READ: Judge's ruling released in Becker County manslaughter case, teen found not guilty
Becker County District Judge Gretchen Thilmony said investigators were led astray from the start by an incorrect preliminary autopsy report, and that the shooting was an accident -- caused in part by a faulty safety on the Winchester 1300 12-gauge shotgun that was involved in the incident.
Editor's Note: Adult language has been omitted from the original court document by the Detroit Lakes Tribune editorial staff.
DETROIT LAKES (March 22, 2022) — Read the judge's verdict involving a Menahga teen being found not guilty of second degree manslaughter.
DETROIT LAKES (March 21, 2022) —A judge has found a rural Menahga teen innocent in juvenile court of second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of a friend.
Becker County District Judge Gretchen Thilmony found Logan Daniel Keranen, 18, not guilty in the Sept. 18, 2020 death of Michael Robert Erickson, 17.
Thilmony said in her March 18 decision that investigators were led astray from the start by an incorrect preliminary autopsy report, and that the shooting was an accident — caused in part by a faulty safety on the Winchester 1300 12-gauge shotgun involved in the incident.
The shooting happened about 9:30 a.m., when Logan, Michael, and a third friend, Davin Hilluka, were in a basement bedroom at Logan’s house in Runeberg Township, where they had spent the night.
That morning, Logan brought a 12-gauge shotgun out of a gun cabinet in the room to show off. The shotgun discharged while he was handling it, striking Michael in the head from about 2½ feet away. Michael had been lying in bed, probably dozing.
Davin, who was in the room but did not see the shooting, testified that he heard the gunshot and heard Logan yelling, “Oh my gosh, it went off!” He turned and saw Logan “freaking out” and thought he saw the end of the barrel of the gun was about two feet away from Michael.
Davin said Logan was scared and that they both ran upstairs, screaming, “Call 9-1-1.”
Dr. Victor Froloff, an experienced Ramsey County medical examiner, performed the autopsy on Michael in September of 2020. He submitted four Provisional Autopsy reports and one Final Autopsy report.
In a Provisional Autopsy released September 19, 2020, Froloff determined Michael suffered from a “contact” shotgun wound to the head and that soot had been found in Michael’s nasal crest. That led investigators to believe the gun had been fired at point-blank range, and they pursued the case accordingly, the judge said.
Nearly a month later, on Oct. 15, 2020, Froloff issued his Final Autopsy report, in which he determined there was no contact wound or soot present on the body.
That finding was backed up by Dr. Gregory Davis, a specialist in the field for over 35 years, who testified that an experienced forensic pathologist could not have concluded this was a contact wound. A contact wound would have caused a lot more damage, he said, and there was no presence of soot or gunpowder.
But that preliminary finding of a contact wound affected how investigators approached the case.
For example, when they re-interviewed Davin, they pressed him about inconsistencies between his story and the preliminary report. Davin was questioned repeatedly about where he was positioned and the order of events, and became distraught when agents became more aggressive, suggesting he was lying.
Throughout this, Davin’s answers remained consistent, and corroborated Logan’s statements, the judge wrote.
And the judge found no credence in the prosecution’s assertion that evidence pointed to Logan pulling the trigger on purpose, in what he thought would be a “dry-firing” of an unloaded gun.
“Davin, Logan, and Michael were friends,” Thilmony wrote in her ruling. “There was no animosity between them. There had been no arguments. And while the theory of Logan playing a prank on Michael by placing the gun to his face was asserted, that theory is wholly unsupported. In fact, there was evidence to the contrary that was disregarded.”
She also noted that the gun’s safety lock was found to be broken.
“The Winchester Model 1300’s manual safety was defective or not operating properly,” she wrote. “The safety could not be engaged into the safe position, rendering it unsafe. The intermittent and erratic nature of the defect was such that the gun’s owner and users might not be aware that there was anything wrong with the safety. If the safety had been operating properly, this incident likely would not have occurred.”
She also disagreed with the prosecution’s interpretation of Logan’s reaction right after the shooting, where he was recorded while alone in the back of a squad car and made statements to himself like, "It was an accident," "I don't know what happened," and "I just killed somebody — there's nothing I can do about it."
While talking to an investigator, Logan cried when told that Michael was dead and said, “Oh my God, oh my gosh... I’d never try killing anyone.”
On the squad camera video, Logan is clearly distraught – in disbelief and crying, at times lying in the back seat of the police cruiser with his knees curled into his chest.
“While the State relied heavily on these statements, arguing they are indicia of 'consciousness of guilt,' this Court disagrees,” Thilmony wrote. “These statements are indicative of a 17-year-old having just experienced a traumatic incident. In fact, these statements (made while sitting alone in the back of a squad car for over three hours) are statements that would be in the mind of a person in shock — a stream of consciousness that would naturally result. They are in no way indifferent to what had just occurred. Further, none of the statements Logan made constitute evidence of an admission to the subjective element of second degree manslaughter.”
While the handling of guns in a small room with others in close proximity was definitely unsafe, and likely negligent on some level, Thilmony said, “it does not rise to the criminal definition of culpable negligence.”