Battees wants 'inconsistent' verdict overturned in Duluth murder case
A defense attorney and prosecutor debated whether the jury accepted the teen's self-defense claim in delivering a split verdict.
DULUTH — A split verdict in a Duluth murder trial last month was legally "inconsistent" and should be overturned, a defense attorney argued Thursday.
Public defender J.D. Schmid asked the court to override a jury's findings and enter a judgment of acquittal for Patrick Wilson Battees Jr. on counts of unintentional second-degree murder and reckless discharge of a firearm within a municipality. Alternatively, he argued, Battees is at least entitled to a new trial on those charges.
The 12-member panel convicted Battees of the two charges, but found him not guilty of a more-serious count of intentional second-degree murder in the May 22, 2021, shooting death of his friend, Juamada Keller Anderson Jr. Battees argued self-defense, and the jury was essentially asked to make a legal judgment as virtually no factual evidence was in dispute.
"The defense did not challenge the substantive elements of either (intentional murder) or (unintentional murder)," Schmid told the court. "The jury was therefore required to find that self-defense justified an intentional killing in order to acquit Mr. Battees of intentional murder. The finding necessarily precludes finding that the killing, if unintentional, was not justified by self-defense."
St. Louis County prosecutor Nichole Carter disagreed, saying it was clear that the jury "rejected the theory that the defendant was acting in self-defense," but didn't believe he intended to kill anyone when he recklessly fired into a crowd, missing his target and instead striking his friend.
"The defendant's arguments rest on the assumption that the jury found the defendant not guilty on Count 1 because they believed his self-defense claim," Carter wrote in a brief. "However, the jury could have also found the defendant not guilty on Count 1 because they did not believe that the defendant, when he fired the shot into the crowd in front of 118 E. Third St., was acting with an intent to kill Markus Morris. Indeed, there was little evidence presented about the defendant's intent in regard to Mr. Morris."
Battees, then 17, and Anderson, 22, were casually talking on the front porch of the defendant's sister's residence when two men, Morris and Laurel Larice Ladd, pulled into a nearby parking lot around 7 p.m. Surveillance video shows Morris approaching Battees and demonstrating "pre-attack cues," with Anderson attempting to step in between them, before Ladd enters and punches Battees.
The scuffle moved toward the street, and Battees was punched again by a woman. The video then seemingly shows Ladd handing a gun to Morris. Battees was initially seen walking away before turning around and firing one shot, which struck Anderson in the head.
Battees then fled from the scene as at least four other people, including Morris, reportedly fired guns at the "chaotic" scene.
Schmid contended Battees was forced to make a split-second decision to shoot, out of fear for his own safety, as he was confronted by a hostile crowd and saw Morris "coming at him with a gun." But Carter maintained the teen could not have seen the gun hand-off and noted the crowd only "erupted" after Battees himself produced his .45-caliber handgun and fired.
Jurors spent more than 10 hours in deliberations, returning to the courtroom three times to review the video evidence, before rendering the verdict.
In his motion, Schmid contended there was insufficient evidence to establish that Battees did not act in self-defense. He said case law establishes that verdicts "need not be factually consistent so long as they are legally consistent." A verdict is legally inconsistent "when a necessary element of one charge negates a necessary element of another charge."
The defense attorney acknowledged the motion was "treading on a new ground" as he could not find any case law in Minnesota addressing a situation "where the apparent inconsistency concerned legal justification rather than elements of the charged offenses."
"Juries are a black box," Schmid said Thursday. "It's impossible to know exactly what the basis for their decision was in their deliberations. But, at the same time, we can't revise history to change what was argued at the trial. At no point during the trial, did the defense contest any of the elements to either count."
Schmid speculated that the jury found Battees guilty of recklessly discharging the firearm because he exchanged gunfire with Morris in the backyard of the residence as he fled. Reckless discharge was also the underlying offense for the unintentional murder charge.
Schmid pointed to witness statements suggesting Battees may have fired a total of 10-20 times at the scene. But Carter said there's no evidence to support that he fired more than one round. While he certainly pointed the gun at Morris, she said only one .45 shell was ever located, in the front where he shot Anderson.
The prosecutor said the defense argument "ignores the full evidence that was presented to the jury" and asserts, without legal basis, that a not-guilty finding on one charge must lead to the same conclusion on another count with different requirements.
"The jury instructions on both counts were different," Carter said. "The court and counsel had several discussions about that in this case. I think it is very possible to accept the premise that the jury just did not find that the defendant acted in self-defense. That is certainly for the purview of the jury. The jury heard all the evidence; they weighed it as they see fit."
Judge David Johnson took the motion under advisement and is expected to issue a ruling before a sentencing hearing that is scheduled for March 13.
Battees, now 19, was certified to stand trial as an adult and could face upward of 12 years in prison under state sentencing guidelines.