Justice: Denied -- The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted

 

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Chester Lee Grauberger and Wendy Wells

Chester Lee Grauberger Story:

Edited By Pamela Eller

NOTE: women who are being abused are alone and frightened. They will protect the abuser and they will lie for him and make excuses for him, in an effort to protect themselves from more beatings. Abused women have the mistaken belief that the abuser can and will change with enough love and excuses and cover-ups. They're more afraid of being alone than in a dysfunctional relationship. Although it may not be true in this particular story, there are many of us on the team who believe the victim fits into this abused woman, enabler category. That is up to you to decide.

Chester's Story:

My dream comes true and all my hard work was beginning to pay off. My dream turns into a nightmare. My life as I knew it has been destroyed and the evidence is there to prove my innocence in the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) laboratory.

At the time of this crime I was 28 years old. I graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN with a BA in sociology, with minors in Political Science and History. Upon graduation I accepted a position at a juvenile correctional center as a counselor. After working there, I went to work for the District # 31 schools in Bemidji, MN.

During college, I had been a three-time All-American and National Champion in wrestling. While working with the troubled youth, I also coached wrestling for both the high school and the elementary programs. When I began my work with the high school, I worked with students who had MMMI (mild to moderate mental impairments). After doing this for one year, I went back to school. The superintendent of the district #31 schools granted me a one-year leave of absence to pursue a degree in Special Education that dealt with behavior problematic children. I was guaranteed a position with the District #31 schools upon my return.

After obtaining my license, I returned to the district and worked with the students with EBD (emotional and behavior disorders). After a year, I chose to expand my career. I moved to Hendricks, MN, a small rural town, and obtained a position as an elementary teacher in the Special Education area of EBD. In addition to the teaching, I accepted a position as the assistant head wrestling coach at Southwest State University in the neighboring town of Marshall, MN. I was enrolled in graduate school and was scheduled to complete my Master's degree in special education in the winter of 1997.

In April 1997, I was arrested and charged with first-degree criminal sexual assault. I was accused of assaulting a woman at a payphone during the early morning hours of April 18, 1997, carrying her over my shoulder down a dark alley, and raping her. I was seen fleeing the scene and was subsequently arrested after a short foot pursuit. Blood was noted on my shirt and my hands. In January 1998, I was convicted and in March 1998, I was sentenced to 258 months (a triple upward departure from the Minnesota sentencing guidelines).

The State claims the victim identified me from a six-man photo lineup, that I had the victim's blood on my shirt, watch, and pants. They said I was observed fleeing the scene and caught by the police after a short pursuit on foot. A witness called by the prosecution testified I was intoxicated and acting rudely, including grabbing her arm and raising my voice. The prosecution's BCA expert testified the victim couldn't be excluded as a source from a blood sample DNA test done of my shorts. The arresting officers both testified that my pants were undone. An eyewitness testified that she saw me get up and pull up my pants upon arrival of the police and a police officer testified that he saw me washing out my shirt while in the holding cell at the jail. The prosecution's BCA expert testified that bloodstains from my shirt appeared to be diluted. My car was located in the area and confiscated. The victim said she was penetrated with what originally was a "fist" and then later changed to what "felt like a fist." Also, that there was penile penetration and "3 strokes" later changed to "fingers or possibly a stick." The victim also said she scratched the attacker on his neck or shoulder and may have scratched him on his lip.

I had been out that evening. I had just been named the new head wrestling coach for Southwest State University where I had been assisting. This made me the youngest head wrestling coach in the country. It was also a dream come true for me. The years of hard work and determination were paying off. Out with me that evening was the former head wrestling coach and friend, Mike Sterner. We would often go out together after evenings of wrestling recruiting and discuss coaching philosophies and enjoy each other's company. That evening we were at an establishment when some alumni Mike Sterner knew entered. Mike introduced me as the new head wrestling coach to these alumni.

I accompanied three of the alumni to another establishment. I was with two of the alumni throughout the evening, including riding to and from the second establishment with them. After returning to my car at the original establishment, I stopped at a payphone to call a young female I had run into that night at the second establishment. This woman was a student at Southwest State University I had been trying to avoid. She had interest in me that I did not have for her. I felt guilty for blowing her off, so when I saw her at the second establishment, I said I would call her as I walked away.

