Man handcuffed behind his back. Wrongful murder conviction.

Wrongful Murder Conviction Brings Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Credibility into Question 

If a county medical examiner’s work is called into question in one case, it can affect all those they were a part of. An independent review is underway of murder cases involving the testimony of the long-time medical examiner in Ramsey County, Minnesota. The review comes in response to a wrongful murder conviction that was recently vacated on the basis that the medical examiner gave flawed medical testimony.

Man handcuffed behind his back. Wrongful murder conviction.

Seeing a wrongful conviction made right is a complicated process, and often requires the assistance of a criminal defense attorney. Therefore, if you were convicted of a crime in error, you should consult with your lawyer to discuss your options.

What Is the Role of a Medical Examiner in a Murder Case?

Medical examiners play a vital role in murder cases. They examine and analyze medical evidence to determine the cause and manner of death. The role of the medical examiner includes:

Performing the autopsy. A medical examiner will examine the body for signs and evidence relating to the cause of death. For example, he or she may take toxicology samples and notate injuries.

Collecting evidence. During the medical examiner’s analysis of the body, he or she will collect and preserve physical evidence. Such evidence includes hairs, fibers, bullets, and other materials that aid in the investigation.

Determining the cause and manner of death. The examination and analysis conducted by the medical examiner is aimed at identifying the cause and manner of death. Cause of death may include the injury or disease that directly led to the death. Manner of death, on the other hand, refers to the circumstances of how the cause of death occurred. The five manners of death are natural, homicide, accident, suicide, and undetermined.

Providing expert testimony. At trial, the prosecution may call on the medical examiner to provide expert testimony. Medical examiners will explain their findings, and the conclusions drawn, to the judge and jury.

At trial in a vacated murder case, the Ramsey County medical examiner alleged the defendant had grabbed his wife by the neck, pushed her overboard, and ran over her body with the boat multiple times. The testimony provided by the medical examiner served as significant support to the prosecution’s case.

What if a Medical Examiner Lies on the Stand?

Lying on the stand can have far-reaching consequences, both professionally and criminally, for medical examiners. Professionally, a medical examiner who lies under oath may be barred from giving future testimony. Additionally, he or she could face a medical license suspension or revocation, affecting their ability to continue to work.

If the medical examiner lies on the stand, it can result in miscarriages of justice. False testimony provided by the medical examiner can result in innocent people facing wrongful convictions. For instance, the testimony of the county medical examiner in the vacated murder case helped convict the defendant of first- and second-degree murder. Further, victims and their families may not get the closure they need.

How Do You Overturn a Murder Conviction in Minnesota?

Overturning a murder conviction in Minnesota is a detailed legal process that includes several steps.

First, a criminal appeals lawyer will help you file an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals based on appropriate grounds. Then, your legal representative and the prosecution will both file briefs outlining the issues and arguments to support their respective stances. In some cases, the court may also order an oral argument where the cases are presented before a panel of judges.

After the court has reviewed the briefs and oral arguments, it will issue a written decision. It will either affirm the conviction or overturn it. Overturned cases may be sent back to lower courts for new trials or other proceedings. If you or the prosecution are dissatisfied with the decision, you may pursue further review from the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The state initiated the review, and the move to vacate the conviction of the man accused of killing his wife while boating. Re-examining this case was part of a wider review of cases involving the Ramsey County medical examiner. A county attorney began looking into cases where the verdicts relied heavily on testimony given by the medical examiner after a federal judge called his work “unreliable, misleading, and inaccurate” in a 2021 case.

When Can You Overturn a Murder Conviction?

Simply disagreeing with the verdict is not enough to seek to have a murder conviction overturned in Minnesota. To overturn a conviction, certain circumstances must exist. Factors that may allow the overturning of a conviction include:

Newly Discovered Evidence

Sometimes evidence becomes available after a trial that would have affected its outcome. Therefore, when new evidence is discovered, it may provide grounds to seek post-conviction relief.

Legal Errors

If errors occur at trial that affected its fairness, it may allow for appealing the verdict. For example, you may seek to have your conviction overturned if the prosecution engaged in some kind of misconduct or your counsel provided ineffective aid.

