Alleged shooter in state park killing makes first appearance
Published 11:00 am Friday, August 26, 2016
ALBERT LEA — The Brownsdale man charged with second-degree murder in a fatal shooting Tuesday at Myre-Big Island State Park is a former member of the Minnesota National Guard.
David Michael Easter, 26, made his first appearance Thursday in front of Freeborn County District Court Judge Steven Schwab on the charge.
Easter is charged in connection with a shooting in a parking lot near Big Island pavilion that killed a rural Freeborn County man.
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The man’s name is expected to be released pending the results of a preliminary autopsy conducted by the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Lawyer Jeremy Clinefelter of Donnelly Law Office in Austin argued Easter should be released on his own recognizance because he does not pose a danger to society.
Clinefelter described the victim as acting erratically after driving to the park, and claimed that Easter had shot the man based on an honest belief that his family was in legitimate danger.
Clinefelter described Easter as being an “upstanding citizen,” who poses no flight risk, and claimed prosecutors have little idea about what happened before the shooting.
Easter was a private first class and received a general discharge from the Minnesota National Guard in July. He has been unemployed since July 1. Easter’s wife is a member of the Minnesota National Guard. The couple married in 2015.
Clinefelter said Easter and his family had been at the park since 5:30 p.m., and were ready to leave when the shooting occurred.
Assistant Freeborn County Attorney David Walker argued unconditional bail be set at $1 million. He said he has not seen anything that would substantiate Easter’s claim of self defense, based on findings that the car’s windows were shut and the vehicle was in reverse at the time of the shooting.
Walker also cited the severity of the charge, and said the shooting appears to be an incident appropriately seen as premeditated and intentional, which, if proven, would change the charge to first-degree murder.
Schwab set conditional bail at $200,000 because of concerns about Easter’s family ties to Omaha, Nebraska, his current unemployment status and a possible threat to public safety.
Court documents filed Thursday state the windows and sunroof of the 2001 Audi station wagon the man was found in were closed when the man was shot twice in the head. The man was pronounced dead at the scene.
The car’s doors were locked, and the vehicle was in reverse at the time it was found. The victim’s foot was on the brake of the vehicle.
The Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office and Albert Lea Police Department were dispatched to Myre-Big Island State Park at about 9:15 p.m. Tuesday after Easter reported that he had shot the man in self-defense.
Upon arriving, law enforcement found Easter with his wife and their infant daughter in a black Ford F-150 with Minnesota license plates at the ranger’s station near the park’s main gate — approximately 1.7 miles northwest of the pavilion on Big Island.
A .45 caliber pistol allegedly used in the shooting was also recovered. A .45 caliber round was later found in the truck, court documents state.
Easter alleged that the man had approached him with a bat, Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag said.
Officers and deputies continued into the state park and found the station wagon with Nebraska license plates in the picnic area, and found the victim in the vehicle, court documents state. Bullet holes were found in the upper rear portion of the driver’s door window.
A deputy reportedly found one spent shell casing several feet from the driver’s door of the Audi. A second shell casing was found lying behind the vehicle, court documents state.
Authorities did not find a bat but did find a golf club in the car.
In an interview with law enforcement, Easter’s wife said her husband had confronted the victim at the victim’s car and the two had exchanged words, but she noted she did not hear everything they were saying, court documents state. She said she heard the victim tell her husband to stop shining his light on him, before hearing two gunshots and seeing that her husband had shot the other man.
Court documents state she saw the doors were shut on the victim’s car.
She said her husband usually carries a pistol. He has a valid gun permit in Nebraska, but did not have one in Minnesota, court documents state.
Easter and the victim had been living in the area since May. They reportedly had recent ties to Omaha, Nebraska, and did not have extensive criminal records.
Easter’s next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 8.
Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. Pending no criminal record is found, Easter faces a presumptive sentence of more than 25 years in prison.