Duluth judge sends jury home, warns defendant serving as his own attorney

Judge Shaun Floerke told Joshua Lee Littlewolf Tuesday that he had been impressed with how Littlewolf represented himself during his second-degree murder trial. That was until Littlewolf let anger and frustration get the better of him earlier in ...

Judge Shaun Floerke told Joshua Lee Littlewolf Tuesday that he had been impressed with how Littlewolf represented himself during his second-degree murder trial. That was until Littlewolf let anger and frustration get the better of him earlier in the day, using profanity when addressing the judge in the presence of the jury.

"That's b-------, your honor," Littlewolf said when he disagreed with a ruling by Floerke.

"Don't do that again," Floerke told Littlewolf sternly after the jury had left the courtroom. "You have to control your behavior."

After a break, Floerke sent the jury home for the day, saying he wanted to give Littlewolf time to regain control. The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

"You were doing a good job," Floerke told Littlewolf, who is serving as his own attorney, before he ended the trial for the day early Tuesday afternoon. "That has broken down today."


The jury was not in the courtroom at the time.

Tuesday's proceedings began with Littlewolf voicing complaints about several issues, including media coverage of the trial. Littlewolf asked that reporters be barred from the courtroom.

"A lot of garbage is going on here," Littlewolf said.

Floerke advised Littlewolf to focus on the case, saying that only the opinions of the jurors count. The jury was not in the room at the time, and jurors have been instructed not to read, listen to or view media accounts of the trial.

Littlewolf said the legal system is telling jurors how to think and that he is not being allowed to ask questions of witnesses because of prosecutor Nate Stumme's objections.

"We have rules of evidence everyone has to follow," Floerke said.

After the jury was brought in the room, Duluth police Investigator Scott

Williams took the stand. Williams was one of two investigators who interviewed Littlewolf twice after he was arrested for the April 27, 2012, stabbing death of Joshua Olson at the Frances Skinner Apartments in downtown Duluth.


Jurors earlier had heard an audio recording of the first interview. On Tuesday they heard the second interview. During the interview, Littlewolf said he slashed Olson with a knife he had taken away from Olson during a fight. The altercation started when Olson stepped on Littlewolf's ankle as he slept on the floor, Littlewolf said.

"I was just trying to scare him," Littlewolf said on the recording.

At one point during the interview, lawyer Keith Shaw is heard advising Littlewolf not to talk to police without a public defender present.

"I have nothing to hide," Littlewolf said.

During the interview, the investigators told Littlewolf that the wounds on Olson's throat do not match Littlewolf's account of slashing once at Olson and pushing him back, the knife lodged in his neck. At his request, the investigators showed Littlewolf at least one picture of the wound.

The jury saw photos of the gaping neck wound Monday.

"I wouldn't do that," Littlewolf said. "You have to talk to Nick to find out what happened after I left."

Authorities believe Olson was killed early April 27, 2012, in an apartment rented by Nakota Benjamin, whom Littlewolf refers to as Nick. Benjamin called 911 after 8 a.m. to report that he had awakened to find a dead body, later identified as Olson, in his apartment.


"Nick had to do something after I left," Littlewolf told investigators during the interview on the audio recording. "Why did he wait until morning to call?"

Surveillance video shown in court last week appears to show that Olson, Littlewolf, Benjamin and Sally Woundedeye were the only ones in the apartment at the time of the killing. Littlewolf has said he left the apartment before Olson was killed and believes that someone else --possibly Benjamin -- was the real perpetrator.

Littlewolf has said on numerous occasions that Woundedeye's testimony is crucial to proving his case. On Tuesday Floerke informed him that Woundedeye has been subpoenaed in Montana.

After the 45-minute tape was finished Stumme and Littlewolf began their questioning of Williams. Over the next 90 minutes, Floerke had the jury leave the courtroom four times in response to a request or objection by Stumme to Littlewolf's line or method of questioning.

The state, Stumme said during one of the interludes, objected to Littlewolf telling witnesses things rather than questioning them.

Littlewolf said he has never been his own attorney before.

"It's like a crash course," he said.

Floerke told him that the rules governing courtroom proceedings were established long ago and have to be followed by all parties.

"He who defines the terms wins the argument," Littlewolf said.

The jury also left the room after Littlewolf asked Williams to report what another witness had said. Stumme objected to the question on the grounds that it was hearsay. While the jury was out of the room, Floerke reminded Littlewolf that he had to restrict his questions to those a witness can answer first-hand. If he wants the jury to hear what a person said, he can call that person as a witness, Floerke said.

The final break came after Littlewolf asked Williams to speculate on something. After Floerke stopped him, Littlewolf swore. Floerke had the jury leave the room and told Littlewolf that he has to control his behavior.

"If I had a fair trial or hearing," Littlewolf responded.

After a lengthy break, Littlewolf remained seated when the bailiff ordered everyone to rise as Floerke re-entered the courtroom. After telling the parties that he was sending the jury home for the day, Floerke complimented Littlewolf on the job he had done before Tuesday. But he must follow the rules of evidence, not argue and not swear in front of the jury, "or I have to take action," Floerke said.

That action could include having Littlewolf shackled while in court or barring him from taking part in the proceedings.

Littlewolf is being held at the St. Louis County Jail on $400,000 bail.

Related Topics: CRIME
Steve Kuchera is a retired Duluth News Tribune photographer.
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