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Hurd trial underway in Owatonna

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News Morris, 56267
Morris Sun Tribune
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Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

By Clare Kennedy

Owatonna People's Press

OWATONNA -- Ryan Hurd will not face a separate trial for one of the five murder charges leveled against him.

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Hurd also faced potential jurors for the first time.

Fifty-one would-be jurors came to the court house to be vetted for the first-degree murder trial. The process is estimated to take several days. The trial is expected to begin late this week or early next week.

Hurd, 23, is accused of stabbing to death 19-year-old Kathryn Rose, of Morris. Her body was found in a rural area of Steele County on Dec. 3, 2009.

Attorneys spent most of the first day of the trial debating what evidence should be admitted during testimony. A central issue in the day's proceedings concerned whether or not a previous court order prohibiting contact between Hurd and Anderson should be admissible as evidence. Hurd was charged with domestic abuse in late October 2009. He was released from custody prior to Anderson's slaying on the condition that he would have no contact with Anderson.

The case had not yet been resolved when Anderson's body was found in a ditch near Highway 14 West.

Public defender Joel Eaton argued that inclusion of the no-contact order would not serve as proof of a material fact and could only be prejudicial to his client.

"The order itself is not evidence of domestic abuse," Eaton argued. "The possibility of improperly influencing the jury is considerable."

However, the existence of the no-contact order is an element of one of the charges against Hurd -- "murder while restrained under an order for protection." In view of the circumstances, Eaton asked Judge Casey Christian to sever the charge, which would mean that Hurd would have to take part in a separate trial for the charge.

Steele County Attorney Dan McIntosh argued that such a measure would be inappropriate. He said there was no basis for severance and that the no-contact order was an integral aspect of the case, not a threat to the presumption of innocence.

"Our position is that there is no persuasion by illegitimate means," McIntosh said.

McIntosh added that if the charge were separated from the others, there could be a conflict down the road -- in effect, Hurd would be put on trial for Anderson's murder twice.

"These things are so related that if they weren't tried together we could be dealing with a double jeopardy issue," McIntosh said.

Ultimately, Judge Casey Christian ruled in favor of the state with respect to Eaton's motion.

"It is my determination that it is not unfairly prejudicial to join this matter," Christian said. "I don't think this case could be retried if a not guilty verdict were given."

However, Christian said that he would issue a limiting order, warning the jury that they should only consider the no-contact order when determining whether Hurd were guilty or innocent of the specific charge.

Hurd also faced potential jurors for the first time.

Fifty-one would-be jurors came to the court house to be vetted for the first-degree murder trial. The process is estimated to take several days. The court planned to vet the first 10 jurors on Monday, then 24 on Tuesday, with the hope of beginning the trial in earnest by the end of the week.

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