In August 2016, a 911 call reported that a car was on fire on a street in Redwood Falls.
Members of the local fire and police departments responded to the scene. At the scene, officers approached the owner of the vehicle, Deitrick Aaron Gill, who spoke with the officers and indicated that he had been working on the car earlier in the day and that earlier he had also removed some stereo equipment.
Due to the fact that the officers believed the circumstances surrounding the car fire were suspicious, the vehicle was towed and impounded for further investigation.
After continued investigation, Gill was charged with one count of second-degree arson and one count of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.
In March 2019, a three-day trial took place, and a jury found Gill guilty of both offenses, and he was sentenced to serve 48 months in prison for the arson conviction.
Following the conviction and sentence, an appeal was filed in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and in mid-July a decision was handed down by the court that reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial indicating that the charges be limited to fifth-degree arson and insurance fraud.
In the appeal it was argued that Gill’s convictions should be reversed because his wife was incompetent to testify against him based on the marital privilege, that it was plain error affecting his substantial rights for the district court to permit a police officer to testify he knew Gill through prior contacts, that it was misconduct by the prosecutor elicit inadmissible evidence, the jury instructions omitted an accomplice liability instruction, that the cumulative effect of the trial errors deprived the defendant of a fair trial and that the evidence was insufficient to prove the element of arson.
In the appeals court decision, it was noted that none of the errors in the appeal were objected to at trial or otherwise raised in district court.
The court did determine it would consider the issues of the appeal due to the fact that it “constituted plain error.” The court did determine the allowance of testimony by his spouse did affect the defendant’s rights, that other assertions of errors had been made and that the state’s evidence “was insufficient to prove second-degree arson during the trial.”
As a result the court reversed the conviction and remanded for a new trial limited to fifth-degree arson and insurance fraud.