Sliding a hand-drawn map under another inmate’s cell door, imprisoned murder defendant Brian G. Fitch tried to find someone to kill two key witnesses in his trial on charges of killing a police officer, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The witnesses he allegedly wanted dead were not named, but one placed him in the green Grand Am that sped away from the killing of Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick last July. The other told authorities that Fitch once said he would shoot a police officer if he were ever stopped by one, said prosecutor Phillip Prokopowicz.
The explosive details were among those revealed Tuesday morning in Stearns County District Court as jury selection commenced in Fitch’s trial. He’s accused of killing Patrick during a routine traffic stop and then engaging in a shootout with the St. Paul police officers who captured him.
The day’s proceedings ended with prosecutors revealing defiant words from Fitch, who they said wrote to someone recently that he would have trouble “holding my tongue” during the trial. “If anyone gets up on the stand and is for sure telling a lie, I’ll call it out loud every time,” he wrote. “What are they going to do, proceed without me? Nope. This is going to be a very interesting trial to say the least.”
Dakota County District Court Judge Mary J. Theisen made the information public at the end of the day, citing it as a possible security concern.
Two jurors selected
Two jurors were selected Tuesday. Ten others were questioned and rejected. One man said his mother was undergoing chemotherapy before he was let go. A woman broke down in tears during questioning, saying that the killing of Patrick made her think of the 2012 shooting death of Cold Spring police officer Tom Decker, whom she knew. She was also excused.
The trial requires 12 jurors and two alternates. Theisen said she hopes to hear opening statements on Tuesday, Jan. 20, and that the trial should last two to 2 ½ weeks.
Fitch walked out of the courtroom without assistance at the end of the day, showing no sign of the injuries he sustained when he was hit eight times during a shootout with the St. Paul police.
He frequently waved hello or smiled at prospective jurors as they entered the courtroom or answered questions. He joked with his defense team of public defenders Lauri Traub and Gordon Cohoes during breaks.
His behavior at one point became too glib for Judge Theisen, who admonished him to “stop making faces at me.”
“I wasn’t making no faces, your honor,” he said.
“You did,” said Theisen.
Details of Fitch’s alleged murder plot came to light as prosecutors Prokopowicz and Richard Dusterhoft defended their recent filing of new evidence. Some of it, including a state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension analysis of the hand-drawn map, which showed the location of a witness’ home, wasn’t available until last week, they said. Fitch approached the fellow inmate about finding people on the outside to kill the witnesses, prosecutors said.
Agents at the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension determined that the handwriting on the map is Fitch’s. They also found Fitch’s fingerprints on the map, they said.
The completed BCA file was expected to arrive in Stearns County on Tuesday afternoon, they added.
Defense attorney Traub said she wants a continuance or the exclusion of the new evidence because she won’t have time to call an expert witness and also pick a jury.
“We have to stop now; now is the time to stop,” Traub said.
Break in trial considered
Judge Theisen said she wouldn’t delay the entire trial, but might take a break from jury selection to give the defense team time to find an expert. A decision was expected later this week.
Traub also took issue with the jury questionnaire, saying it improperly revealed that one of the witnesses who may be called during the trial works for the public defender’s office, a job title that Traub said would prejudice a jury.
“They think that if you are innocent, you would spend the money and hire private counsel,” she said.
She said the prospective jury list should be thrown out and the court should start over. Judge Theisen disagreed.
“I think he’s [Fitch] got two very talented, zealous lawyers; and I think that’s what the jurors are going to see and it doesn’t matter if you’re a public defender or not,” she said.
Jury selection was expected to continue Wednesday morning.