Conduct in Buggs trial is reviewed

by Joe Carlson

Twelve new jurors might have to hear the account of Kami Talley’s last words if the Minnesota Supreme Court decides the trial that convicted her murderer was invalid.
The court heard arguments Wednesday morning that Louis Cardona “Butch” Buggs did not receive an impartial trial.
Buggs’ defense argued prosecutors misconducted themselves during the trial, one juror was removed from service improperly and the jury was not advised of all of their options before coming to a verdict.
The court is not expected to deliver an opinion for several months.
Buggs was convicted of the 1996 Valentine’s Day murder of Talley last February and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 30 years.
Talley was shot eight times while working at Electric Wire Products Corp., in northeast Minneapolis. A police sergeant testified that when he asked Talley who fired the shots, Talley replied “Butch” and then “Buggs.”
Buggs was apprehended by FBI officials on April 20, 1996, outside of his sister’s house in Alexandria, Va., more than two months after the shooting.
During Buggs’ trial, jurors heard that he and Talley met in high school and dated for nearly four years. The two had a child named Ambreen Talley, born in 1991.
The relationship was broken off in early 1995. Later that year, Buggs was convicted of beating Talley at her grandmother’s house and served three months in jail. Buggs was released in November of that year and was told not to contact Talley, but he defied that order on many occasions to see Ambreen.
Talley was killed three months later, and Buggs was convicted almost a year after that. At the time of the verdict, Buggs declared he would appeal the decision.
Defense attorney Steven Russett said it was not unusual for Buggs’ case to bypass appeals court and go directly to the state Supreme Court, where six justices heard arguments Wednesday. Russett said first-degree murder appeals normally go straight to the state Supreme Court.
One of the most important aspects of the appeal, Russett said, was misconduct on the part of the prosecuting attorneys during the original trial.
Russett argued Buggs didn’t receive an impartial jury after six or seven incidents when prosecutors conducted themselves unprofessionally. At one point, Russett said, a prosecutor whispered, “she’s lying” during a defense questioning. The whisper, he argued, affected the jury after it was discussed among jurors before deliberations.
Prosecuting attorney Donna Wolfson, who did not argue last year’s case, explained to the court that at times the case reviewed strong but grisly evidence that produced frustration when challenged by the defense.
“These prosecutors are human,” Wolfson said.
Russett said the issue of misconduct among prosecutors is a recurring problem, especially in Hennepin County murder trials. He also took issue with the removal of one juror, based on her views about the treatment of people of color by the justice system.
The juror, a white school teacher in Minneapolis, told prosecutors she believed blacks are not treated fairly by the courts.
Russett argued the removal of people of any racial background based on their views of how African-Americans are treated by the court system will hurt fair juries. He said it will deprive people of color in this county of juries with similar ethnic and ideological backgrounds.
Wolfson countered that race was not an issue in Buggs’ trial.
“It’s jealousy, it’s as old as history,” she said. “This is a love affair gone bad. That’s what this case is about.” It was argued briefly in the trial that Buggs spotted Talley with another man just before the murder.
Also, Russett argued that Judge Peter H. Albrecht, who presided over the original case in Hennepin County court, didn’t properly advise the jury of their ability to not return a verdict.
During deliberations, jurors asked to review the testimony from the sergeant who said Talley indicated to him Buggs shot her. Albrecht denied the request.
“Everybody recognized in this case (the testimony) was the critical piece of evidence,” Russett said.
“The courts have recognized that a hung jury is a legitimate end to a criminal trial,” Russett said. “Here you have a jury saying, We can’t make a decision without this evidence,’ and what the judge should have done is let this jury know … that’s OK.”
Wolfson replied that she didn’t think Albrecht abused his discretion in this case.
“We’re not saying Mr. Buggs should go free at this point, but simply that he be given a new trial where these errors don’t occur so that we can have confidence in the ultimate verdict,” Russett said.