Jamaal Freeman, convicted in May of killing Kingfield resident Mark Loesch in September 2007, flashed a relieved smile and nodded toward his family when entering a Hennepin County courtroom Aug. 17, just hours after Judge Mark Wernick granted him a new trial.
Defense attorneys Emmett Donnelly and Shawn Kennon filed the motion for a retrial, claiming the prosecution didn’t disclose police notes that pointed to the possible involvement of a 12-year-old boy in the crime. The lawyers also requested acquittal, which Wernick denied. But the judge explained in a 33-page order why he thought a new trial was needed.
“In this case, the prosecutor’s failure to make timely disclosure of evidence favorable to Jamaal Freeman deprived the jury of a fair opportunity to determine whether the state proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Wernick wrote.
The week-and-a-half-long trial, which resulted in a second-degree murder conviction, was based almost entirely on witness testimony, since no physical or forensic evidence was found at the crime scene. In his order, Wernick said the state’s case hinged on testimony from three people: Donald Jackson, an accomplice who pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery in exchange for a lighter sentence; David Tyus, a paid informant; and “Little Kevin” Dickerson, a boy who was 12 when he reportedly discovered Loesch’s body in his front yard on the way to school.
Late in the trial, testimony from Minneapolis police officer Tim Costello revealed that rough notes suggesting Dickerson’s presence during the crime — taken during questioning of Tyus — were submitted to the prosecution a month earlier. Those notes never made it to the defense, which had demanded them.
Wernick said the information could have significantly changed the defense’s strategy.
“Had the defense known about Costello’s notes before trial, the defense could have reasonably argued that Jackson committed the crime with Little Kevin’s assistance, and that Jackson, Tyus and Little Kevin were giving false testimony against Freeman in order to obtain a reduced sentence for Jackson while protecting Little Kevin,” Wernick wrote.
As it was, the defense argued that Jackson acted alone and that he and Tyus, both linked to the Bloods gang, testified falsely against Freeman, who was not affiliated with the group. That scenario fell short with the jury, which sided with Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Therese Galatowitsch’s argument that Freeman beat Loesch with a baseball bat and robbed him while Jackson hid behind some nearby bushes.
Galatowitsch said Loesch — who had completed rehabilitation for substance abuse years earlier — might have encountered Jackson and Freeman while trying to buy drugs near 38th Street and Chicago Avenue.
The 41-year-old husband and father of four left home on his bicycle around 10:30 p.m. Sept. 12. His body was found the next morning two miles away, on the 3700 block of Elliot Avenue. Initially thought to be a random crime, the incident caused an outpouring of community concern and questions.
Loesch’s family was relieved to finally get some closure after Freeman’s conviction in May. For them, Wernick’s decision was beyond frustrating. Molly Hanson, sister of Loesch’s widow, Samantha, said the new trial prolongs the family’s ability to move on with their lives.
“It was hard enough losing Mark,” she said. “It’s just really hard to have to relive it all over again.”
Prosecutors claimed no wrongdoing in the case, arguing that the notes were turned over when they were discovered. At a brief hearing Aug. 17, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Mike Richardson questioned the “wisdom” of Wernick’s decision but said state law prevented him from filing an appeal. Galatowitsch said she would be filing a motion to have Wernick removed from the new trial because of bias issues.
Freeman’s family declined to comment on the judge’s decision, but was all smiles while thanking the defense attorneys after the hearing.
The second trial is set to begin at 9 a.m. Feb. 16.