense attorney Lauri Traub’s suggestion that he turned in Fitch hoping to see the state reduce his prison sentence.
“You were a snitch before?” Traub asked.
“Yes,” said Crockson, but when Traub hinted that Crockson knew from his past experience that he would get a break, he pushed back.
“I didn’t get anything the first time,” he said. “I did it because my friend got killed. I don’t consider it snitching when somebody kills somebody close to me.”
Dusterhoft then asked Crockson why he called police to tell them about Fitch’s alleged plot to assassinate witnesses.
“To clear my name, that’s one reason,” Crockson said, before adding that Fitch likely regrets making the plan. “I figured Brian was thinking, ‘What was I thinking? I should be in prison bettering myself, not playing games,’ ” Crockson said.
BCA firearms examiner Kurt Moline testified Wednesday that the 9mm handgun found with Fitch when he was arrested was the same firearm used to kill Patrick. He said his examination of the gun and of the two bullets recovered from Patrick’s body proved a match.
Traub tried to discredit Moline’s testimony, questioning the science behind bullet identification and quoting from a national study that said forensics labs like Moline’s may have a bias toward law enforcement.
Moline said he had testified for the defense “a couple of times” in his career and for the prosecution about 130 times.
“It’s based on one person’s opinion,” Traub said. Moline agreed, but qualified his answer by saying that he uses scientific principles to arrive at his conclusions.
Earlier Wednesday, West St. Paul police Lt. Matt Swenke testified that Fitch, who was described as a drug dealer by his defense team in opening statements, made or received 2,300 phone calls or texts between July 15 and July 28. He switched to a new phone on July 28 and had about 300 more calls or texts before his arrest the evening of July 30.
Judge Mary Theisen concluded the day’s testimony with a message to the jurors: They’ll get to watch the Super Bowl. Saying she doesn’t want to interrupt their weekend plans, she won’t give them the case until Monday at the earliest.