ST. CLOUD – The jury in the Brian G. Fitch, Sr., murder trial spent 30 to 45 minutes deliberating before it voted Monday to convict the 40-year-old meth dealer for the murder of Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick, the jury foreman said.
Compared to some of the other charges the jurors weighed, it wasn't the most difficult decision they made, said the foreman, Garrett Zimmerman.
"It was a lot closer on some of the different counts than a lot of people thought it was," he said. "It came down to the bullet analysis, eyewitnesses and police testimony."
The jurors began their deliberations shortly after noon Monday. They returned guilty verdicts on all charges against Fitch some nine hours later.
At his sentencing on Wednesday, Fitch will receive an automatic life sentence without parole for the first-degree murder of Patrick on July 30 during a routine traffic stop. Fitch was captured later that same day after a frenzied manhunt and a shootout with several St. Paul police officers.
The jury was asked to consider nine charges against Fitch: the murder of Patrick, three counts of attempted murder and three counts of second-degree assault for shooting at three St. Paul police officers, illegal possession of a gun and intentional discharge of a gun.
Jurors decided all but two of the charges by 4:30 p.m. Monday, said Zimmerman, then spent the rest of their deliberations focused on the shootout with St. Paul police, asking themselves who Fitch was aiming at when he shot back at the officers that day. The defense had said the gun wasn't pointed at some of the three police officers Fitch was accused of trying to kill. The jury eventually decided that Fitch's aim was bad but he should still be found guilty in all three charges of attempted murder, Zimmerman said.
Easy to hard
The jury took the charges from easiest to hardest, quickly deciding that Fitch had possession of the gun and had fired it.
"Bang, those were the first two," said Zimmerman.
Jurors took up the assaults next, and voted to convict after considering the testimony of the police officers who were involved in the shootout.
"Those were pretty quick and dry because the definition of assault was to cause fear and all the officers said they were in fear for their lives," he said.
Next up was the killing of officer Patrick. Zimmerman said the hardest part of the decision concerned the timeline — could Fitch have been at Karen King's house in St. Paul at 12:15 p.m. and still have shot Patrick in Mendota Heights five minutes later?
That became a key question during the trial when King, the mother of Fitch's friend Jesse Charles, testified that she saw Fitch at her home the afternoon Patrick was shot. The defense latched on to her testimony, saying it proved Fitch wasn't at the intersection of Dodd Road and Smith Avenue S. at 12:20 p.m. when Patrick's squad car video recorded his death.
The distance between the two spots is 1.6 to 1.9 miles, depending on the route, and takes four to five minutes to drive at legal speeds. Several witnesses said they saw Fitch's green Grand Am speeding up to 70 miles per hour.
Zimmerman said the timeline didn't make sense, but the jury decided it was King's testimony that was false, not the allegation that Fitch shot Patrick.
"We went back and forth on the timeline and just didn't figure there was a way" for Fitch to be at the house at 12:15 p.m., said Zimmerman.
The jury also asked to see the Smith & Wesson 9-millimeter pistol used in the shooting. Jurors were curious to know which side of the gun ejected spent shell casings.
A casing found on the floor of the green Grand Am behind the driver's seat was linked to the 9mm by firearms analysis, but jurors were trying to imagine how it landed in the car when the gunman held the weapon out the window to shoot at Patrick. After seeing that the ejection port was on the gun's right side, jurors felt comfortable that the gunman held the weapon on its side, ejection port up, when he pointed it out of the driver's window. That's how the casing flew back into the open window, said Zimmerman.
Intimidation not considered
The jury never considered the explosive testimony from Taya Moran and Claude Crockson, said Zimmerman, since Fitch wasn't facing charges related to either person. Moran, Fitch's ex-girlfriend, testified that on the night before Patrick's death, Fitch told her he would shoot a police officer if he was ever pulled over. Crockson, an inmate at Oak Park Heights prison who was housed near Fitch in December, said Fitch asked him for help killing two key witnesses in the case, even drawing a map to the home of one witness. Crockson told police about the witness assassination plot instead.
Zimmerman gave Fitch's defense team of Lauri Traub and Gordon Cohoes credit. The defense didn't call any witnesses in the case, and Fitch didn't take the stand.
"I don't know what other witnesses there could have been or might have been," said Zimmerman. "I think she [Traub] tried to poke as many holes in the prosecutor's case as she could. It just wasn't enough."