Defense casts doubt in St. Paul triple murder trial as witnesses testify masked shooter had dreadlocks

Written closing arguments are due this week in the court trial of a man who stands accused of shooting to death three people and wounding two others in a duplex on St. Paul’s East Side nearly one year ago.

Antonio Wright’s trial began Aug. 22 before Ramsey County District Judge Kelly Olmstead, who will decide the case on the issues of guilt and whether facts would support an aggravated sentence. Wright, 42, of Minneapolis, waived his right to a jury trial.

Prosecutors say Wright was the masked intruder who repeatedly fired a Glock handgun at the victims during a violent rampage Sept. 4 at 951 Case Ave. in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood. Killed were Angelica Gonzales, 33, Cory Freeman, 42, and Maisha Spaulding, 44.

The state and defense rested their cases on Monday, when Wright also waived his right to testify. Wright’s decision came after Olmstead ruled that his testimony could include questioning by the prosecution about a shooting two days before the murders.

In that case, the charges allege that Wright shot and wounded a man in St. Paul because he thought he had snitched on him after he heard Wright discussing a 2017 murder.

Last week, Wright’s attorney, Joe Friedberg, asked Olmstead to acquit his client, noting the only two witnesses at the Case Avenue murder scene — Stephen Anderson and Calvin Steward — both testified that the shooter had dreadlocks and was not Wright. Friedberg said evidence shows “100 percent” that Wright has never had dreadlocks.

“At this point, there is no sworn evidence in this case that the assailant that day was Mr. Wright,” Friedberg said.

Olmstead denied Friedberg’s motion for acquittal, saying she is “bound to view the evidence, however slim it stands, in the light most favorable to the state at this juncture.”

Changed story

Anderson’s court testimony was a backtrack of what he had told police. According to the charges, Anderson had told investigators that the shooter was Antonio, who goes by the nicknames “Figg” and “D.”

Anderson had told investigators he greeted Figg at the duplex by saying, “What’s up, D?” Figg pulled the mask further over his nose and said, “I’m not D.” Anderson also picked Wright out of a police photo lineup as the shooter.

Prosecutors argued that it was Wright, or Figg, who then raised a tan Glock handgun and started firing, hitting Gonzales, Freeman and Spaulding in the head. He then shot Anderson and a 44-year-old woman, who also survived, several times, prosecutors said.

Investigators analyzed records from Wright’s cellphone, which showed it was last used the day before the murders, prosecutors said. It remained powered off until Sept. 5, when it communicated with a cellphone tower in Chicago. Wright was arrested with the phone Sept. 7 in Chicago.

In Chicago that night

Monday’s brief testimony revolved around how long it takes to drive from St. Paul to Chicago.

A video shown in court captured Wright walking into his mother’s apartment building in Chicago just before 10 p.m. the day of the murders.

Officers were sent to the Case Avenue home around 4:30 p.m., according to the criminal complaint.

St. Paul homicide investigator Sgt. Mark Redding testified that he made the trip from St. Paul to Chicago in an unmarked police SUV to interview Wright on Sept. 8 and again a week later to review the apartment building video. He said both trips took approximately 5½ hours while driving 70 to 78 mph.

Olmstead ordered the prosecution to submit written closing arguments on Wednesday and the defense to do so on Friday. The prosecution was given until Sept. 5 to file a rebuttal, while the defense must give its intent to file a possible second argument, or surrebuttal, the following day.

Once closing arguments are filed, Olsmtead said she will take the case under advisement for seven days before making a verdict.

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