Man Convicted in Farm Murder Gets New Trial

     ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – Nearly three years into his quarter-century prison term, a Minnesota man will get another shot to prove his innocence at a new murder trial.
     Timothy John Huber of Paynesville, Minn., was convicted on July 12, 2013, of second-degree intentional murder and second-degree felony murder for the fatal shooting of a neighbor in Kandiyohi County.
     But the trial court blundered when instructing the jury, failing to define “intentionally aiding” and using the word “intentional” when describing Huber’s role in the crime, according to a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling filed Wednesday.
     “The jury instructions in this case…failed to require that the aiding and abetting be intentional when stating the elements of the offense,” Judge Christopher Dietzen wrote. “The jury therefore could have believed Huber’s version of events and yet still convicted him because of these errors.”
     Huber’s father, then-80-year-old Delbert Huber, pulled the trigger on Timothy Larson, according to the opinion.
     The younger Huber had a long-simmering feud with the victim, the son of a farmer who owned land abutting their own, that “boiled over into violence” in October 2011, the ruling states.
     Larson’s father, unbeknownst to him, had arranged for Huber to do farm chores while he was out of town. When Larson arrived at his father’s farm and found Huber there, he repeatedly asked him to leave and remove his equipment, which Huber initially refused to do, according to court records.
     Huber and his father eventually removed the equipment to a nearby farm, but returned the following morning so that Huber could do the chores.
     “Delbert, who did not normally carry a gun, brought a rifle and ammunition with him,” Wednesday’s opinion states, adding later that the father testified his son never touched the gun and didn’t know his father intended to shoot Larson.
     Delbert fatally shot Larson during a fight and called the police several hours later to report it.
     The jury acquitted Huber of first-degree murder, but convicted him on two counts of second-degree murder, one intentional, one felonious, court records show. He was sentenced to 306 months – 25 and a half years – in prison.
     Because he did not challenge the jury instructions during trial, Huber had a larger hurdle to jump when appealing after the fact: he had to prove plain error, and that the error prejudiced him.
     His challenge survived that test, as none of the jury instructions’ 13 references to Huber’s “aiding and abetting” included the requirement that it find he was purposely helping to commit a murder.
     “The instructions allowed the jury to convict Huber merely because he was present at the farm or took some actions that may have assisted Delbert in committing an offense,” Dietzen wrote in the 17-page ruling.
     As to whether it prejudiced him, the answer was another resounding yes, Dietzen ruled, because the state’s evidence of Huber’s involvement was not overwhelming and Huber’s evidence may otherwise have established his lack of intent.
     “Specifically, Huber argued and presented evidence that he did not know his father was going to shoot Larson, that he was not present when the altercation occurred and Delbert shot Larson, and that he did not intend his actions to further the commission of the crime,” the opinion states.
     The ruling continues: “Moreover, Huber argued and presented testimony that he was under the control of Delbert, who was an abusive father. There was testimony by two witnesses that over the years Delbert hit Huber in the head with a baseball bat, slapped him in the face with a glove, and threatened to kick him if he did not finish his work.”
     Dietzen ordered that a new trial was necessary to “protect the fairness, integrity, and public reputation of the judicial proceedings.”
     Julie Loftus Nelson of the state public defender’s office, who represented Huber before the Minnesota Supreme Court, said they’re “obviously very pleased with the result.”
     Because Huber’s convictions were reversed, he will be sent back from Department of Corrections’ custody to that of Kandiyohi County, according to Nelson. He will also be treated as a pre-trial inmate, as he is no longer a convicted felon, she said.
     Assistant Attorney General James B. Early argued on behalf of the state. A call to him was directed to his office’s communication director, who did not immediately return a voicemail.
     The case will be handed back to Kandiyohi County for prosecution in the new trial, Nelson said. Shane Baker, the Kandiyohi County Attorney, also did not immediately return a voicemail.

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