Constitutional Violations

Under some circumstances, a conviction may violate your constitutional rights. For example, your right to due process or to a fair trial may not have been observed. When your rights are violated due to the conviction, you may seek an appeal or other such relief.

Misconduct

Just as misconduct on the part of the legal representatives involved may provide grounds for the overturning of a conviction, so too can misconduct by law enforcement.

Change to the Law

After a conviction, the state may enact new laws that would have been applicable to your case. Based on the new legal standard, you may seek post-conviction relief.

Vacating vs. Overturning a Conviction

While similar, vacating a conviction and overturning a conviction have subtle differences. Vacating a conviction essentially nullifies the verdict. The court withdraws the verdict or original guilty plea. Legally, this action makes it as though the conviction never happened.

Vacating a conviction often occurs after sentencing, such as in the case of the man convicted of throwing his wife overboard to kill her. The original first- and second-degree murder charges against the man were vacated. As part of the resolution vacating the conviction, the man pleaded guilty to a lesser offense of second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to four years in prison, and was released with credit for time served.

Appeals to higher courts can result in a conviction getting overturned. Through such an action, the defense has a new opportunity to counter the arguments and allegations made by the prosecution. For a conviction to be overturned, at least one of the aforementioned factors must exist. A criminal attorney can help identify what percentage of criminal appeals are successful, helping appellants to have realistic expectations.

What Are the Consequences of a Wrongful Murder Conviction?

A wrongful murder conviction can have life-altering consequences. The repercussions of such a miscarriage of justice can affect the convicted, as well as his or her loved ones, and society as a whole. The fallout from a wrongful conviction may include:

  • Facing up to life in prison
  • Suffering trauma, anxiety, or other emotional or psychological effects
  • Experiencing social stigma, even if released
  • Taking on unnecessary legal costs and losing income
  • Having a legal record, which can impact employment and housing opportunities
  • Struggling to reintegrate into society

The miscarriage of justice in the vacated murder case did not result in a guilty person going free. It did, however, result in the imprisonment of an innocent man. The wrongful conviction cost the man 25 years of his life.

Post-Conviction Relief for the Wrongly Convicted

In addition to post-conviction relief sought through the justice system, those who are wrongfully convicted may take legal action. The wrongfully convicted may file civil lawsuits against the state or other responsible parties for the consequences they suffered as a result of the miscarriage of justice.

With the help of a criminal appeals lawyer, the wrongfully convicted may seek to recover damages for the following:

Loss of Liberty: Compensation for the time spent wrongfully incarcerated, including lost wages and other earning opportunities.

Emotional Distress: Damages for the emotional and psychological trauma caused by the wrongful conviction.

Loss of Reputation: Compensation for harm to the defendant’s reputation and community-standing due to the conviction.

Legal Expenses: Reimbursement for the legal fees and expenses incurred in seeking to reverse the wrongful conviction.

Punitive Damages: The court may see fit to award monetary damages as punishment to parties whose negligence or wrong-doing led to the wrongful conviction.

The man who was wrongfully convicted of killing his wife has filed a lawsuit against the state seeking such relief. He is seeking damages for the loss of his freedom for more than 20 years, personal injuries, emotional distress and severe mental anguish, and pain and suffering.

A wrongful conviction in Minnesota can have life-altering repercussions on the defendant, as well as his or her family. Contact our team at Max Keller Criminal Defense Attorneys to discuss your options.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Stay calm and compose after getting accused of a crime but not charged in Minneapolis, MN. Do not discuss the facts of your case with anyone, including your relatives and family members. Hire a criminal defense attorney with a demonstrated record of winning cases like yours. Your attorney will discuss your rights, guide you on how to cooperate with law enforcement within the legal boundaries, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you could face in the future.
Expungement and sealing of records in Minnesota affect how your criminal history appears to government agencies and the public. The main difference between the two legal actions is that expungement permanently removes past arrests, criminal charges, or convictions from private and public databases, while sealing hides the criminal record from the public. Courts, government entities, and law enforcement agencies can access sealed criminal records.
Minnesota recently passed a public safety bill that brings sweeping changes to the state’s juvenile justice system. While minors sometimes run afoul of the law, the juvenile justice system seeks to account for the differences between children and adults. Therefore, while the penalties for adults convicted of crimes focus on punishment, those for juveniles are aimed at diversion and restorative practices.