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Court of Appeals hears Tuchek case

Fri, Jun 13th, 2003
Posted in Features

On Tuesday, June 10, the defense attorney for former Lanesboro Police Chief John Tuchek presented oral arguments before the Minnesota Court of Appeals asking that Tucheks sentence be reduced.

Tuchek was convicted of eight counts of first degree arson in the April 2002 hero fire that destroyed three buildings in Lanesboros historic downtown district. Tuchek set the fire so that he could rescue the occupants and win the heart of an ex-girlfriend.

Tuchek was sentenced to six years in prison (an upward departure of 50%) and ordered to pay an estimated $800,000 in restitution to his victims.

During Tucheks trial the defense rested without calling any witnesses, arguing that the state had failed to prove their case. At the time, defense attorney Mark Kurzman told the court that Tuchek was guilty of a lesser charge, fifth-degree arson, rather than the first degree charges where intent must be proven. Fifth degree arson carries a sentence of 90 days in jail.

The defense maintained at the time that Tuchek started cardboard on a trailer on fire, not cardboard close to the building.

In October of 2002, the defense filed a motion for a new trial which was later denied. At that time Kurzman argued that the court had turned down the defenses request to call a witness who claims to be able to back up Tucheks story that the fire started on a trailer.

In their brief to the Appeals Court, the defense maintains that there was insufficient evidence to convict Tuchek of first degree arson and that Tuchek was deprived of due process when the witness was not allowed to testify. Kurzman is seeking to have the Court of Appeals reduce Tucheks sentence to the lesser charge of fifth degree arson; and if not, to reduce the existing sentence by 1/3 to four years in prison.

The state was represented by Assistant State Attorney General John Galus. In his brief, Galus countered Kurzmans arguments, contending that the defense had ample opportunity to call witnesses. He also maintained that the upward departure in sentencing was appropriate given the multiple victims.

A ruling by the state Court of Appeals is expected by the end of summer.

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