VIRGINIA (AP) -- An attorney for the man accused of kidnapping and killing Katie Poirier asked Monday that the trial be moved a second time, but Judge Gary Pagliaccetti denied the request and jury selection started.
Many Minnesotans may have already made up their minds about the case. Donald Blom confessed to the crime before recanting and has a record of kidnapping and rape, and human bone and teeth fragments were found on his property.
But the law says only proof beyond a reasonable doubt can convict a defendant, as decided by fair and impartial jurors. And nagging questions remain. Could the eyewitnesses have confused the then 50-year-old Blom with a younger man? Is his confession believable?
''Can we get a jury that isn't tainted by what the public's already concluded? That's the question,'' said Joanne Piper-Maurer, one of Blom's public defenders. To increase the odds, Pagliaccetti moved the trial from Carlton County to northern St. Louis County, where fewer people were touched directly by Poirier's disappearance about a year ago from the Moose Lake convenience store where she worked.
Attorneys expect jury selection to take three weeks to a month.
''I have no doubts about what the outcome should be,'' said Terry Smith, special agent in charge of northern Minnesota for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
''But he, like everybody else, deserves to have the evidence heard in court.''
The state has the burden of proof, meaning the defense isn't required to present evidence or testimony. But some trial lawyers say some of the evidence against Blom is so strong the defense can't afford to remain silent.
If Blom testifies, Pagliaccetti could allow the prosecution to reveal Blom's record of rapes and kidnappings, involving at least four teen-age girls, to help the jury gauge his credibility.
Blom, in an interview from jail, said he plans to take the stand and say he is not guilty. ''I want to testify,'' he said. ''Everybody wants the truth to come out at the trial. Fine, I'll do my part.''
The prosecution will point to several key elements in the case.
Authorities say they found fragments of bones and teeth in a fire pit on the Blom family vacation property near Moose Lake. Though the fragments were too burned to yield DNA, experts told police they are consistent with Poirier's size, age and dental records.
Asked how he'll explain the remains, Blom said: ''I don't know. How can you? ... I'm not the only one that's been up there. It's been open to the public.''
There has never been a successful murder prosecution in Minnesota in which no remains were found. In a recent case in North Dakota, circumstantial evidence was enough to sway a jury to convict Kyle Bell of murdering 11-year-old Jeanna North of Fargo, who disappeared in 1993. No physical evidence of her death had been found.
In September, Blom admitted killing the 19-year-old, then recanted. But Pagliaccetti ruled in January that prosecutors could use the confession.
Blom said he made up the confession after concluding that regardless of the outcome of the Poirier case, he'd probably go to federal prison for a long time for possessing guns as a convicted felon.
''I screwed up, making that statement,'' he said. ''I just wanted to get this over with ... I wanted to kill myself.''
The defense is expected to argue that several details of the confession don't fit the evidence or make sense. The prosecution is expected to argue that criminals, especially sex offenders, typically minimize and distort details of their crimes when confessing.
Kathy Hanek, who worked in the Subway shop adjacent to the convenience store, is expected to testify that she saw Blom and his black pickup truck in the store's parking lot an hour before the 11:38 p.m. abduction.
She remembered four of the six characters of his license plate. Several other people from Moose Lake told police they, too, saw a man in a black pickup leering at women and acting strangely.
But Hanek was the only one who picked Blom out of a lineup. Blom and his wife, Amy, claim that he was home in Richfield at the time. A receipt and a canceled check suggest he was in towns near Moose Lake that day, but Blom said he returned to Richfield that night. Blom said he's not sure whether his wife will testify on his behalf. ''She wants to, but she could change her mind,'' he said.
The blurry security video of a man appearing to push Poirier out of the store, possibly while twisting a cord around her neck, is a blessing and a curse for the prosecution.
Several acquaintances or co-workers of Blom's said the man, whose features are almost indiscernible, appears to be him. On the other hand, many people have told police and the defense that the abductor looks like people other than Blom, including other convicted sex offenders. At least one of those sex offenders was an early suspect in the case and may be accused by the defense of being the real abductor.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.