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Duluth murder conviction upheld by appeals court

The panel rejected challenges to jury instructions and pandemic protocols in the trial of Christopher Boder.

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Christopher Floyd Boder

DULUTH — The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld a conviction in the September 2019 shooting death of Timothy Jon Nelson in West Duluth.

The court on Monday affirmed the case of Christopher Floyd Boder, who is serving a 25 ½-year prison term after he was found guilty by a jury in October 2020 of aiding and abetting intentional second-degree murder.

The three-judge panel rejected a claim that jurors should have been instructed on the law regarding self-defense, along with assertions that Boder's constitutional rights were violated by trial delays and courtroom protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A second defendant is scheduled to stand trial on the same charge in March.

Evidence presented at Boder's trial indicated he was irate after Nelson attempted to rob him with a BB or flare gun in the early morning hours of Sept. 22, 2019. 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 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.

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James Michael Peterson

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 were charged with aiding and abetting one another, it wasn't necessary for prosecutors to prove who actually pulled the trigger.

At trial, Judge Leslie Beiers denied a request for jurors to receive instructions regarding the state's self-defense law, finding that the defense had not produced "reasonable evidence" supporting the claim — a ruling affirmed by Monday's decision.

"While, as the district court acknowledged, there was evidence that (Nelson) lunged at Peterson, there was no absence of aggression or provocation on Peterson’s part, which is the first required element of a self-defense claim," Judge Lucinda Jesson wrote for the appeals court. "Rather, the men obtained a firearm, had (Sanford) call (Nelson) to obtain his location, and traveled to confront (Nelson) after taking steps to leave behind a potential witness."

The panel further concluded that there was no evidence Boder and Peterson "attempted to withdraw from the conflict, or that they communicated that withdrawal" to Nelson.

Boder, 34, also alleged his speedy trial right was violated, as the proceeding began 216 days after he entered the demand — well beyond the standard 60 days prescribed by Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure. And, because the court set up a video feed rather than allowing spectators in the courtroom, he said his right to a public trial was breached.

But the court noted that no jury trials were held in the state between March and October 2020, other than a handful of pilot cases to test new procedures that needed to be implemented in order to safely resume operations during the pandemic. And Boder's attorneys did not object to the use of a live feed to ensure proper social distancing.

James Michael Peterson waived his demand for a speedy trial in the death of Timothy Jon Nelson, as COVID-19 concerns have prompted another postponement of the 2019 case.

"The district court’s procedures were not broader than necessary to prevent the spread of the virus," Jesson wrote. "The record shows that the district court’s procedure was based on the county’s 'pandemic jury trial plan,' which was in turn based on orders from the governor and chief justice, as well as guidance from the health department. And the viewing room allowed the public to witness the trial while reducing the risk of the virus spreading."

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Boder is incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Rush City, with an anticipated release in September 2036.

Peterson, 41, is scheduled to stand trial on the same charge beginning Sept. 12, as his case has been postponed several times due to the pandemic and delays in the defense receiving certain electronic records.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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