ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - It was a high-profile, racially charged murder case in Ramsey County, and it's now in the hands of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Anthony Trifiletti shot and killed unarmed, black motorist Dougie Lewis after a minor fender-bender accident in May 2020. It would take two trials and two separate juries to find Trifiletti guilty of murder.
The sides are arguing whether Trifiletti is now entitled to a third trial. He has always maintained he fired in self-defense, fearing for his own life.
The specific legal issue in question on Wednesday involves critical eyewitness testimony at trial during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trifiletti is currently serving a 12.5-year sentence at the Stillwater prison. One jury was deadlocked on a verdict and the second jury convicted him on murder charges after the Ramsey County Attorney's Office immediately retired the case.
"This was the most important witness at the trial. The only eyewitness who saw the shooting," argued Anders Erickson, a Trifiletti attorney, before six justices of the state’s highest court. New Associate Justice Karl Procaccini was recused from taking part in the matter.
Trifiletti’s attorneys were in a unique setting inside the Montevideo High School gymnasium, where the justices listened to arguments in front of a live audience of young students.
The question at hand, is the now 28-year-old Trifiletti entitled to that third trial? The Court of Appeals says, yes. The state says, no.
"Even if there was an error here, it was harmless," explained Tom Ragatz, serving as an Assistant Ramsey County Attorney, during his arguments.
At Trifiletti’s first trial, an eyewitness to the deadly encounter testified about what she saw that night. His legal team believed they were able to poke holes in the woman’s account, and that helped convince some jurors not to convict.
At his second trial, the same woman had an apparent COVID exposure. Ramsey County District Court Judge Thomas Gilligan decided she should not come to the courthouse because of health concerns.
Instead, Judge Gilligan gave the defense the option to allow her to either testify remotely via video or have her prior testimony read into the record. Trifiletti and his attorney selected the latter, having her testimony read to the jury. Following the guilty verdict, they appealed, arguing it was a violation of Trifiletti’s constitutional right to confront witnesses.
According to current Department of Corrections records, Trifiletti has a little less than five years left to spend behind bars on his sentence. In a separate civil case, a judge ordered Trifiletti to pay Lewis’ family $7.5 million in connection to a wrongful death lawsuit.
It is unclear when the Minnesota Supreme Court will rule on the issue of a third criminal trial for Trifiletti. The average time between oral arguments and an order from the state’s high court is about four and a half months.