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Duluth man gets 7½ years in self-inflicted gunshot case

Alcide Cloutier

Alcide Cloutier maintained that someone else shot him, but he pleaded for a shorter sentence Thursday by telling the court: "If I shot myself, your honor, I don't need any prison, I need a damn shrink."

Judge David Johnson was unmoved and sentenced Cloutier to a longer-than-guideline prison sentence of 7½ years.

Last month, a St. Louis County jury rejected Cloutier's claim 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. He was sentenced to 24 months in prison for the reckless discharge conviction, to be served at the same time as the felon in possession of a firearm conviction.

Cloutier, 35, 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.

In a second phase of the trial, the jury determined that St. Louis County prosecutor Leslie Beiers proved that Cloutier was a violent offender with a pattern of criminal conduct. That decision allowed the court to consider handing down a longer-than-guideline sentence.

Court records indicate that Cloutier has 20 convictions, including 12 felonies since 1995.

Public defender Cynthia Evenson argued to the court that there weren't enough aggravating factors to warrant a longer-than-guideline sentence for Cloutier. She asked that he be given the guideline sentence of five years. Evenson said her client made himself the victim by suffering "a lifelong injury which is a reminder of what happened on Jan. 22, 2011."

Before being sentenced, Cloutier addressed the court and had to be told by Johnson that this was not a forum to retry his case. "I didn't shoot myself. I never committed a crime until somebody tried to murder me," Cloutier said. "The only time I picked the dang gun up was after I was shot."

Cloutier asked the court for leniency. He said he had been trying to turn his life around at the time of the incident. He said he had volunteered at Animal Allies and at the Food Shelf and was attending church.

Johnson told Cloutier that his was a very impassioned statement, but he wasn't going to overturn the jury verdict. He said his sentencing decision was "not an easy call." He thought the 15-year sentence request by the prosecution was excessive, but he would have granted it if Cloutier had used the gun against someone else.

The judge said he had been thinking about what the appropriate sentence should be ever since jurors reached their verdicts. He said he and others in the courtroom were alarmed by Cloutier's behavior when his trial ended. As jurors were leaving the courtroom after the guilty verdicts were read, Cloutier glared at Beiers and said something to her in a threatening voice. Beiers told a courtroom security officer that Cloutier had threatened her.

Johnson took it all into account before deciding on a sentence less than the prosecution wanted and more than the defense wanted.

Outside the courtroom, Beiers said she wanted to compliment Duluth police for conducting a thorough investigation and she respected the sentencing decision of the judge.

"The state is pleased that the court did an upward departure, and clearly the community is safer when Mr. Cloutier is in custody," she said. "He has a very extensive criminal record. The jury found that he was a career offender and a violent dangerous offender and so the state wants to keep the community safe for as long as possible."

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

Cloutier claimed he was shot from 6 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.