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Tuchek asks for mistrial

Fri, Nov 1st, 2002
Posted in Features

Minnesota Department of Corrections file photo of former Lanesboro Police Chief John Tuchek who is being housed at the Minneosta Corrections Facility in St. Cloud. Tuchek was found guilty of nine counts of arson in the April 7 fire in Lanesboro. Sentencing is scheduled for December 16 in Preston.

Less than one week after being found guilty in Fillmore County District Court on nine counts of arson in the April 7 fire that destroyed two historic buildings in downtown Lanesboro, the lawyer for John Tuchek has filed papers in Fillmore County District Court asking for a new trial.

Tucheks lawyer, Marc Kurzman of Minneapolis, based his written request to Judge James Fabian on the grounds that there was misconduct on the part of the prosecution during the trial and that errors of law occurred. Kurzman also stated in his brief that the verdict is not justified by the evidence.

Kurzman claims that prosecutor Peter Orput, from the Attorney Generals Office, introduced extensive evidence (such as how tragic it was for the victims of the fire to suffer loss of income, property and inconvenience) having no bearing upon the elements to be proven, but which was calculated (and apparently successfully so) to inflame the passion and prejudice of the jury; thus depriving Mr. Tuchek of a fair trial.

Mr. Kurzman further claims that the states case was circumstantial and that the defense was not allowed to introduce witnesses who could provide an alternative theory as to the origin and sequence of the fire.

The defense claims that statements taken from a witness by investigators at the scene of the fire, but not allowed at the trial, could have substantiated Tucheks claim that the fire started on a trailer. They also claim that a polygraph taken by Tuchek, if admitted in court, would have supported the innocence of Tuchek of first degree arson.

During the trial, the defense maintained that Tuchek used a rag with candle oil to start cardboard on fire in a trailer near the Little River General Store building and that the fire was then spread by wind to cardboard next to the building. Kurzman admitted that Tuchek was guilty of the lesser charge of fifth degree arson, but not the other charges where intent to destroy or damage the buildings was essential to guilt.

After getting the chief investigator in the case, Fillmore County Sheriff Investigator Daryl Jensen, to admit under cross examination in court that he did not have any evidence that Tuchek intended to destroy or damage the buildings, the defense chose not to call any witnesses in their own defense, including the defendant.

The state on the other had claimed that Tuchek used an accelerant (gasoline) to start a hero fire on a stack of cardboard next to the Little River General Store in an attempt to win back his ex-girlfriend, Anessa Dawley, who had broken up with him on April 6. The state called expert witnesses that showed that the fire was started in cardboard next to the building, and not on the trailer, and that an accelerant was used.

State prosecutor Peter Orput called Kurzmans action a frivolous motion and that Tucheks money would be better spent making restitution to his victims.

He (Kurzman) had every opportunity to subpoena and call any witness he wanted to, Orput told the Journal by phone. He chose not to and for a reason. Orput has filed a response to Kurzmans motion with the District Court.

Judge James Fabian will hear the motion for a new trial on November 18 in Houston County. Sentencing for Tuchek is scheduled for December 16 in Preston.

Tuchek has been remanded to the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.

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