I pulled into a parking lot and used a payphone to call this student. When I got the answering machine, I hung up. As I was returning to my car I saw a woman approach. I asked the woman if she needed a ride somewhere. She said "No," and I continued to my car. I started to drive home which was about a 45-minute drive. As I came to a stop at a stoplight I thought I should call my then-girlfriend who was at my house waiting for me. I had called her earlier to tell her I was going to be late. The call was long distance and I figured I would use the phone in one of my offices, located by a back door to the athletic area of the college.

While I was driving, I had the urge to urinate. The only gas station in sight was closed. I decided to pull onto a side street and urinate next to a tree and a pile of brush. I was getting out of my car and I heard what I thought was a scream. After hesitating for a moment I shrugged it off to most likely being some kids horsing around late at night. I proceeded to urinate. As I began, I again heard the scream. This time I knew it was a scream and I headed in the direction from which the scream came. I went through a couple of people's yards and came to what appeared to be the middle of an alley. I was about to turn around and go back when I heard some crying. I went further down the alley and found someone lying on the ground. The person looked small, but was undistinguishable as far as gender. There were no lights in the alley and it was very dark. I began asking the person if he or she was all right. The only response I got was crying and sobbing. I again asked and knelt down next to the person. Again, the response was unintelligible. I put my hands on the person to sort of shake gently to try to gain attention from the person. Not knowing what had happened, I didn't know how to respond. Upon putting my hands on the person, this person then began screaming, kicking, and flailing arms. I stood up and backed away.

Just then, the alley was lit up with a very bright light. A car was racing down the alley towards us. I looked down at the person on the ground and now I could see it was a woman covered in blood. I looked down at my hands and saw blood on them. I panicked and ran. I ran at what I thought was an angle towards the main street. Once out on the main street I saw a police car coming towards me from up the street. I came to the sidewalk and stopped. Before the police car arrived where I was standing, I was tackled from behind by another police officer on foot. This was done with considerable force. I was put in the squad car and taken to jail. When I arrived at the jail, the officers took my boots, belt, and watch. I was put in an empty room. Some time later I was taken to a different cell at a different jail. I was put in a cell with a toilet and sink. I urinated and began washing my hands when an officer came in and asked for my shirt and I gave it to him. A short time later, I was asked for all my clothes and later I was interviewed. I had been asking each officer I saw what was going on and when I could leave. None would respond to me. As the interview began I believed I would be asked about drinking and driving. I thought a car had hit the woman in the alleyway and I was surprised when I was asked why I assaulted the woman. A few hours later I was taken to the hospital where blood and hair samples were taken.

Months later when the DNA results were finally returned my attorney read them to me over the phone at the jail. They were all in my favor, proving my innocence. I asked when I would be able to go home. I was appalled to find out the State of Minnesota would be prosecuting me anyway. My attorney told me not to worry about a thing; the DNA evidence would set me free.

When it came time for the trial to begin in January 1998, the judge ruled out the crucial DNA evidence that my attorney wanted to present to the jury. The judge said the victim was protected by the Rape Shield Law and therefore, my attorney was not allowed to question her about the fact she has a history of being battered and also the fact the semen found in the victim's underwear matched the DNA of her boyfriend after both another man and I were checked first and both came back negative. In response to this, my attorney objected so it would be on record, and said, "I guess I should have interviewed some of those witnesses." My attorney based his whole defense on the DNA evidence because that was powerful, absolute proof of my innocence, but when the judge ruled it out everything seemed to go downhill. As a result it took only five days of testimony and a 5-hour deliberation to wrongly convict me.

Special Agent Paul Soppeland from the BCA arranged and presented a photo lineup to the victim. The photos were of six men. Only one of the men had an obvious military style, flattop haircut. This is how the victim had described the man she saw using the payphone before her and also who had asked her if she needed a ride. When Special Agent Paul Soppeland of the BCA questioned the victim, she was never asked if she could identify from the lineup the person who had attacked and raped her, only if she could identify the person she saw using the payphone before her. When asked about the photos chosen for the photo lineup, Agent Paul Soppeland testified at the Omnibus hearing on July 28, 1997 that he does not know what a military style haircut is. Some of the photos of the men in the lineup had shoulder length hair.

Later the victim identified me as the person she saw fleeing the scene. Not until the day of the trial did the victim identify me as the attacker. In previous statements, the victim says she did not see who attacked her. When the victim was asked if she could pick out the man who assaulted her she said she couldn't because her face was full of blood. She did not identify me as the person who hit her in the face or carried her down the alley. The victim says that the person at the payphone had a "military style haircut, like someone out of boot camp." I was the only man in the six-man photo lineup with a "flattop or military style" haircut.

