Duluth murder trial opens with accused killer representing self
Witness testimony Tuesday in a Duluth murder trial led to some tense moments between the judge and the man representing himself in the case. Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Shaun Floerke had to repeatedly remind the defendant, Joshua Lee Litt...
Witness testimony Tuesday in a Duluth murder trial led to some tense moments between the judge and the man representing himself in the case.
Sixth Judicial District Chief Judge Shaun Floerke had to repeatedly remind the defendant, Joshua Lee Littlewolf, to refrain from making arguments during questioning and refrain from asking questions that a witness said she could not answer.
Littlewolf, 42, is on trial for second-degree murder in the April 27, 2012, stabbing death of Joshua Olson at the Frances Skinner Apartments in downtown Duluth. He previously fired two public defenders and is serving as his own attorney. He admits he was involved in an altercation with Olson that night, but says he was not the one who killed him.
The day's testimony included Nakota Benjamin, a former suspect in the murder and the man who rented the apartment in question, as well as three current and former residents of the apartment building and two police officers who responded to calls at the building that night.
Testimony became contentious when Mae Wallace, a 65-year-old resident of the apartment next to Benjamin's, took the stand. Wallace, who called 911 twice the night of the killing to report unusual noises, spent about two hours on the stand fielding questions from Littlewolf and prosecutor Nate Stumme.
Wallace told the court that she woke up during the night and heard what sounded like a domestic disturbance. She also reported hearing screaming and said she could tell that someone was in trouble, but believed the incident may have been occurring in the alley behind the building.
She called 911, and officers responded to search the alley, but did not speak to Wallace. She again called police around 3:15 a.m. when she said she heard more noise from within the building.
Asked by both the prosecution and defense for a detailed timeline of events, Wallace said she did not have a good sense of the timing of particular events. When Littlewolf continued to prod for specific times, she appeared to get upset with him and refused to answer questions.
"I'm not going to answer because I feel like I'm giving a false report, like I'm lying about times to answer your questions," she said. "Why am I being coerced into giving times that I don't know?"
Floerke later interjected to tell Littlewolf to stop the line of questioning.
"She's not going to make up times for you," Floerke told him. "She's not going to say what you want her to say. I'm not going to keep going back and forth on this."
Littlewolf then made an abrupt request to play a 911 audio recording for Wallace, prompting Floerke to stop him and remove the jury from the room.
Wallace had told the court that at one point she heard what sounded like an older man with a stern voice say, "We kill for this."
Littlewolf requested that Wallace listen to a brief audio recording of Benjamin to see if his voice matched the voice she said she had heard.
Without the jury present, Wallace said she did not believe it was Benjamin's voice. Asked by Littlewolf if it was his own, Wallace said she did not believe so. Floerke then allowed it to be played in front of the jury.
Stumme had objected to playing the audio, saying that Wallace is not a voice recognition expert.
Littlewolf is basing his defense on an alternative perpetrator theory -- attempting to prove that Benjamin or someone else in the apartment that night killed Olson.
Benjamin took the stand late in the day Tuesday, and told the court that he was highly intoxicated on the night of Olson's killing. He said he passed out while several people were in his apartment around 8 or 9 p.m. and recalled waking up once in the night to loud noises. Benjamin said he told everyone to get out of his apartment, and passed out again. When he woke up in the morning, he found Olson's body on the floor, he said.
Shortly after reporting the body to police, Benjamin was arrested and charged with second-degree murder for Olson's death. However, the charge was later dropped.
The fact that Benjamin was originally charged in the murder was not told to jurors Tuesday, but his testimony and Littlewolf's cross-examination will continue Wednesday morning.
Stumme and Littlewolf also spent about an hour apiece Tuesday morning laying out their cases in opening statements. Stumme told jurors they would see evidence during the course of the trial that would prove that Littlewolf became upset with Olson and attacked him with at least one knife.
Littlewolf told jurors that three fights broke out during the time he was in the apartment, and admitted that he was involved in an altercation with Olson, but said he left the apartment before Olson was killed.