Herald JournalHerald Journal, Sept. 6, 2004

Judge denies Opsahl a new trial

By Ryan Gueningsman

Maybe now the family of Margaret Rehmann can finally put her murder behind them – again.

Darby Jon Opsahl, 36, was convicted of shooting Rehmann in 1986 during an apparent burglary gone bad at Rehmann’s rural Lester Prairie home.

Since Opsahl’s actual conviction in 1991, he has had lawyers working on his appeal case, hoping to have another chance to try to clear his name.

That hope has been diminished. Judge Rex Stacey delivered his opinion of the case Aug. 20 after hearing four days of testimony during a post evidentiary hearing in late July. Stacey’s opinion denied Opsahl a new trial.

The Minnesota Supreme Court handed down the case to McLeod County District Court for an evidentiary hearing based on Opsahl’s claims of false and misleading testimony of trial and prosecution misconduct.

Stacey said in his findings that the court also examined claims of threats and coercion in the county attorney-directed interviews of recanting witnesses who have allegedly recanted all or parts of their trial testimony.

Marina Michelle Allen, who was Opsahl’s girlfriend until 1990, testified that when Detective Matt Rolf of the McLeod County Sheriff’s Department interviewed her about the case, “Rolf was not threatening in his interview,” according to court documents. Allan was found to have told the truth during the original trial in 1990.

Allen said that, once, she asked Opsahl “if he had ever killed an old lady before, and he said ‘yes,’ and he laughed about it and, like, a minute later he said, ‘No I didn’t,’ and I don’t know what to believe,” she said.

Stacey said in his findings that Opsahl implicated himself in several interviews with investigators and it is reasonable to suggest that he implicated himself with his live-in girlfriend (Allen).

Ross Reintz testified at Opsahl’s original trial, and was called to re-testify July 29 at the evidentiary hearing. Reintz testified that he heard a conversation between Opsahl, Allen, and Jeff Olson that briefly mentioned the murder.

On July 29, Reintz testified that he did in fact hear the conversation that he testified to hearing at the original trial. What he failed to say was that it was a joke. He repeated a claim that McLeod County Attorney Mike Junge told him what to say and threatened to revoke his parole if he didn’t say it.

Junge testified in court July 28 and contradicted the claims of misconduct.

Other witnesses, Dean Johnson, Laura Roberts, Richard Rogowski, and Allan Kroells, were all found to have told the truth during the original trial, despite some later recantments and changing of stories, according to Stacey’s findings.

After the Supreme Court sent Opsahl’s case back to McLeod County, Opsahl’s attorneys noted that the ruling said a new trial must take place if the court finds that a witness lied at trial.

Stacey said in his findings that “this court has not found that a witness lied at trial.”

“In this court’s view, Opsahl could have been convicted on the basis of his statements alone,” Stacey continued in his findings. “This case, like most murders, involves more than one lost life. But for the efforts of Magarian (Opsahl’s attorney) and his associates, this case never would have been reviewed.

“It’s a credit to our criminal justice system that a case such as this can be examined so closely. But Margaret Rehmann, a 66-year-old wife and mother, was brutally murdered in her own home in the middle of the day. At a minimum, Opsahl drove his car to the scene drunk or high knowing a robbery was going to take place, and that the robber carried a .44 and would use it. . . .

“Opsahl may be deserving of consideration for having broken a cold case, but he is not entitled to a new trial,” Stacey said in his findings.

He also noted that Opsahl truly received a second look in this matter – and said that at no time did he refer to or read original trial judge LeRoy Yost’s findings from the original trial. Stacey said that he relied only on information presented in support of Opsahl’s request for a new trial.

Magarian said that both he and Opsahl are disappointed with the decision and are studying Stacey’s opinion.

“We have found over the course of the hearing that the county attorney and sheriff are very reasonable people,” Magarian said. “We still hope, in the end, justice will be done. We are working and speaking with the county attorney’s office about that.”

Opsahl and Magarian have 60 days that they can appeal, and Magarian has begun speaking with the county attorney’s office again. At this point, Magarian is not sure what direction this case will go.

“He (Opsahl) would have liked to have had a new trial. He has been in jail for 12 years. He wants to be out and be with his kids,” Magarian said.

Opsahl has two children, the oldest of which was present for most of the trial, Magarian said. “We’re still studying the opinion and speaking with the county attorney’s office.”

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