Defense attorney questions jury conduct

by Andrew Tellijohn

Judge H. Peter Albrecht received a call from a juror in the Louis Cardona “Butch” Buggs trial before court Friday morning that could have resulted in a mistrial.
Several members of the jury overheard one of the prosecutors say “she’s lying” at one point during the testimony given by Buggs’ sister, Lori. They discussed the statement and decided to call the judge about it. As a result, Albrecht and the attorneys from both sides questioned jurors rather than witnesses in the first two hours Friday.
If Albrecht had decided that all the jurors could not be impartial, the charges could have been dismissed.
All the jurors said the comment wouldn’t have any effect on whether they could impartially rule on the case. Nevertheless, defense attorney John Lucas asked for a mistrial on the grounds of prosecution misconduct for making the comment and jury misconduct for discussing the events in the courtroom, something Albrecht warned them not to do before the trial began.
“It’s hard to be critical of the jurors,” Lucas said. “But it is a disobeying of the court’s orders.”
Friday’s request was the fourth mistrial Lucas has asked for throughout the two-week-old proceeding.
Protests began on the first day when members of Talley’s family entered the courtroom wearing buttons displaying her picture. The next day, Lucas objected to prosecuting attorney Judith Hawley’s courtroom behavior and again requested a mistrial. The third request occurred when the prosecution rested its case. Lucas claimed the case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence.
Albrecht denied Friday’s motion saying he didn’t think the situation hurt the defense’s chances for an acquittal. “What struck me … is can they stay fair to the state?” he said.
During the discussion, one juror said prosecuting attorney Hawley’s mannerisms may be turning off jury members, characterizing them as “arrogant.” Albrecht warned both the prosecution and the defense to pay closer attention to their courtroom behavior.
“Both sides are put on notice that apparently the jury is not missing this,” Albrecht said. “It may be affecting jurors.”
Albrecht also reiterated his belief that the jury is of high quality. He also praised the jury for feeling strongly enough about the comment to discuss whether they should bring it to his attention.
“As I said at the beginning of the trial, I think we have an exceptionally good jury,” he said. “I think that would fall under the realm of what you would expect from a good jury.”
Eventually, attorneys resumed questioning witnesses. Buggs reclaimed the stand to defend himself against allegations that he killed his ex-girlfriend, Kami Talley, last Valentine’s Day at her workplace in northeast Minneapolis.
Thursday, Buggs calmly answered his attorney’s questions. But Friday, he was facing his adversary: Hawley.
Buggs occasionally fired angry questions back at Hawley and at other times he questioned the integrity of her questions, refusing to answer them. However, he calmly responded to most of the attorney’s questions.
Hawley asked Buggs about several pieces of evidence presented against him throughout the trial, including his plans for leaving town, his feelings about Talley, his 1995 assault conviction and alleged threats against Talley.
Buggs said he wasn’t angry that Talley dated other men and drove a new car — even though he lost his pickup during his incarceration for the prior assault. He also said although he and Talley had celebrated Valentine’s Day in the past, the day wasn’t a reminder to him that their relationship was over.
He testified that the will he wrote six days before the murder had been in the works for months. “I wasn’t thinking I was going to die on that day,” Buggs said. “I wrote a will on that day, yes.”
Buggs reinforced Thursday’s testimony that he wasn’t fleeing Minnesota through Texas and Mexico after murdering Talley, but the trip was a vacation he planned with the intention of getting his life back in order.
Hawley also questioned why Buggs had no receipts or written records from stops along the way. Buggs said he paid cash for all the expenses and didn’t keep receipts.
“No, I wouldn’t keep a cash machine receipt,” he said. “I don’t think most people would keep a cash machine receipt.”
Under redirect questioning, Lucas asked if Buggs had been preparing for his murder trial at the time of the vacation, and Buggs said no.
Hawley probed Buggs about several letters found in his house. Some contained threatening messages toward Talley, others were notes asking her to consider reuniting. He said he never mailed any of the messages and was using the notes as a diary of his thoughts.
“Like I said, I was pretty much devastated, stunned and confused,” he said.
Previously, his sister Lena Buggs testified that on the way to a movie, her brother had made references to killing Talley. Buggs denied making the comments or even seeing a movie with Lena under direct examination Thursday. Hawley questioned why he would leave his house in her care while he was gone, even though he said she couldn’t be trusted.
“My sister doesn’t have anything,” he said. “I still love my sister.”
In reference to Buggs’ comments Thursday that he couldn’t understand why someone would think he could kill Talley, Hawley explained that the killer fired through the red Valentine’s Day bag that contained Buggs fingerprint.
She also said Buggs fit Julie Blilie’s description of the killer. Blilie, an employee at Talley’s workplace, testified that she had caught a glimpse of the shooter.
Hawley added that Talley was murdered at the exact time Buggs said he left town.
Hawley then asked if he now understood why he was considered a suspect.
“I understand that I’m the only one that you’ve looked for,” Buggs replied.
After the defense rested its case, prosecutors briefly recalled Talley’s grandmother, Rose Napue, who testified that she had never seen Ambreen or Kami with the bag Buggs claimed was a gift for the child — the same bag in which the killer had concealed the gun.
Both sides will present closing arguments Today. Albrecht said the jury should begin deliberating over its decision sometime in the afternoon. If Buggs is convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.