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Mike Freeman
Mike Freeman

Bar Buzz: Freeman scores conviction in 1st pilot trial

In Hennepin County’s first trial to start after the Judicial Branch’s COVID-19 restrictions went into effect, jurors Tuesday took about three hours to convict a Minneapolis man of second-degree unintentional murder and first-degree assault.

James Wren, 36, was accused of shooting two people near Augie’s Cabaret on Hennepin Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis. A tow truck driver spotted Wren running away and pointed him out to police.

One man, Michael Clark, 40, was killed in the shooting. Another man, who was never identified by authorities, was permanently paralyzed.

The jury acquitted Wren of first-degree murder and second-degree intentional murder in the death of Michael Clark, 40, but convicted Wren on the unintentional murder count. Wren’s assault conviction relates to the shooting of the paralyzed victim.

“We thought the jury did a fine job under a difficult situation,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a press release. “Although we sought charges for intentional conduct, we are satisfied with the results. We remain confident that the judge will sentence Mr. Wren for an extended period of time.”

Wren will be sentenced on July 30. Freeman said he will ask for a sentence of more than 27 years.

Wren’s trial was Hennepin County’s first jury trial to commence as part of a six-county criminal jury-trial pilot that was authorized by the Judicial Council in May.

While Wren’s trial was the first to begin under the restrictions, it was not the first case in a verdict was obtained. According to the Judicial Branch, two previous Hennepin County criminal pilot trials have resulted in verdicts, while another conviction was obtained in the Ramsey County District Court.

Wren’s is the fourth conviction overall to be secured during the pilot-trial project, which ends on July 6.

As of today, all Minnesota counties can apply with the Judicial Council to restart criminal jury trials. All must demonstrate they have met the same COVID-19 safety standards that the six counties involved in the pilot trials had to meet.

Civil jury trials remain off limits until at least Sept. 1.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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