ST. CLOUD – The state took six days, 55 witnesses and 136 pieces of evidence to present its case that Brian G. Fitch, during a routine traffic stop, murdered Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick last summer. Fitch’s defense attorneys, when it was their turn Thursday, put one item into evidence, called no witnesses and questioned Fitch just long enough for him to say he wouldn’t take the stand.
The last word from both sides will come Monday when jurors hear closing arguments. The delay was brought on by the Super Bowl. Dakota County District Judge Mary Theisen told jurors this week that she didn’t want the prospect of missing the game or any Super Bowl parties to be a distraction during their sequestered deliberations.
Patrick’s family members, about a dozen of whom sat through the entirety of the trial, said Thursday they would have no comment until they hear a verdict.
Patrick was killed July 30. Fitch, accused of the murder and of shooting at three police officers when he was captured in St. Paul hours after Patrick’s death, could go to prison for life if convicted. The trial was held in St. Cloud because of pretrial publicity.
State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension analyst McKenzie Anderson testified Thursday that bloodstains on the 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun found with Fitch when he was arrested yielded a DNA sample that matched Fitch. She also tested a cartridge case found on the floor of the Pontiac Grand Am that officer Patrick had stopped before he was killed, but there was not enough DNA on it to yield a result.
Anderson also took DNA samples from the Grand Am. The car belonged to Fitch, but in squad car videos shown to the jury during the trial, it’s impossible to see who’s in the car when the driver sticks a gun out the window and shoots Patrick three times.
The DNA samples from the Grand Am point to Fitch, but not conclusively. Defense attorney Lauri Traub, on cross-examination, said it shouldn’t be surprising to find Fitch’s DNA in the car, since he drove it.
Fitch’s fingerprints were found on the map he allegedly passed to another inmate at Oak Park Heights state prison last month, a state fingerprint expert testified. The map, which showed the home address of a key witness in the case, was part of Fitch’s scheme to have that witness killed, prosecutors said. BCA fingerprint expert Jennifer Kostroski said she found two fingerprints on the map that matched Fitch’s left index finger and left thumb.
Traub cast doubt on the fingerprints, as well, pointing to a 2006 admission by the FBI that it wrongly accused a Muslim lawyer in Oregon of participating in the 2004 Madrid train bombings due to an error in fingerprint analysis. The Brandon Mayfield case is well known among fingerprint experts, and Kostroski agreed when Traub asked her if fingerprint analysis has been used to wrongly implicate people.
The final witness called by the prosecution was Minnesota Correctional Facility investigator Jeff Dansky. He brought a prison surveillance video in which Fitch can be seen reaching to the bottom of his cell door while housed at the Oak Park Heights prison last month. Prosecutors allege that’s when he passed a hand-drawn map to another inmate that shows the location of his ex-girlfriend’s home. The map was meant to steer someone to her house to kill her because she was testifying against him, prosecutors allege.
Still images pulled from the video and shown to the jury made it easier to see that Fitch had something in his hand as he approached his prison door on the afternoon of Dec. 17. Standing outside Fitch’s cell was a man prosecutors identified as Claude Crockson, an inmate serving time for assault and burglary. Crockson was free to wander around portions of the prison’s medical unit in which he and Fitch were housed that month. Fitch was confined to his cell.
Crockson can be seen in the video bending over as if to pick up something from under Fitch’s door. Crockson then walks to his own nearby room and sits down on his bed. As seen in the video, Crockson unfurls a sheet of paper, looks at it, then puts it away.
Crockson testified Wednesday that Fitch wanted two people killed, including the ex-girlfriend, both of whom were witnesses for the prosecution. “He just wanted them dead,” Crockson testified.
Traub and co-counsel Gordon Cohoes parried the state’s case whenever possible, but when it was their turn to present a case, Traub didn’t call any witnesses and Fitch didn’t take the stand in his own defense. The one piece of evidence entered by the defense was the audio portion of a cellphone recording made by a witness to Fitch’s arrest.
The recording starts with the sound of sirens wailing in the distance. Then the sound of squealing tires can be heard, followed by two quick volleys of what sounds like gunfire.
Traub didn’t comment after the audio played. She later told a reporter that she wanted the jury to hear how quickly the standoff ended.