Murder charges against two Duluth men won't be dismissed, judge rules
A judge has denied a request by two Duluth public defenders that second-degree murder charges against their clients be dismissed because the victim's cause of death can't be proven and the investigator who built the case against them has died and...
A judge has denied a request by two Duluth public defenders that second-degree murder charges against their clients be dismissed because the victim's cause of death can't be proven and the investigator who built the case against them has died and can't be questioned.
Isaac Louis Johnson, 25, and Antonio Sinclair Lewis, 22, both of Duluth, are charged in St. Louis County District Court with aiding and abetting
second-degree murder in the death of Albert Morrison, 34. They also face charges of aiding and abetting first-degree aggravated robbery in the incident in which Morrison's body was found in the alley behind the YMCA on July 15, 2009.
In his order, 6th Judicial District Judge Shaun Floerke wrote that Minnesota law "does not require that the state prove the specific mechanism of death." The state must prove that the defendants' actions were a "substantial causal factor" of the victim's death, he wrote.
Medical Examiner Donald Kundel's autopsy report
concluded severe pulmonary edema was the cause of Morrison's death and that two wounds on the back of the victim's head were characteristic of blunt trauma. Kundel's report also states that the pulmonary edema was caused by the head trauma and possibly positional asphyxia.
Dr. John Plunkett, a Twin Cities-area forensic pathologist, reviewed Morrison's medical records for the defense. Plunkett opined that pulmonary edema is a secondary event that can be caused by any number of natural conditions or accidental or intentional head trauma.
Johnson and Lewis each described the other as the primary aggressor in statements to police. The defendants told investigators that Morrison was hit and punched in the head, stomped on, and sounded like he was snoring after he was on the ground.
Floerke wrote in his decision: "If, as both Dr. Kundel and Dr. Plunkett state in their reports, head trauma can cause pulmonary edema, then a jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants' actions were a substantial causal factor in Mr. Morrison's death."
In opposing the motion to dismiss, Assistant St. Louis County Nathaniel Stumme argued that the prosecution has "ample evidence" to support the murder charges.
Public defender Jill Eichenwald represents Lewis, and public defender Susan Ginsburg represents Johnson. The attorneys declined to comment on the decision.
They filed the joint motion to dismiss the murder charges, arguing that according to the report of Duluth police investigator Bob Carter -- who died in his sleep of leukemia last August -- Kundel initially said Morrison's head injury was consistent with a fall and could not have been the cause of his death. According to Carter's report, Kundel also stated that Morrison's lungs appeared to be solid and were very large and heavy, and that a person with lungs that large cannot live.
Kundel opined that Morrison was so intoxicated that his heart failed and that he probably died a natural death brought on by acute alcohol poisoning. However, after the autopsy, Carter asked Kundel whether his opinion on the cause of death would change if it was possible that Morrison had been struck and knocked unconscious. Kundel indicated that he would be inclined to rule the case a homicide if that had occurred because it could have contributed to his death.