The Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from a former Twin Cities man serving a life sentence in a 2001 Duluth shooting that left another man dead and a woman critically injured.
Vidale Lee Whitson, now 43, sought to overturn his convictions for first-degree felony murder in the killing of Milton Williams and attempted first-degree premeditated murder in the shooting of Tami Carlson.
Williams, 26, and Carlson, 35, were shot inside Carlson's East Hillside apartment, 1121 E. Second St., on April 24, 2011. Authorities said the incident was the result of a drug-related robbery.
Williams, who had lived in Minneapolis and Duluth, suffered three gunshot wounds to his legs and a fatal shot to the top of his head during the attack. Carlson, the mother of two sons who were 10 and 13 at the time of the shootings, suffered a gunshot to the left side of her face that broke her jaw and paralyzed a vocal chord.
Three men were arrested and charged in connection with the attack: Whitson, then of St. Louis Park, Minn.; Tyrone James White, of Duluth; and Benjamin Edward King, of Columbia Heights, Minn.
King, who was offered a plea agreement that resulted in a 150-month prison sentence for his role in the crime, testified at Whitson's August 2002 trial that it was Whitson who pulled the trigger. King said the men traveled to Duluth from the Twin Cities earlier in the day to rob Williams.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Whitson shot Carlson in cold blood because she had witnessed Williams' killing, and that she survived only because the gun jammed.
"He's probably one of the most dangerous people I've dealt with in 30 years," St. Louis County prosecutor John DeSanto told the News Tribune shortly after the jury's verdict was announced.
Defense attorney Frederick Goetz argued at the trial that it was King who fired the shots. Whitson, who had an extensive felony record, did not take the stand.
Whitson, who filed the appeal without the assistance of an attorney, raised several issues, including alleged prosecutorial misconduct and the district court's refusal to grant post-conviction relief, in seeking a new trial.
In a 19-page opinion released Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected his arguments. Writing for the court, Justice David Lillehaug cited the abundance of evidence against Whitson.
"Among other evidence, Ben King testified in detail to the planning of the crime and identified Whitson as the shooter," he wrote. "This testimony was corroborated by (Carlson), who testified that a man in a plaid shirt whom she did not know accompanied White and King to her apartment and shot her and Williams.
"White, King and Whitson were apprehended together just minutes after the murder in a car with a plate number matching the number given by an eyewitness to the getaway. When the three emerged from the car, police saw that Whitson was clad in plaid. All of this is very strong evidence of guilt."
First-degree murder appeals in Minnesota go straight to the state Supreme Court, bypassing the Court of Appeals. Whitson previously filed a petition with the court in May 2004, but did not follow through with the appeal.
Whitson is serving a mandatory life sentence plus 15 years. He must serve at least 40 years in prison before he is eligible for release.
White, who was later convicted by a jury of aiding and abetting the crime, received the same sentence. King has been released after serving his 12½-year sentence.