Paul Joseph Welle is currently incarcerated at the Rush City Minnesota Correctional Facility. He was incarcerated on Nov. 20, 2012, after being found guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in the death of Dale Anderson. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Now he's getting a retrial.
The Minnesota Appeals Court reversed the 35-year-old's murder conviction Thursday, and the decision was detailed in an 18-page ruling by Judge Natalie Hudson.
The reasoning? Hudson says the district court "abused its discretion" during Welle's 2012 trial by allowing his three prior assault convictions to be used as evidence. During the trial, Welle argued he acted in self-defense during the fight that led to Anderson's death.
Hudson says the prior assaults weren't relevant to disproving the self-defense argument, and unfairly colored the view of the defense – possibly influencing the jury's decision.
The Duluth News Tribune spoke with Welle's attorney, Richard Holmstrom, who says he's convinced Welle would not have been found guilty if his criminal history had not been allowed as evidence (a practice known as "Spreigl evidence"). He tells the paper the prosecution engaged in "character assassination," because the presiding judge allowed Welle's past to be introduced before he had a chance to testify.
In the 18-page ruling the retired Senior Judge R.A. Randall, who provided a concurring opinion, called Spreigl evidence "the most overused and misapplied rule of evidence in criminal cases in the State of Minnesota."
The News Tribune says a tentative retrial date is set for Oct. 7.
Welle and Anderson got into a fight outside of Powerhouse Bar in Proctor at about 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2011, the Pioneer Press reported at the time.
According to WCCO, a witness said Welle was trying to convince a woman at the bar to leave with him. Anderson, 60, stepped in and told him to stop, the station said. Welle reportedly told police Anderson hit him twice, so he punched Anderson once in the face in retaliation.
Anderson was taken to a Duluth hospital in critical condition after the brawl, the Pioneer Press reported.
According to the Northland's News Center, Anderson fell backward and hit his head on the concrete. He died three days later from a hemorrhage in his brain.
When Welle's trial began the following year, they claimed it was self defense, Forum reported, and that Anderson picked a fight. Holmstrom told Forum at the time Anderson threatened Welle in the club while he was dancing; the two went outside, Anderson threw two punches, and Welle threw one punch. At that point, Holmstrom told the paper, Anderson fell backwards and hit his head.
Forum reported Welle was upset when Anderson told him to leave the women alone, and that Welle was captured on surveillance footage showing the criminal complaint characterized as "aggressive body language."
The News Tribune says Welle was found guilty in September of 2012, after five days of testimony.