Delayed Justice, Michael Eide’s story
(ABC 6 News) – September was supposed to mark the start of an Olmsted County murder trial that has been delayed five years.
By the time the expected trial date arrives in March 2023, it will have been six years since the crime.
In 2018, 41-year-old Antonio Beasley was charged with proximately causing the overdose death of 25-year-old Michael Eide.
According to court documents, Beasley sold Michael heroin laced with fentanyl on April 20, 2017.
Michael’s family says they have patiently waited for this trial for years so that they can finally put him to rest. But, they feel like they have been forgotten by the justice system.
“My two-year celebration of being clean is the last time I ever saw Michael alive,” said Emily Hanson, Michael’s cousin.
When Hanson and Michael’s mother Wendy Ciarletta go through Michael’s old belongings, there is one thing they remember most.
“No matter how deep Michael got in his addiction, he always wanted to get better.”
Hanson describes it as a constant battle. Both she and Michael were fighting their heroin addiction to be present for their family.
“We were about three years apart so I was that annoying little cousin that just followed him around and wanted to be just like him,” Hanson recalled.
Now – five years after Michael’s passing, Hanson is fighting a new battle without Michael’s help.
“It’s like he’s dying all over again every time they push the trial.”
Michael overdosed in 2017, Beasley was charged in 2018, and now, after being rescheduled six times, the trial is set for March 2023. Hanson calls it delayed justice.
“It feels like they just don’t care. They don’t care that Michael died. They don’t care that he wanted to live,” she said.
“There is an implicit right for victims and the families of victims to have the matter resolved.”
Richard Painter is a University of Minnesota law professor – and was chief ethics lawyer in George W. Bush’s white house. He specializes in lawyer’s ethics.
Painter says under normal circumstances murder trials may take one to two years to prosecute. He says he’s never, even with the pandemic, heard of a murder trial delayed six years.
“I’m very surprised.”
But Painter also points out the court system’s unprecedented backlog.
“That was a very challenging period for everyone. For the courts. For lawyers.”
Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem says the county currently has over 500 more cases open than they did in March 2020.
”We’re still not back to normal operations around here.”
Adding that most attorneys are working with heavier than usual caseloads.
“We’ve only got so many judges, we’ve only got so many courtrooms, we can only do so many trials.”
He explains his office’s priorities like this.
The highest priority goes to cases where the defendants are in the county’s jail – unable to make bail. And – if a defendant officially asks for a speedy trial, their trial has to happen within the next 60 days.
“At some point in the hierarchy of priorities, the age of a case becomes a priority. So, this case is probably the oldest one we have open in our system.”
Ostrem says another reason Beasley hasn’t gone to trial is that he’s already in prison.
Right now Antonio Beasley is serving 16 years in Stillwater state prison for a drug charge unrelated to this case.
“He’s going to be sitting there for 15 years. So his priority dropped.”
Painter says if local county attorney’s offices are struggling with caseloads, they should reach out to the Minnesota Attorney General’s office for help.
Attorneys can also dismiss cases with lesser charges, where no one was hurt or killed, to ease the backlog.
“I mean there are plenty of these cases that can be set aside.”
Painter brings up two main issues with delayed trials. One is that, even though Beasley has not explicitly requested a speedy trial, he may still claim the court denied that right.
The second is the impact that six years can have on the actual prosecution of a case.
“The evidence gets old. The witnesses lose their memory. In drug cases, you may have several witnesses who have a credibility problem, to begin with,” said Painter.
Ostrem says that is a valid concern. “Frankly even after a few weeks peoples’ memories start to fade a little bit,” said Ostrem. However, he believes his office has solid expert witnesses and can use body camera footage in this case.
But after all these years, and all these delays, Hanson and Ciarletta say their goal is to get justice for Michael and put him to rest.
“I haven’t grieved,” Ciarletta said.
“What about the rights of my family? What about rights for Michael? We’ve been waiting. Michael died five years ago,” added Hanson.
Ostrem says his office should have communicated with Michael’s family more throughout the delays.
“It’s on us to check in with the victim’s family. We’re all busy, but we need to take time to do that,” he said.
“Our court system is just horribly backed up right now. And this is the poster child for how bad it has gotten.”
And, even though a new trial date is set, Emily and Wendy say they aren’t holding their breath.
“I feel like it’s never going to happen.”
But they will keep fighting this battle for Michael. For the life, he should have had. No matter how many years it takes.
As of now – the trial will begin on March 27th. The Olmsted County Attorney’s Office said all their witnesses and attorneys are ready to go for that week.
But if there are two or three speedy trial requests at that same time – the trial could be pushed yet again.