Prosecution’s ‘wall of evidence’ hasn’t quite been that

Andrew Tellijohn

The prosecution of an October rape and burglary incident has reached a midway point.
While Puiassance Andersen and Victor Porter await sentencing, Giezwa Andersen and Antonio Burton are facing upcoming trials for their alleged involvement in an October burglary of the apartment complex of three women living near Dinkytown.
During the break-in, two of the women were raped by one of the intruders.
Although the prosecution says it has stacked a mountain of evidence against the four men, its victories thus far have hardly been resounding.
Puiassance Andersen was convicted Friday on three counts of aggravated robbery and one count of aiding and abetting burglary in the first degree. However, he was acquitted of six charges of aiding and abetting criminal sexual conduct.
Porter, in February, pleaded guilty to one count of burglary in exchange for his testimony against the other men and will likely only face a year in the Hennepin County Workhouse if prosecutors deem his testimony against the defendants honest.
Whether or not Porter meets their standards will be determined after all three of the other trials are complete.
Giezwa Andersen will stand trial in late May. Burton’s trial date will follow.
Physical evidence linking Puiassance Andersen to the crime scene was non-existent. The state’s case against him was based solely on circumstantial evidence and testimony from witnesses who heard him talking about the incident the following morning. In addition, the two main witnesses, Rachel Kemptner and Porter, had their motives questioned and soundly criticized by the defense.
The “wall of evidence” prosecutor Steve Redding discussed in his closing argument is much stronger against the two men still awaiting trial.
DNA samples taken from the scene connect Burton to the premises. And fingerprints from both Porter and Giezwa Andersen linked them to the crime scene.
Although he didn’t say DNA evidence is the most important issue in the trial, Redding granted it will play a major role in Burton’s trial.
“The DNA is going to be crucial,” he said.
Burton’s attorney, Arthur “Arturo” Martinez, a private attorney assigned by the state to work as a public defender in this case, faces the task of refuting this evidence.
However daunting the task may be, the case is hardly open and shut.
“There’s room there to argue about what that DNA evidence means,” Redding said.
DNA evidence is generally considered as accurate as fingerprinting. Estimates show the possibility of a random person matching with the DNA is one in a million or higher.
Burton is believed to be the one who raped two of the women in the apartment. Testimony during Puiassance Andersen’s trial accused Burton of bragging about committing the sexual assaults when he saw an account of the incident on the late news the next day.
Although he is charged with aiding and abetting sexual assault rather than rape, Redding said there really isn’t a difference, which is why all four men originally faced the same set of charges.
“When you have co-defendants, you charge them all as aiders and abetters of each other,” he said. “You’re actually saying they’re all doing something in furtherance of the crime and in doing so, they are aiding and abetting each other.”
When Giezwa Andersen goes to trial in May, he will be tried on burglary, robbery and criminal sexual conduct charges just like his brother Puiassance and Burton. Representing Andersen during trial will be Keith Ellison, the Executive Director of the Legal Rights Center. Ellison has defended several high-profile clients over the past few years, including Sharif Willis, the Vice Lords gang leader convicted in 1995 of robbery and kidnapping.
Ellison has said in the past that he will not discuss the case in the media. However, the defense will likely focus on the fact that although Andersen was there, he had no idea what was happening.
During Puiassance Andersen’s trial, Porter testified that he and Giezwa were only following Puiassance and Burton to the apartment complex because they didn’t know what was going on and had nowhere else to go.
In addition, the defense may challenge the state’s fingerprint evidence. A Burnsville fingerprint expert has been hired to analyze the print found at the scene and testify on Giezwa Andersen’s behalf.
Giezwa Andersen has been out of jail on house arrest since October.
Puiassance Andersen, who will be sentenced May 9, could face up to 16 years in prison. However, Judge Mary Steenson has the right to adjust the sentence upward or downward based on a number of aggravating or extenuating circumstances, such as the number of victims or the person’s level of involvement in the crimes. Presumptive sentencing guidelines for each of the charges is four years.
If Steenson chooses to stick with the stated guidelines, the question becomes whether Andersen will serve all sentences at the same time. If not, he could receive 16 years.