Recently, a three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the 2014 arson conviction of 44-year-old Mark Misgen, owner of two pizza restaurants who was found guilty of burning down his family home in 2011. According to news reports, Misgen and his wife owned restaurants in Ellendale and Lonsdale, and were in substantial debt when Misgen burned the home down to collect insurance money.
Misgen was charged in May 2013 with the 2011 burning of his home, and according to news reports had inquired about insurance settlements and how fires are investigated as testified to by a co-defendant. Prosecutors argued that the couple had written hot checks and allowed bills to go to collections due to the financial strain they were under.
Allegedly owing $124,000 in mortgage payments and $160,000 between the two restaurants, Mark Misgen also reportedly owed child support and other debts. Court documents revealed that in 2011 before their home burned, the Misgens had taken out a $612,000 insurance policy on their property. The Ellendale home was destroyed after two fires occurred within hours of each other, fires that investigators concluded were intentional.
Misgen had a criminal history, and argued in his appeal that related evidence and testimony should not have been allowed at trial under the state’s evidentiary rule banning such evidence for use to demonstrate a defendant’s criminal tendency or character. Appeals court judges did not agree, with one of the judges noting that the defense attorney did file a motion objecting to the state’s notice of intent to use past criminal activity evidence, however the motion was filed almost a year prior to the state giving notice of intent to use this evidence. Additionally, court records revealed that in the four months prior to the trial, the defense requested no further hearings and made no further objection.
Misgen’s appeal was denied by the panel of judges, who upheld his conviction. He began serving his 58 month prison term in January of 2015.
In Michigan or any other state, the appeals process is complex and arduous. However, most criminal defendants do have the right to appeal a conviction or sentence, a “second chance” to right a wrong in cases where mistakes were made in the criminal justice process or an innocent individual convicted of a crime he/she did not commit.
Anyone who has been wrongly convicted or who feels that the outcome would have been different had errors not been made or had they had a more competent defense attorney should consult with an experienced Michigan criminal appeals lawyer with a proven track record. A conviction can be reversed in some cases, however a successful appeal requires a highly capable attorney with extensive experience in the process. It is important to note that no attorney can guarantee a conviction will be overturned.