Post-conviction relief sought for Brian Pippitt in 1998 murder case

The Great North Innocence Project (GNIP) and Centurion Ministries have filed for post-conviction relief for Brian K. Pippitt in the 1998 murder of Evelyn Malin.

The GNIP said in a press release on Thursday the Minnesota Conviction Review Unit (CRU) completed a two-year investigation. After reviewing extensive materials and interviewing numerous witnesses, the CRU determined he was wrongfully convicted of Malin’s murder and recommended he be "granted post-conviction relief based on his actual innocence."

"Mr. Pippitt has been wrongly incarcerated for 25 years. It is an unconscionable injustice that anyone would now block his immediate release," said Jim Cousins, an attorney for the nonprofit Centurion Ministries.

In February 1998, Malin was found in her Aitkin County home, which was attached to the Dollar Lake Store. During the trial, a man testified he was with Pippitt and three other men when they broke into the store and took cigarettes and beer. They proceeded to enter the woman’s residence through the basement window, killed her and left through the front door, according to the release.

The GNIP said Pippitt was convicted largely based on the testimony of that man, who has since "admitted to fabricating his confession with the help of police." At the time, he had a plea deal to testify in exchange for other felony charges to be resolved.

A jailhouse information was later deemed to be psychotic when he testified that Pippitt told him about the crime. Additionally, the release states that evidence shows no one entered through the basement window, the front door was locked and required a key, and the items were not taken from the store. 

Furthermore, law enforcement did not fully investigate two other suspects, and they were never brought up at trial.  

"Centurion has been investigating Mr. Pippitt’s case for years. Through that investigation, which included witness interviews, document reviews and expert forensic analysis, we determined that Brian Pippitt is completely innocent of the murder of Evelyn Malin. He was not involved in that crime whatsoever," said Jim Cousins, an attorney at Centurion. "Everyone who has investigated this case in a responsible and detailed manner has reached the same conclusion, including the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office which conducted an extraordinary and exhaustive investigation, the Great North Innocence Project, and a law school clinic class at Mitchell Hamline Law School."

Pippitt is serving a life sentence at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Faribault. The Aitkin County Attorney’s Office has 20 days to respond to the petition filing.

Minnesota Attorney General's Office recommends conviction be vacated

The Minnesota Attorney General's Office's Conviction Review Unit (CRU) said on Thursday it has recommended Pippitt's first-degree murder conviction be vacated based on "extensive, independent investigation of the conviction that the CRU conducted," a press release says. 

"After determining that Mr. Pippitt’s application for review had merit, the Conviction Review Unit conducted a careful, lengthy, objective review of the case, during which it engaged outside experts and sought and incorporated diverse opinions. It has now issued its report: I endorse its findings and encourage everyone to read it carefully," Attorney General Ellison said in a statement. "Our goal is to ensure that no innocent person is serving time in a Minnesota prison for a crime they did not commit. No person or community is safer, and justice is not served, when an innocent person is convicted and imprisoned. The only person that is served by a wrongful conviction is the perpetrator who committed the crime."

This marks the first time the CRU has recommended a full exoneration of an incarcerated person, the press release says. This is the second time the CRU has recommended relief based on a wrongful conviction.