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Gianakos to get new trial

The Minnesota Supreme Court has overturned the murder conviction of Michael Gianakos, ruling that his wife should not have been allowed to testify against him at his trial.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has overturned the murder conviction of Michael Gianakos, ruling that his wife should not have been allowed to testify against him at his trial.

Clay County Attorney Lisa Borgen said Thursday Gianakos will get a new trial. In the meantime, she said, he likely will remain incarcerated.

Gianakos, of Moorhead, was convicted in May 2000 in Clay County District Court of first-degree murder in the death of AnneMarie Camp in May 1997.

Gianakos, who maintains he was not involved in Camp's death, was sentenced to life in prison. He has been serving his time in Stillwater state prison.

During the trial, Gianakos's attorney placed the blame for the murder on Michael's wife, Jamie Dennis-Gianakos.

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Thursday afternoon, Gianakos talked about the decision by phone with his sister, Tracy Lowrance of Fargo.

"I'm unbelievably happy," said Lowrance, who has championed her brother's cause since before and after his conviction. "He's going to come home now," she said.

Borgen said the state still has probable cause to hold Gianakos.

She said she will decide soon whether to recharge him by complaint, which would likely mean a charge of second-degree murder, or by calling a grand jury.

"I think if we're going to go forward with a first-degree murder charge again we would redo a grand jury, because we need to show them (jurors) the evidence that is admissible," Borgen said.

The only way someone can be charged with first-degree murder in Minnesota is by grand jury indictment.

Marital privilege upheld

Dennis-Gianakos testified at her husband's trial that Gianakos killed Camp, the couple's baby sitter, with a shotgun at an abandoned Sabin, Minn., farmstead while she and the couple's two small children looked on.

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In return for her testimony, Dennis-Gianakos was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder. She is serving a 25-year sentence.

The question before the high court was whether the trial judge, Thomas Schroeder, erred when he denied Gianakos what is known as the marital privilege and allowed Dennis-Gianakos to testify.

The marital privilege is an aspect of state law that prohibits spouses from testifying against one another if either objects.

Schroeder ruled the privilege did not apply because evidence suggested Michael and Jamie married so they wouldn't have to testify against each other in a theft case.

It was Camp's knowledge of the couple's involvement in the theft case that led Gianakos to kill her, Dennis-Gianakos said at her husband's trial.

In the high court ruling issued Thursday overturning Gianakos's conviction, Justice Edward Stringer wrote for the majority of the court.

"While this court has at least implicitly recognized the legitimacy of the marriage as a factor in determining whether to apply the marital privilege, we decline to conclude that the marriage at issue here was so clearly a sham that the privilege should be denied on that basis," Stringer said.

Stringer stated that while the record revealed the primary reason Dennis-Gianakos entered into the marriage was to take advantage of marital privilege, "appellant (Gianakos) appears to have been motivated by several factors, among them perhaps the most conventional -- his affection for Jamie."

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A second opinion

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Joan Ericksen Lancaster wrote: "The substantial burdens the majority (opinion) imposes on the criminal justice system by permitting appellant to deprive the jury of the testimony of one of Camp's murderers are not justified."

Lancaster said the court has the right to determine whether an exception to the marital privilege exists if two people are involved in criminal activity. "I would conclude that such an exception does exist and affirm the conviction," Lancaster wrote.

Borgen said she was more disappointed than surprised that the majority of the court didn't come to the same conclusion.

"It's disappointing that they're not going to allow us to use Jamie's testimony. But we're still going to aggressively prosecute because I think the evidence still shows he (Gianakos) was involved in the murder of AnneMarie Camp," Borgen said.

Readers can reach Moorhead Bureau Chief Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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