The blood on my hands, watch, and the droplets on my shirt were a result of attempting to assist the victim I had discovered after hearing her screams. Also, the blood on the back of my pants was a result of a transfer from the blood on my hands during the time of being handcuffed.

I was fleeing from the scene because the car I saw suddenly came speeding down the alley directly towards me. The car had no lights on to indicate that it was a police car. The victim also says that the car coming down the alley was unidentifiable. When seeing the police car on Main Street I stopped and was tackled from behind by an officer pursuing on foot. The pursuing officer and the second officer on the scene contradict each other in their police reports about their apprehension of me. During the trial, the two officers were no longer in contradiction.

Other witnesses called by the prosecution said I did not appear intoxicated and was behaving as a perfect gentleman throughout the entire evening, including the time a previous witness had claimed I was rude to her The previous witness was the college student who was interested in me and whom I had been putting off.

Dr. Donald E. Riley, the defense expert witness testified that the victim's DNA can and should be excluded from the source found in my shorts. Dr. Riley testified further to say that the BCA misread its test results. Dr. Riley pointed out three obvious markers that show that the victim's DNA is excluded as a source found in my shorts: the semen sample found in the victim's underwear does not match mine, the semen sample does not match that of the man with whom she had most recently had sex three days prior, but the sample does match that of her boyfriend with whom the victim says that she had sex 10-11 days prior. The victim and her boyfriend were in an abusive relationship, including assault that resulted in the victim spending time at a women's shelter. The judge disallowed any discussion regarding the victim's relationship with the other man and the abusive boyfriend The prosecution did not call in the BCA lab technician who conducted several of the key analyses on the evidence as a witness for the state. The defense tried to subpoena this BCA lab technician on two different occasions, once before the trial and once during the course of the trial, however, both times proved to be unsuccessful. The two BCA lab technicians the prosecution did call to testify avoided answering key questions from the defense by saying they were not the ones who performed the actual test. Why wasn't the BCA Lab technician who performed several of the key analyses on the evidence able to be found on the two separate occasions when the defense tried to serve a subpoena? What can he tell us?

The eyewitness statements do not match those of the victim. One eyewitness testified that she observed me with my pants down past my waist as she saw me fleeing the scene. Both the victim and the police officer who first arrived on the scene say that my pants were up. In addition, how would I even be able to run if my pants were down past my waist? Before the trial, the eyewitness was asked repeatedly if there was anything unusual about my clothes that were noticeable. The eyewitness said "No." When the defense asked why this was never mentioned before, the eyewitness had no response. Also, this eyewitness testified that she had not told this information to anyone until now. The newspaper article that mentioned that my pants were undone may have influenced the eyewitness.

The police did not take my shirt from me right away at the jail even though they took my watch because it had blood on it. When the arresting officers were asked if they noticed anything unusual about me when they arrested me, they both testified by saying, "No." The police and the BCA lab later said large amounts of blood were found on my shirt. Inspection of the shirt showed a very small amount of blood on it, in fact, only a few small droplets of 1-3 mm in size were found on my shirt according to BCA lab technician James Liberty's testimony during cross-examination at the trial. The BCA lab never tested my undershirt. My shirt was wadded up and put in a paper bag before being sent to the BCA lab for testing. There were two large marks in the soil that appeared to be from boots or shoes. It appeared as if someone dug her feet in and overturned the soil during a struggle. The police sent my boots to the BCA Lab for soil sample testing. The results showed the soil from the crime scene did not match what was on my boots. The police later said that the marks in the soil are not from boot prints. Why did they send my boots to the BCA Lab for testing?

The man who assaulted the victim by punching her in the nose first and then throwing her over his shoulder and carrying her down the alleyway, which was about the length of a football field, as the victim described it, would have been covered in blood and I was not. The victim was found next to a garage next to her apartment. Why would her attacker carry her all the way down to her apartment and then rape her? Was it someone she knew and the man was trying to get to her apartment? There were many dark and secluded spots in the alley where someone could hide and attack someone and not be seen. When I heard the screams I was a couple of blocks away. The time between my seeing her at the payphone and hearing the screams was several minutes in which I had begun to drive home and then had changed direction. That is when I had decided to go to the college before returning home. The college is about of a mile away. My home is 45 miles from there. After turning around at a stoplight I had driven part way to the college and pulled over to urinate, when I heard the first scream.

