A jury in Hennepin County District Court on March 30 acquitted Jamaal Freeman, who was accused of killing and robbing Kingfield resident Mark Loesch in 2007. The decision came a year after the jury in a trial that was ultimately thrown out found him guilty of the same charges.
Judge Mark Wernick ruled in the first trial that the prosecution failed to disclose evidence that could have helped the defense, so a retrial was set. The undisclosed information — notes from police interviews with confidential informants — was paramount in achieving the new outcome, said Freeman’s defense attorney Emmett Donnelly, who worked the case with lawyer Shawn Kennon.
“It took us three years to get here, but all we ever wanted was the evidence,” Donnelly said. “It’s something that should have happened a year ago. [Freeman] shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”
Loesch, a 41-year-old software engineer, husband and father of four, was found dead from blows to the head in a South Minneapolis lawn Sept. 13 after leaving the previous night around 10:30 p.m. for a ride on his freshly built Schwinn bike.
The incident caused an outpouring of community concern and questions as investigators turned up nothing for several weeks. More intrigue erupted after arrests were made and police revealed a possible drug-deal-gone-wrong scenario. That theory was rejected by family members and debated in the community, but strengthened at the first trial by the prosecution’s account of the incident and testimony by widow Samantha Loesch about her husband’s prior struggles with substance abuse.
As the jury in the second trial announced its findings, Samantha Loesch abruptly left the room. Other family members were outraged by the decision.
“He got away with murder,” said Loesch’s father, John Loesch.
His mother, Patricia Loesch, blamed Judge Wernick.
“It was a miscarriage of justice,” she said immediately following the decision. “Wernick allowed that to happen.”
Freeman’s family rejoiced at the news, tearfully hugging one another. They declined to comment on the decision.
Donnelly said Freeman plans to return to Maryland, where he moved with his mother in 2007. He came back to Minneapolis briefly to gain custody of his son. It was during that time that the murder happened and he was arrested, along with Donald Jackson, who pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting aggravated robbery in exchange for a lesser charge.
Jackson, now 25, said during questioning by Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Therese Galatowitsch that he was selling marijuana at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue Sept. 12. Around 8:30 p.m., he said Freeman, a friend, came to the corner to go to convenience store Cup Foods and the two made plans to go out later that night.
He said Freeman, after returning to the area later on, hatched a plan to rob Loesch, who had also returned to the corner. It was then that Freeman led Loesch to a yard on the 3700 Block of Elliott Avenue, where he beat him with a bat and robbed him, said Jackson, who claimed to watch the incident from behind some bushes.
Multiple witnesses corroborated the story, but criminal histories, previous lies to police and a common affiliation with the Bloods gang detracted from their credibility.
“The state did not pick these witnesses,” Galatowitsch said to jurors in her closing statement. “The defendant did.”
She argued that Freeman leaked his involvement in the crime to friends in the days and weeks following the incident.
Juror Brandon Jones said he and his fellow jurors didn’t find the witnesses to be reliable. He said the majority of them were on board with the not-guilty verdict right away.
He was among the few who were initially unsure. Jones said he had a gut feeling that Freeman was guilty, but he couldn’t make that decision within the parameters the court laid out for him because the evidence didn’t show proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
“I think we all felt the same way,” he said.
It was Freeman’s soft-spoken testimony, Jones said, that really caused him to rethink a guilty verdict.
On the stand, Freeman said he was mixing music at his brother’s studio in South Minneapolis on Sept 12. He said he left twice: Once to get burgers at Cup Foods and again to go to a downtown strip club with Jackson.
He said he initially didn’t want to go to the club, telling Jackson, “I ain’t trying to spend no money on strippers.”
Jackson said he’d cover the cost, Freeman said.
Freeman claimed he had just met Jackson and only when out with him that one time. He said other individuals who had testified against him, claiming he was a friend, were also just acquaintances. When pressed by Galatowitsch about committing the crime, Freeman said, “I wouldn’t do anything like that. Period.”
The defense also suggested the involvement of Kevin Dickerson, who was 12 at the time of the murder. Dickerson, who knew Jackson and Freeman, found Loesch’s body in his yard Sept. 13. He also testified to owning a red bat that was kept in the backyard until that day, when it vanished.
It was never found, nor was any other physical or forensic evidence.
In his closing arguments, Donnelly suggested Jackson made his plea agreement to get off the hook for a murder he committed, possibly with the help of Dickerson and others. He called the prosecution’s witnesses unreliable and the story unbelievable.
Galatowitsch declined to comment after the trial, but Deputy Hennepin County Prosecutor Pat Diamond said winning a case twice is a challenge for prosecutors. He said he thought the state’s case was stronger this time around.
“But I wasn’t the decision maker,” he said. “The jury was.”
Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]