Minnesota Supreme Court reverses murder conviction
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom’s conduct cited in ruling
The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed a murder conviction because of interference by Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom and other state actors.
In the May 23 ruling, the Supreme Court found “multiple state actors unquestionably interfered with the legislatively mandated independence of medical examiners,” and put defendant Nicole Beecroft’s constitutional rights at risk.
Beecroft was on trial for murder in 2008 for in the death of her newborn baby, and Dr. Susan Roe, then a staff member with the Dakota County Medical Examiner’s Office, was prepared to testify to her findings that the child was stillborn.
Backstrom sent Roe’s boss, Dr. Lindsey Thomas, a series of e-mails vehemently opposing any member of her staff testifying for the defense.
In one of his e-mails, Backstrom threatened to withdraw his support for Thomas’ reappointment as coroner when the Dakota County Board was considering whether to renew her contract with the county.
Backstrom was later fined $900 and publicly reprimanded by the Minnesota Supreme Court for attempting to discourage medical examiners from testifying at the trial.
In Wednesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court found the conduct of several prosecutors and certain law enforcement officials had “fallen short of what we expect it to be.”
Named were the Dakota County Attorney’s office, Nicollet County Attorney’s office, St. Louis County Attorney’s office, Washington County Attorney’s office as counsel for the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association, and it stated “all engaged in conduct that either explicitly or implicitly undermined Beecroft’s access to the assistance of certain medical examiners.”
According to the ruling, the St, Louis County Attorney testified at Beecroft’s post-conviction hearing that prosecutors in her office were receiving calls from prosecutors around the country indicating displeasure that St. Louis County Medical Examiner Dr. (Janice) Ophoven was testifying for the defense.
Wednesday’s ruling reversed Beecroft’s conviction, and concluded Beecroft is entitled to a new trial in the interest of justice.
In ruling, the Supreme Court stated medical examiners must be allowed to complete death investigations “without interference or the appearance of interference, by other state actors including law enforcement officials and prosecutors.”
Laura Adelmann is at email@example.com or facebook.com/sunthisweek.