The victim testified that she was bleeding profusely and her clothes were totally saturated with blood and she fought and struggled as much as she could. There was also a trail of blood from the payphone down the length of the alleyway where she was thrown on the ground. The minute, 1-3 mm droplets of blood, found on me are the result of when I was kneeling down beside the victim when I initially found her and asked if she was okay and she responded by screaming, kicking, and flailing her arms. Since she was covered in her own blood this sudden flailing and kicking obviously sent blood flying in many directions, thus getting on me.

The emergency room doctor, Dr. LaPorte, testified that in his examination of the victim's genital area, no tears, abrasions, or foreign bodies were identified in the vaginal or pubic areas. The victim had said that she was penetrated with a fist and then a penis. Dr. LaPorte testified that an adult fist could not enter the vagina without causing damage. At the trial, the victim changed her story to say that it felt like a fist, but it could have been a stick and also that she didn't know if the attacker penetrated her. Dr. LaPorte made the diagnosis of assault with questionable penetration. Detective Paula Curry signed three separate affidavits saying, "The victim said her attacker inserted his penis inside her vagina and also he inserted his fist." The victim's change in story from her original statement taken on the day of the assault to the statement she made while on the stand during the trial are the result of the negative results from the DNA testing proving I was innocent. My hands were bloody as I admitted and as noted by the police. I would not have been able to commit these acts without leaving signs of blood in the victim's vagina, around the pubic area, and on the victim's underwear, on me, in my shorts and groin area.

In the victim's initial statement, she says she knew she had scratched her attacker during the course of the struggle. Later during the trial, she changed her story by saying she only thought she had scratched him. This change of story came after the results of the DNA tests done on her fingernail clippings excluded me.

No fingerprints were taken at the crime scene, including the phone that was hung up after the attack, allegedly by the attacker. There were blood splatters and a blood smear on a wall at the scene, but no attempts were made at fingerprinting this.

The police may have failed to fingerprint the phone booth due to police contamination. The calls made from the payphone were researched and the last call made was after the assault had occurred. All calls but the last one were accounted for. The detective, Paula Curry, testified about the phone numbers and said that she got an answering machine and no call back. Why were no fingerprints taken at the crime scene?

Dr. Donald E. Riley, Expert DNA witness for the defense said that there was enough human DNA on the vaginal swab to perform PCR testing and that the BCA Lab either chose not to do the tests or they did not share the results with the defense. The prosecution objected and no further testimony in this area was allowed. Also, the BCA Lab did not perform any testing on the hair samples. This may have resulted in exculpatory evidence for the defense.

The prosecution knew that the DNA did not match mine as they received the results from the BCA on 8-15-97. Yet, they did not inform the defense about these results until November 1997, resulting in a delay of the trial until January 1998.

Pre-trial press on the case (Marshall Independent newspaper, radio, and television) included statements from the prosecution on their opinions of the case such as it being a "slam dunk" case. The bail was set so high as to make it impossible to pay $400,000.00

My trial attorney was grossly negligent in his presentation, preparation, and knowledge of the case. He forgot notes, knocked materials onto the floor from where he was sitting during the course of the trial, misunderstood testimony, constantly repeated himself, interrupted testimony, referred to me by a name other than my own several times throughout the trial and didn't question the witnesses prior to the trial. During the course of the trial, this attorney was also under investigation for tax evasion and was later suspended by the Minnesota Supreme Court for several reasons including client neglect.

My appellate attorney refused to use any of this information of my incompetent attorney in the preparation of the appeal brief. The appellant attorney also failed to investigate aspects of the case including the scientific evidence (DNA), which was in my favor as well as Dr. Donald E. Riley's testimony in which he says that the BCA misread its own results.

I would like to have the DNA on the vaginal swab tested. This is the one the BCA Lab claims there was not enough semen present to be tested. However, Dr. Donald E. Riley, DNA expert hired by the defense testified that there was enough semen present to be tested however, the BCA Lab chose not to do it.

As many before me, I am requesting your help. There is a bill that was just passed in Minnesota called the Omnibus Crime Bill SF2221. It allows for the use of post-conviction DNA evidence to be admitted as evidence to receive a retrial if it is new evidence that was not allowed or used in the first trial. This applies to my case.

If you can, imagine being in my situation. The evidence needed to prove my innocence is right there. Why can't it be used? I need help. I can't stay here another 13 years. I did not do this. My life as I had it has already been destroyed. I went from being the youngest head wrestling coach in the nation, to being a prison inmate. I just want what is left of my life. And I don't want it to be spent here.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

Sincerely,

Chester Lee Grauberger #133347
MN Correctional Facility-Stillwater
970 Picket Street North
Bayport, MN 55003

 

Justice Denied


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