A judge has upheld a felony charge against a woman accused of concealing evidence in a West Duluth homicide investigation that resulted in the arrest of her boyfriend.
Amber Rose Louise Forrest, 30, allegedly removed two BB guns from the house she shared with James Michael Peterson, one of two men charged with the September shooting death of 33-year-old Timothy Jon Nelson. Forrest faces a charge of aiding an offender as an accomplice after the fact.
Authorities said Nelson, a father of five, was pronounced dead shortly after he was shot in the abdomen while sitting in a car on the 300 block of North 62nd Avenue West at about 1:45 a.m. Sept. 22.
An investigation led to prosecutors charging Peterson, 38, and Christopher Floyd Boder, 31, with aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder. Court documents state that Nelson was gunned down after he allegedly tried to rob Boder while armed with a BB gun earlier that evening. Authorities have not clearly identified who is believed to have pulled the trigger.
Forrest was at the residence shared by the defendants, 224 N. 62nd Ave. W., when police executed a search warrant Sept. 24, two days after Nelson's death. At that point, she was taken outside and interviewed by Duluth police investigator Brent Peterson.
Authorities said Forrest was "unable to provide a consistent or clear chronology of her events" around the time of Nelson's death, stating that she "knew nothing about the shooting and denied even being in the area at the time it took place."
Inside the house, investigators found and photographed the two BB guns, but did not immediately seize them because they were not identified as items of interest in the original warrant. Police left the house and obtained a second warrant.
When they returned, according to documents, both BB guns and a backpack were missing. Meanwhile, officers found a second-floor window partially opened and noted that a ladder was placed up against a second-story window.
The next day, investigators made contact with Forrest. She allegedly turned over the backpack and admitted to having climbed into the window right after speaking with the investigator, but denied taking the BB guns.
According to documents, Forrest then consented to a search of her cellphone, which revealed text messages from the early morning hours of Sept. 25 in which she indicated she had two BB guns for sale. An ex-boyfriend later turned in a BB gun — described as a "realistic-looking semi-automatic silver handgun with a black pistol grip" — that he said he received from Forrest on Sept. 25.
In seeking to dismiss the charge, defense attorney Brian Malvick said the house contained several BB guns, which were used to shoot squirrels and skunks on the property. He argued Forrest was never advised that she could not re-enter the house while it was being searched and that she had no reason to believe the weapons were relevant to the homicide investigation.
Malvick added that Forrest suffers from a past traumatic brain injury and chronic drug use, relying on her phone to recall her recent activities.
"Her actions and behaviors were not of someone trying to destroy evidence and mislead officers," the defense attorney said, "but of someone who was cooperating with law enforcement and of someone that suffers from memory loss."
In response, St. Louis County prosecutor Nate Stumme argued there is "substantial" probable cause: Forrest knew her boyfriend was a suspect in a homicide case, admitted to entering the house while it was still being searched and offered two BB guns for sale hours later.
"The evidence in this case, viewed in the light most favorable to the state, establishes that Forrest intentionally aided an offender who she knew or had reason to know had committed a criminal act by destroying or concealing evidence of that crime," Stumme wrote. "Forrest's denials and her claim that her behavior is consistent with her innocence do not undermine the evidence establishing probable cause."
Judge Leslie Beiers denied the defense motion last week, setting Forrest's next court appearance for March 30.
Proceedings continue for co-defendants
Meanwhile, Peterson made a brief appearance in court Thursday. Defense attorney Matthew Benfield told the judge he and Stumme were still working to receive full discovery for the murder charge, indicating he was not yet ready to raise any probable cause or constitutional issues.
Benfield has filed a motion to prohibit from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension from moving forward with testing of a DNA sample drawn from a cartridge casing recovered by police. BCA scientists have indicated that the process would fully consume the sample, preventing any further tests. Beiers scheduled a March 23 evidentiary hearing on that issue.
Boder has a contested hearing scheduled for March 16, with a jury trial scheduled to begin July 14. His defense has not notified the court of any issues that may be raised.
Boder's girlfriend, 27-year-old Taylor Ann Fredrickson, also has been charged with aiding an offender. Authorities allege that she attempted to provide a false alibi for Boder on the night of Nelson's death. She is expected to challenge the sufficiency of probable cause and the admissibility of her statement to police at a hearing on March 30.