Media ‘feeding frenzy’ did not influence jury in murder trial, court rules

When Devon Parker knocked on the back door of a home in north Minneapolis, claiming that he was being chased, Thomas Sonnenberg let him in and called 911.

Sonnenberg was carrying a gun and two more were in his kitchen. His door had deadbolts requiring keys not only to get in, but also out.

Parker decided he wanted out and thought he was being held against his will until police arrived. So he grabbed Sonnenberg’s gun and shot him in the forehead, killing him.

By most accounts Sonnenberg was a Good Samaritan; that’s how Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman characterized him at a press conference, and that’s how most media in the Twin Cities characterized him.

Did that characterization of Sonnenberg make it impossible for Parker to be fairly tried in Hennepin County?

No, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today.

Even if potential jurors had been exposed to what Parker called a media “feeding frenzy” — none said they had heard of the case during jury selection — that’s not a good enough reason for moving the trial, the court said. Jurors could still set aside whatever beliefs they might have formed and delivered an impartial verdict. Parker got 40 years for the murder.

Did Freeman’s comments ignite the media “feeding frenzy?” Maybe, the justices acknowledged, agreeing with a Court of Appeals judge who called them “problematic.”

“We do not disagree with these characterizations,” Justice Natalie Hudson wrote in today’s opinion. “Nevertheless, we still conclude that regardless of the impropriety of the statements, they did not affect Parker’s substantial rights.”