Gari Lamont Stewart didn't show a whit of emotion when a Ramsey County jury found him guilty Tuesday evening of all six counts against him after he terrorized a St. Paul couple, stabbing a man and leaving him for dead, then raping and kidnapping his girlfriend.
The jury of six men and six women found Stewart guilty of first- and second-degree attempted murder, first-degree burglary, first-degree criminal sexual assault, first-degree arson and kidnapping.
Stewart's family members, sitting a few feet from him, showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. The two victims and several family members cried and clutched each other.
Jurors learned about Stewart's criminal history from District Judge M. Michael Monahan before he read 23 questions regarding the egregiousness of the Grand Avenue crimes to them. They answered "yes" to all 23, meaning the judge can sentence Stewart to life in prison without parole. Sentencing was set for 1:30 p.m. April 17.
It marked the first time a two-year-old criminal sexual conduct statute that allows for the possibility of life without parole has been used in a case in which a jury convicted a person of a crime that did not involve a death.
Stewart was convicted in 1999 of felony aggravated robbery in Hennepin County, of felony burglary in Martin County in 2001 and of second-degree assault in Rice County in 2002.
Two of the male victim's family members were expelled from the courtroom Tuesday while the judge was reading the questions when they spoke up about the judge's mispronunciation of their family's last name. It came at the end of an emotional trial that started with jury selection more than two weeks ago.
In closing arguments, prosecutor Dawn R. Bakst summed up the case this way: Stewart entered the woman's apartment at 686 Grand Av. in St. Paul about 4 a.m. on June 15, 2007. He awoke her boyfriend with a hand over his mouth and a knife to his throat. He tied the man's hands with a blow-dryer cord, wrapped him in a shower curtain and tried to shove him under the bed. When he fought back, Stewart stabbed him in the neck, chest and back. The man passed out and awoke to find the apartment in flames. He staggered to his brother's apartment next door.
With the boyfriend unconscious on the bed, Stewart raped the woman twice at knifepoint and took her from the apartment after setting it on fire. He forced her to take money from an ATM and rent him a car before she convinced him to set her free.
Stewart was arrested early the next morning at the Ramada Hotel in Bloomington. He had signed the woman's name on the register and her credit card was found in his pocket.
The woman and her boyfriend picked Stewart out of a photo lineup, Bakst said.
"If you believe [the victims], then you have no reasonable doubt," Bakst told the jury.
A man who worked at Avis rental cars also picked Stewart out of a photo lineup. Two other workers at the rental office saw the knife in his back pocket. All of them identified Stewart in testimony last week.
Defense attorney John Riemer asked jurors not to rely on raw emotion but to analyze the evidence charge by charge. "Your gut may tell you something terrible happened to [this couple]," he said. "Your gut is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt."
Pat Pheifer • 612-741-4992