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Court: Murder trial can include deceased's behavior, reputation

The defense for an August 2017 murder case will be permitted to use the alleged victim's reputation as part of its argument when the case goes to trial later this month.

The court addressed that and other motions during a hearing Thursday morning in the case of 50-year-old Anthony Lewis, who is accused of stabbing Quinn Schleuning four times at a Mitchell residence, resulting in Schleuning's death.

According to court documents, the incident took place after Schleuning assaulted Lewis' neighbor. Lewis is charged with first- and second-degree murder, and if convicted on either charge, he would receive a mandatory life sentence. Schleuning's parents opted in January not to pursue the death penalty if Lewis is found guilty.

Zachary Flood, one of Lewis' attorneys, argued that giving the jury information about Schleuning's reportedly violent history of behavior when under the influence of alcohol would be necessary in providing the context of the incident, allowing the defense to make the case that Schleuning, not Lewis, was the primary aggressor and that Lewis' actions were done in self-defense.

"This is to go to (Schleuning's) motive, his intent, lack of accident, his state of mind and what he was doing when he got there," Flood said.

Davison County State's Attorney Jim Miskimins, who is prosecuting the case for the state, made the argument that the defense being permitted to allow the evidence in question would lead to "nothing more than a character assassination." Miskimins also said that there has been no record of Lewis saying he knew much about Schleuning's reputation in the community, making third-party evidence such as police reports irrelevant.

Judge Chris Giles, citing the rules of evidence outlined in state law, granted the defense's request, but with some restrictions.

Giles said that to establish relevance, it must be established that Schleuning had been drinking at the time of the incident, and that the evidence presented should come from witnesses testifying to Schleuning's overall public reputation, not from discussion of specific events — unless it can be proven that Lewis had prior knowledge of those events.

"The court believes there's some relevance here," Giles said. "But the court believes it's going to be appropriate to limit that to his reputation — the decedent's — from other witnesses and limit the specific act part."

Giles said that if the defense calls Schleuning's reputation into question during its case in chief, the prosecution has the chance to similarly bring attention to Lewis' reputation during its rebuttal.

The court also granted the defense's request to take the jury to the apartment building where the incident occurred. Flood said that photos of Lewis' apartment building, which includes small spaces and narrow hallways, do not do the scene justice.

The jury will be taken to see the outside of the building, a stairwell and the area where Schleuning was found by police and will be accompanied by counsel from both sides, a court reporter and as many law enforcement officers as are necessary to ensure security and public safety, Giles said.

Prior to going to the scene, the jury will be given guidance on what to pay attention to while there, either in the form of a "road map" laid out by questioning a witness or in a set of written jury instructions.

Giles also granted the defense's two requests for additional expert funding. Previously, maximums of $5,000 each were authorized for a private investigator, a forensic medical examiner and a pharmacology expert.

An additional $5,000 each was granted to be spent on the private investigator and the forensic medical examiner. Chris Nipe, Lewis' attorney, noted that defense had not used the money authorized for the pharmacology expert and would not be needing it moving forward.

A final hearing was scheduled for Nov. 21. Jury selection for Lewis' trial is set to begin on Nov. 28, and opening statements are expected to be given Nov. 30.