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Duluth homicide suspect seeks to have charges dismissed

Aaron Demetrius Humphreys

A defendant accused of fatally shooting another man at a Duluth bar in 2016 is seeking to have the charges dismissed after his surprise defense, alleging another person committed the crime, caused a mistrial in January.

Kassius Benson, the defense attorney for Aaron Demetrius Humphreys, 44, has filed a motion to dismiss the three charges against Humphreys, including intentional second-degree murder, on the basis that going ahead with Humphreys' rescheduled trial in May would be double jeopardy.

Sixth Judicial District Judge David Johnson said during a hearing Monday that he'll decide on the motion to dismiss by the next hearing in the case on April 19.

At issue is whether Benson's surprise defense of an alternative shooter in January was enough of an unforeseen circumstance that precluded the prosecution from having a fair trial, which would enable Humphreys to be retried without double jeopardy coming into play.

Johnson declared a mistrial Jan. 23 after prosecutors objected to Benson's opening statement arguing that a man named "Memphis" fatally shot 47-year-old Eric Wayne Burns at the front door of Lincoln Park's Bedrock Bar in October 2016. Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Nate Stumme told Johnson following the opening statement that Benson never provided notice of the alternative perpetrator defense, hindering the prosecution's right to a fair trial. Benson had previously identified only self-defense as a possible trial argument.

Burns had reportedly been in a fight with Humphreys and a third man, Orin Bernard Vann, moments before he was shot. Although Humphreys had a firearm earlier in the night, Benson said during his opening statement, Humphreys only had a baton at the time of the shooting. Burns was carrying two remote controls duct-taped together to mimic a gun, Benson said. He said Humphreys was prepared to testify that the actual shooter was a friend of Vann's who he knew only by the name "Memphis." The firearm was never recovered, but Stumme said during his opening statement that surveillance video, cellphone evidence, witness statements and Humphreys' own comments would prove Humphreys' guilt.

Before the mistrial was declared in January, a jury had been empaneled, which Benson argues was when jeopardy began. Benson argued during Monday's hearing that the prosecution could have requested a continuance instead of a mistrial to give themselves time to investigate the alternative shooter. However, Stumme argued that the mistrial was necessary because a continuance wouldn't have given the prosecution enough time to investigate the alternative shooter.

Johnson repeatedly questioned Benson on Monday on whether Benson believed he had violated the rules for notifying the prosecution about the alternative shooter defense.

Benson said that he didn't feel that it fell under the rules regarding an alternative shooter defense because he was arguing that someone else did it, but the court and prosecution were the ones who introduced the issue of a specific "perpetrator." If Humphreys' defense was that he didn't do it, but didn't say the name "Memphis," Benson said he wouldn't have an obligation to notify the court of that defense.

Benson argued on Monday that the prosecution wouldn't have been entitled to a mistrial if Humphreys didn't say the name "Memphis."

Stumme said on Monday that it was "ridiculous" for Humphreys to have both self-defense and an alternative shooter as defenses. A mistrial was necessary, Stumme said, because the prosecution needed enough time to prove that Humphreys had the gun in his hand, test the bullet's trajectory and ballistics, and reinterview the witnesses in order to argue against Benson's alternative shooter defense.

Stumme pointed out that Benson had both the name of someone he believed was the shooter and the alternative shooter's connection to Vann, but didn't provide either to the prosecution.

"To date, there has not been formal notice that there's been an alternative perpetrator," Stumme said.