VIRGINIA (AP) -- In the end, it may have been Donald Blom's own words -- a recanted confession -- that sealed a guilty verdict in his trial for the death of Katie Poirier, legal experts said.
Prosecutors had a burnt tooth and human remains, but no DNA evidence linking them to Poirier. They had a grainy surveillance videotape, a baseball jersey, and receipts and witnesses that put Blom near the convenience store, but nothing that showed with certainty that he was the man shown on the video forcing Poirier from the store into the night.
What may have made their case was Blom's September 1999 confession, later recanted but eventually admitted as evidence.
"I expected he would be convicted," said Anthony Torres, a Twin Cities defense attorney who represented Blom briefly last summer before withdrawing when Blom's in-laws refused to pay attorney fees because they believed he may have been guilty.
"I expected the jury would be out just a matter of hours on this one," Torres said. "And I say that for a couple of reasons. Number 1, as a practical matter, the publicity surrounding this case made it almost impossible for him to receive a fair trial in the state of Minnesota. But clearly, his own words would be awfully difficult for him to overcome. Even though he recanted that testimony, the average person or average jury would think that if he made that statement, it must be true."
Said Phil Resnick, another Twin Cities defense attorney: "The guy admitted to doing it and tried to give his explanation as to why he (admitted to it), and obviously (jurors) didn't buy that statement."
Fred Friedman, the chief public defender for Minnesota's northeastern region who assigned Rodney Brodin and Joanne Piper-Maurer to represent Blom, said "the confession was the killer."
But others close to the case said that no one piece of evidence convicted Blom. "There were a lot of little pieces that went into it," said Rick Holmstrom, a Duluth attorney who represented Blom last year on federal charges that he possessed weapons as a convicted felon. Blom was convicted on those charges.
"I don't think there was one piece of evidence conclusive in this. But you had all these little pieces of evidence piled on top of each other, and from a juror's point of view, it starts to look like a mountain."
Terry Smith, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's northern Minnesota division, said investigators thought from the beginning that they had enough evidence to win a conviction, even without a confession.
"When we arrested him, we felt at that time we had the right guy," Smith said. "And as we continued to investigate, we just became more assured, that as one piece fell on top of another piece, that there was really no doubt."
That evidence included:
-- The convenience store surveillance video of an abductor matching his description.
-- A New York Yankees jersey that, according to testimony, was given to him that was similar to the one worn by the abductor. Blom denied in court that he ever received such a jersey.
-- Receipts and bank statements that placed Blom in Moose Lake that day.
-- Witness accounts that put him and his black pickup truck in the convenience store parking lot that night. A witness identified several numbers and letters from the truck's license plate.
-- On top of that, investigators found burned human bone fragments -- including a tooth with dental work similar to some done on Poirier -- in a fire pit on property of Blom's about 10 miles east of the convenience store.
But the remains were burned so badly that forensic experts were unable to make a conclusive DNA link to Poirier. And forensic experts for the prosecution and defense disagreed on whether it could be determined that the tooth was Poirier's.
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