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State v. Hooper

12/28/2000



When the decomposed body of Ann Prazniak was found in a cardboard box in a closet of her apartment at 1818 Park Avenue South on April 15, 1998, a criminal investigation soon led the police to suspect appellant Brian Keith Hooper. Appellant was indicted on three counts of first-degree murder and was convicted and sentenced on each charge. His direct appeal raising issues of exclusion and sufficiency of evidence was stayed and remanded to the trial court on his petition for retrial based upon newly discovered evidence. The trial court denied his motion and on appeal here we review the claims he raised in his direct appeal and his claim that he was entitled to a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence. We affirm.


Ann Prazniak, a 77-year-old resident of 1818 Park Ave. South in Minneapolis, was last seen at her bank in late March, 1998 when she reported her checkbook missing. In early April of 1998 Prazniak's neighbors contacted the police and her apartment manager, fearful that her apartment had been taken over by drug dealers. Prazniak, who usually paid her rent promptly, had not paid the April rent on her apartment.


On April 3 the apartment manager entered Prazniak's apartment to look for her and three days later police searched the apartment. It was in disarray and filled with debris, rotting food and cat feces, but there was no sign of Prazniak. Police saw evidence of drug dealing in the living room, including chopped up bath soap, commonly sold as fake crack, on a coffee table, and torn plastic baggies, typically used to wrap crack cocaine for sale, on the floor. Police called Animal Control to care for a cat found in the apartment and told the apartment caretaker to change the locks.


On April 10 police again searched the apartment and found its condition much the same. On both visits police saw a box inside the bedroom closet with cloth or clothing on top but did not look inside. On the first visit the apartment generally smelled unpleasant, but on the second visit police smelled a noticeable foul odor.


The police returned to Prazniak's apartment for a third time on April 15. Upon stepping out of the squad car the police noticed a "rotten" odor. The police and building owner determined that the smell came from Prazniak's apartment and upon stepping inside they determined the source of the smell was the bedroom closet. Inside the closet police found a cardboard box containing a heavy cloth and plastic bundle. Upon cutting into the bundle police discovered human remains. The medical examiner was then called and later testified the remains in the box were those of Ann Prazniak. Prazniak's body was wedged upside down in a fetal position and a string of Christmas tree lights was wrapped around the box, apparently to reinforce it. Prazniak's body was wrapped in a mattress pad and two large black/green garbage bags. Underneath the bedding and garbage bags Prazniak's head and body were wrapped in a blanket and secured with rope and her wrists were tightly bound with packaging tape. Electrical cord was tied around her ankles, and her nose and mouth were covered by layers of packaging tape wrapped around her face. Prazniak was determined to have suffered a broken rib and bruises to her wrists and knees before her death.


The medical examiner testified that the cause of death was asphyxiation caused by the layers of packaging tape covering her mouth and nose, a broken rib that put pressure on her chest, and the upside down and tightly curled position of her body, which would have prevented her diaphragm from expanding. Although the date of her death could not be established precisely, the medical examiner estimated Prazniak died two weeks to a mont

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