The Minnesota Court of Appeals issued its opinion on Monday, reversing Anthony Trifiletti's second-degree murder conviction and 12.5-year prison sentence, and sent it back to the state district court for a new trial.
Ramsey County Attorney spokesperson Dennis Gerhardstein told FOX 9, on Monday "We just received the decision and will make a decision about next steps in the near future."
Trifiletti's conviction came in his second trial in April 2021, which followed a mistrial after a jury couldn't reach a unanimous verdict in the May 2021 trial.
Trifiletti and his attorney appealed the conviction, seeking a new trial stating the district court violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser during the April 2021 trial, when a witness wasn't present in court due to possible exposure to COVID-19.
During the trial, the district court gave Trifiletti two alternatives to presenting the witness' testimony: play video testimony from the first trial or read her testimony from it to the jury. Trifiletti objected to both. The district court found neither option would "violate the confrontation clause," and after some discussion, the witness's testimony was read to the jury.
The appeals court said, the witness's possible exposure to COVID-19 alone did not make her unavailable to testify, and therefore, the district court "erred by allowing the state to present her prior testimony" and "the state failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that such a specific public-health concern existed."
"Prohibiting [the witness] from testifying in person violated Trifiletti's constitutional right to confront [the witness]. That error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and Trifiletti is entitled to a new trial," the court's opinion said.
The fatal shooting
Trifiletti, of Watertown, Minnesota, was charged with second-degree murder in the May 1, 2020, shooting death of Douglas Lewis, 39, of St. Paul. Prosecutors said Trifiletti shot and killed Lewis after Lewis had bumped into his vehicle at the Burns Avenue exit on Highway 61.
Investigators say the minor collision escalated when both men got out of their vehicles to exchange insurance information. They started to argue, and at one point they both ran back to their vehicles, charges said. Trifiletti said he got a 9mm handgun from his truck and put it in his waistband. He then said he saw Lewis put his hand beneath his shirt, assuming he was reaching for a gun, and Trifiletti drew his gun, shooting Lewis four times.
Trifiletti said he thought he was going to die and was afraid for his life. After the shooting, Trifiletti said he got back into his truck, turned around and left in case he "hadn’t extinguished the threat," the charges say. Trifiletti told police he called his father and told him what happened. His father told him to return to the scene, which he did.
No weapons were found on Lewis, according to the charges.