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Defense win! Trial court should have admitted 3rd party perpetrator DNA evidence at reckless homicide trial

State v. Frederick Ramsey, 2017AP1318-CR, 5/29/19, District 1 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Ramsey confessed to the stabbing death of A.T., but it turns out that the DNA under her fingernails belonged to a guy named Teague. Ramsey filed a motion to admit the DNA evidence  and to argue that Teague killed A.T., pursuant to State v. Denny, 120 Wis. 2d 614, 357 N.W.2d 12 (Ct. App. 1984). He lost, but then persuaded the court of appeals to grant an interlocutory appeal, and  then won. Pretty impressive!

[T]the Denny test requires the trial court to answer the following questions: (1) “did the alleged third-party perpetrator have a plausible reason to commit the crime?”—the motive prong; (2) “could the alleged third-party perpetrator have committed the crime, directly or indirectly? In other words, does the evidence create a practical possibility that the third party committed the crime?”—the opportunity prong; and (3) “is there evidence that the alleged third-party perpetrator actually committed the crime, directly or indirectly?”—the direct connection prong. See [State v. Wilson, 2015 WI 48, ¶47, 362 Wis. 2d 193, ¶¶56-59, 864 N.W.2d 52.] Opinion, ¶23.

Ramsey satisfied all 3 elements of the test. (1) Teague had two possible motives to kill A.T. He had a record of unexplained antisocial behavior–throwing rocks randomly at cars and engaging in antisocial behavior based on perceived slights. And he claimed to have had sex with 30 women in the neighborhood. (2) Teague had an opportunity to kill A.T. because they lived near each other and had been in close enough contact for his DNA to be under her nails. (3) No other sources of DNA were found anywhere on A.T. And her dying words were “somebody stabbed me”–suggesting she didn’t know the perpetrator (whereas she knew Ramsey because they were in a relationship). Opinion, ¶¶25-35.

Ramsey also argued that the test for the admission of 3rd party perpetrator evidence conflicts with a defendant’s constitutional right to present a complete defense. The court of appeals rejected this argument based on Wilson, which held that the Denny test is “correct and constitutionally proper.” Opinion, ¶37.

Judge Brash filed a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part. He would hold that Ramsey failed to establish that Teague had a motive to kill A.T. There was no evidence that Teague knew A.T. [Um. what about her DNA under his fingernails?] Also, the incident where Teague threw rocks at random cars occurred after A.T.’s murder. Brash agreed with the majority that the Denny test is constitutional.

A note for appellate lawyers: The majority (like On Point in this post) refers to the victim by her initials. Brash uses her full name. He notes correctly that the court’s practice is to use a homicide victim’s full name in opinions.  Opinion, ¶43 n.2.

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