Man seeks new trial in Winner kidnapping, rape caseGabriel D. Medicine Eagle Jr., now 35, was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to life in prison after advances in DNA testing prompted the state to charge him with assaulting a 15-year-old girl in 2000 near Winner.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — An attorney for a South Dakota man convicted of rape and kidnapping asked the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to grant his client a new trial because he was not allowed to question one of the experts who analyzed DNA evidence used against him.
Gabriel D. Medicine Eagle Jr., now 35, was convicted in 2011 and sentenced to life in prison after advances in DNA testing prompted the state to charge him with assaulting a 15-year-old girl in 2000 near Winner.
Medicine Eagle's lawyer, Paul Jensen of Winner, said his client was denied his constitutional right to confront a witness against him because one of the experts who analyzed and wrote a report about DNA evidence did not testify in the trial.
"If there are scientific findings being made, scientific conclusions being made by somebody in the laboratory that implicate the defendant, I think that's an accuser," Jensen told the Supreme Court.
But Assistant Attorney General Kirsten Jasper told the justices that Medicine Eagle's defense did question the expert who conducted the final DNA analysis. Some of those who did not testify at the trial merely prepared the DNA evidence for testing, she said.
"The state asserts Medicine Eagle had full exercise of his confrontation rights in this case," Jasper said.
The high court will issue a written decision in the case later.
Jensen also told the Supreme Court that Medicine Eagle should get a new trial because prosecutors improperly used evidence that he had allegedly assaulted another girl in a similar manner.
If the high court finds that Medicine Eagle was properly convicted, the justices should require that he be re-sentenced without considering allegations that he is a habitual offender, allegations used to enhance the sentence, Jensen said.
Jasper said evidence of the second assault was properly admitted in the trial to show Medicine Eagle had a common plan or scheme. She said the trial judge also properly considered a prior conviction in enhancing Medicine Eagle's sentence.
Medicine Eagle was first charged in 2001 with assaulting the 15-year-old girl in September of 2000, but those charges were dismissed after testing failed to implicate him and instead indicated the presence of DNA from another male.
After the girl acknowledged she had sex with her boyfriend on the day of the alleged rape, the case was reopened in 2008 and additional DNA testing was done with a new method to determine if Medicine Eagle's DNA was also present. A jury later convicted Medicine Eagle of rape, kidnapping and sexual contact with a child younger than 16.
In Tuesday's hearing, Jensen told the Supreme Court that Medicine Eagle's convictions should be thrown out because an expert who analyzed DNA evidence in 2008 did not appear in the trial.
Jasper said Medicine Eagle's rights were preserved because he questioned the expert who analyzed the DNA evidence in 2011 and presented that final analysis to the jury.
Jensen also said Medicine Eagle was harmed when the trial judge allowed testimony that Medicine Eagle later assaulted another girl in a similar manner by offering to give her a ride and then taking her to a remote place outside of town.
The Supreme Court should forbid such evidence unless a judge or jury finds that a common scheme or plan existed at the time of the offense at issue in a trial, Jensen said. Otherwise, evidence of an alleged similar assault becomes an impermissible character attack, he said.
Jasper said that evidence was properly admitted in the trial. She said the jury was correctly told it could only consider the alleged second crime as evidence of a common plan or scheme, not as evidence that Medicine Eagle was guilty of the offenses at issue in the trial.