Maple Grove Woman Convicted of Murder to Get New Trial
The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled this week that a Maple Grove woman convicted of killing her boyfriend can get a new trial.
A jury had convicted Stephanie Clark, now 32, of second-degree murder in October 2021. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that jurors weren’t given proper instructions on the law of self-defense.
Clark has claimed self-defense in the death of 30-year-old Don’Juan Butler at her Maple Grove home on March 5, 2020.
According to court documents, Clark testified that Butler punched her, pointed a loaded gun at her head and threatened to kill her. That’s when she picked up a gun and shot Butler multiple times, killing him. Clark argued during trial that she feared Butler would kill her, recounting past abuse cases, and raised concern that Butler would harm her 5-year-old son, who was present at the scene.
“We are grateful that the decision was reached and looking forward to exonerating my client,” said Clark’s attorney, Eric Doolittle, representing Appelman Law Firm.
The Court of Appeals decision says “the district court erred in its jury instructions because it materially misstated the law of self-defense and failed to tailor the instructions to the unique facts of the case.”
Those facts, according to the ruling, included that the district court wrongly instructed the jury on the definition of “imminent,” when it instructed jurors that it meant great bodily harm would happen “immediately.”
“There is no legal basis for this erroneous instruction,” read the appellate court’s opinion.
“By instructing the jury that ‘imminent’ means ‘immediate,’ the district court telegraphed to the jury that holding a loaded gun to a person’s head and threatening harm does not qualify as an imminent threat,” the opinion continued.
Caitlinrose Fisher, an attorney with Forsgren Fisher, also represented Clark in her appeal.
“The law in Minnesota requires jury instructions that account for the unique circumstances facing victims of domestic violence,” said Fisher in a statement to CCX News. “We are glad that the Minnesota Court of Appeals recognized that the district court’s jury instructions were not tailored to domestic violence and did not account for the terror and abuse that Ms. Clark experienced before she acted in self-defense.”
The full statement from Forsgren Fisher can be found here.
Clark was sentenced last year to 25 years in prison for the 2021 jury conviction.