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Fake assailant defense rejected in Lakeside shooting in Duluth

A St. Louis County jury on Monday rejected the claim of Alcide Cloutier that he was a good Samaritan who was shot by a black man -- whom he later described as a white man -- while trying to help a woman in Duluth's Lakeside neighborhood in January.

In essence, jurors decided that Cloutier shot himself and that neither the black or white assailant nor the woman in distress existed. They found him guilty of both crimes he was charged with: being a felon in possession of a firearm and recklessly discharging a firearm within a municipality during the Jan. 22 incident.

Cloutier, who is 35 today, suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the left side of his lower abdomen that night. It was suggested at trial that he concocted a heroic deed to get the attention of an ex-girlfriend and that he had financial problems, but his motivation for shooting himself was unclear.

An angry and downcast Cloutier shook his head negatively from side to side as the guilty verdicts were read. As jurors were leaving the courtroom, Cloutier glared at St. Louis County prosecutor Leslie Beiers and said something to her in a threatening voice. Beiers told a courtroom security officer that Cloutier had threatened her.

Cloutier's father was sitting a couple of rows behind his son when he told him that he couldn't stay in the courtroom any longer. As the man walked out, Cloutier said: "I love you, Dad."

Then Cloutier further lost his composure.

With the attorneys meeting with Judge David Johnson in chambers, Cloutier said to the courtroom security officers: "You guys see me today. It's going to be a bad day when I get out."

Cloutier then expressed his displeasure to his public defender, Cynthia Evenson, and questioned her trial tactics out loud.

When Johnson returned to the courtroom he said he was aware of Cloutier's behavior. The judge called it "alarming" and directed one of four courtroom security officers to sit directly behind Cloutier. There were no further outbursts.

Jurors then re-entered the courtroom to hear a second phase of the trial. Beiers had filed a motion seeking a longer-than-guideline prison sentence, which is five years. A 2004 Supreme Court decision, Blakely v. Washington, prohibits judges from enhancing criminal sentences based on facts other than those decided by the jury or admitted by the defendant.

Beiers told jurors that there were aggravating factors justifying a longer sentence, including Cloutier being a violent offender with a pattern of criminal conduct. She pointed out that Cloutier has 18 convictions, including 11 felonies since 1995.

Evenson had implied to jurors in her opening statement that Cloutier was being a good Samaritan in trying to help someone in distress when he was shot. In arguing against a longer-than-guideline sentence, she told jurors that the two crimes they convicted her client of proved only that he is self-destructive, not a danger to the public. She also said that these two crimes didn't fit into the definition of a pattern of criminal conduct.

Jurors retired to the jury room a second time to deliberate whether Cloutier is a danger to public safety and whether he has a pattern of criminal conduct.

After about an hour of deliberations, jurors answered yes to both questions.

Beiers can now ask the court to impose up to the statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in prison when Cloutier is sentenced on Oct. 13. The prosecutor said she won't make up her mind on the length of sentence to ask for until an Arrowhead Regional Corrections probation officer investigates Cloutier's background.

She said Duluth police did an excellent investigation of the case.

"I think the strength of the case was how comprehensive the investigation was and that citizens stepped forward to tell what they had seen and heard," Beiers said.

Several residents of the Lakeside neighborhood testified that they didn't see any altercation as described by Cloutier on that night. There was testimony that Cloutier was seen running out of the woods after the gunshot. Cloutier claimed he ran into the woods after being shot.

Cloutier claimed he was shot from six to 10 feet away. A medical examiner testified that he suffered a contact wound, incurred while the muzzle of the rifle was in direct contact with the body at the moment of discharge.

Duluth police searched the nearby Northland Country Club grounds and found a gun case with a distinctive deer decal and the rifle. The defendant's ex-girlfriend testified that she had seen the gun and case in his possession 12 days earlier.

Investigators from the crime scene unit spotted small spots of blood in the snow and pieces of fabric that matched the fabric of the clothing worn by Cloutier. A spent shell casing and the slug also were recovered from the snow.

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