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Pretrial held in McCormick case, trial set for Monday

BAGLEY - A pretrial hearing was held for Kevin McCormick's second-degree manslaughter trial Thursday afternoon.

McCormick, 53, of Breezy Point, Minn., was charged with felony second-degree manslaughter and hunter harassment in connection with a Nov. 7, 2010, incident. The criminal complaint filed against McCormick states that he pulled down a deer stand that Jerry Benedict was in. Benedict died from internal injuries Nov. 24, 2010, at a Fargo hospital.

McCormick's trial will begin Monday at the Clearwater County Courthouse in Bagley and is expected to last five to seven days. Last week, the state dismissed the charge of hunter harassment, according to Clearwater County Attorney Richard Mollin, who is prosecuting the case.

During the pretrial hearing, District Judge Paul Rasmussen made no rulings against allowing the state to present to the jury during the trial Benedict's complete medical records and the tree stand that Benedict fell from.

Rasmussen initially questioned the state's intent to offer all of Benedict's medical records to the jury, stating the jury may not understand the medical terminology presented in the progress reports and lab reports.

"The lay person won't get anything from this," he said. "Knowing the jury will hear from physicians, would this be duplicative from what they will hear from doctors? My concern is handing this pile of records to them will not help them decide."

Mollin called Benedict's medical records "diagnostic" and argued the records would provide jurors with references of what happened to Benedict.

Robert Christensen, McCormick's attorney, who was not present at the prehearing but spoke to Mollin and Rasmussen over the telephone, said the medical records would only confuse the jury.

"They are not trained to read medical records," he said. "Twenty-plus doctors had contact with Benedict. Some repeated what other doctors wrote in notes. This could interfere with due process. The records are not important."

Mollin responded by saying the medical records are what one doctor used to conclude the fall ultimately caused Benedict's death.

"The records are eligible to be received in exception to the hearsay rule," Mollin said. "The entire record is appropriate."

Another issue likely to raise legal banter during the trial is the state's request to show the jury the deer stand Benedict fell from.

Rasmussen said the logistics of setting up the stand in the courthouse would be complicated, as would providing security for the hunter equipment.

"I struggle with how the jury will benefit from viewing it," he said.

Christensen said the deer stand was not relevant to the case and said photographs of the stand and a video the defendant made in the woods of the tree stand would be enough to give jurors an idea of what the stand looks like. He added that there would likely be a problem with fairness if the stand was shown to jurors on a hard floor, rather than an actual forest floor.

"I don't know why we have to view it," he said over the phone.

Mollin defended his exhibit request, saying it was better for jurors to see it.

"It's important. It's the focal point," he said.