A Duluth murder trial stemming from a fatal shooting nearly two years ago has been postponed as a defense attorney said he was only recently provided with a substantial amount of information relevant to the case.
James Michael Peterson, 40, was set to go before a St. Louis County jury starting Tuesday for his alleged role in the September 2019 death of Timothy Jon Nelson in West Duluth. He is charged with aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder.
A co-defendant, Christopher Floyd Boder, went to trial last October and was convicted of the same charge, later receiving a 25 1/2-year prison term.
But Peterson's attorney, Matthew Benfield, filed a motion last week alleging violations of discovery rules, which require authorities to turn over all relevant case information sought by the defense.
Benfield said it was only last week that he was finally provided with certain information that he had sought since at least early 2020, including cellphone records and Google account data from three people charged in connection with the case, the state's primary witness and the victim.
"The Google location and phone toll information related directly to Mr. Peterson's defense that he was not present at the time the shooting occurred," Benfield wrote. "As such, the evidence may play a significant role in his defense and a substantial amount of discovery could be potentially critical."
The defense attorney added: "Unfortunately, this information was provided too late for the defense to be able to use it at trial without a continuance. There is simply too much information to even review, much less make use of given the current trial date. The evidence that was disclosed belatedly is not simply a police report that the defense can read and review; it is highly technical information from five search warrants that will require time to process and understand."
Benfield initially asked the court to consider sanctions, up to a full dismissal of the case, or at least granting Peterson release from jail with pretrial supervision. But at a hearing Friday, he and St. Louis County prosecutor Nate Stumme came to an agreement to simply continue the trial to give the defense time to review the records.
Stumme told the court that the "vast majority of a voluminous body of discovery in this case has been disclosed in a timely manner" and said any delays were attributable to miscommunication and operational changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The prosecutor also said the defense "has overblown mere volume of the discovery" that was recently provided.
"Mr. Peterson's defense is that he was not present at the time of the shooting," Stumme wrote. "The precise time of the shooting is well known. Despite lengthy spreadsheets of information, the only useful information to the defense will be focused on the precise time of the shooting, which can be very quickly viewed for this phone information, allowing the vast bulk of the discovery to be discarded."
Judge Leslie Beiers rescheduled the two-week trial to begin Feb. 14. She also ordered any outstanding discovery to be turned over by Sept. 24, and set a final pretrial motion hearing for Dec. 13.
Evidence presented at Boder's trial indicated he was irate after Nelson attempted to rob him with a BB or flare gun. Nelson's friend, Jamie Sanford, testified that she had the victim drop her off at Boder's residence to obtain drugs. Boder and Sanford were in a car when Nelson, seemingly unaware it was them, suddenly appeared and began a brief struggle with Boder, the witness testified.
Boder fended him off and Nelson left. Sanford testified that she then attempted to broker a peaceful resolution to the dispute, but Boder was enraged, picking up his roommate, Peterson, and a firearm. She said Boder made a comment about notifying Nelson's parents of "where to find the body" before the men dropped her off at a Proctor gas station.
Nelson, 33, was later found with a gunshot wound to the abdomen in his truck on the 300 block of North 62nd Avenue West. Neighbors reported hearing a struggle, with someone yelling "don't shoot" prior to hearing a gunshot.
Boder's attorneys contended that it was Peterson who shot Nelson. But, because both men are charged with aiding and abetting one another, it's not necessary for prosecutors to actually prove who pulled the trigger.
Benfield has asserted that Peterson was dropped off at home and not actually present for the shooting, therefore assuming no liability for Nelson's death.
Two other people have been charged in connection with the case for allegedly attempting to obstruct the homicide investigation. Boder's reported girlfriend, Taylor Ann Fredrickson, pleaded guilty in June to aiding an offender and faces sentencing Sept. 27. Peterson's girlfriend, Amber Rose Louise Forrest, faces a jury trial on the same charge beginning Nov. 2.