Winona man to appeal murder conviction to state Supreme Court

March 5, 2019

A Winona man serving out a life sentence for the murder of one and injury of another outside a west side bar in 2016 is scheduled to appeal his conviction to Minnesota Supreme Court early next month.

The oral arguments — scheduled for Tuesday, April 9 at Humboldt High School in St. Paul — come almost a year to the day Ricky Darnell Waiters, 52, was sentenced to life in prison with opportunity for parole after 30 years for the shooting death of 53-year-old Robert Johnson, and 15 years in prison for the attempted murder of another Winona man.

Waiters’ attorney, Leslie Rosenberg, argued in a statement following his client’s conviction that the charges of first-degree murder and drive-by shooting weren’t supported by evidence and testimony given during trial, citing the fact neither EB’s Bar nor trailer were struck during the attack.

She also argued that prosecution failed to perform its duty as a minister of justice when it inviting the jury to discount Waiters’ self-defense testimony by calling the defense’s closing argument “merely ‘emotional.’”

According to court records, shortly after 1 a.m. July 27, 2016, Waiters opened fire into a group of about a half-dozen people outside of EB’s Corner Bar in the 700 block of West Fifth Street after one of the group’s members told Waiters not to park in a spot near the building.

During the trial in February 2018, the defense claimed bar patrons rushed the vehicle and attacked Waiters, following him when he attempted to back away three times from where he had parked.

In his testimony, Waiters claimed that he was frightened for his life and felt trapped by a continued aggression by several yelling men, culminating with Johnson approaching the vehicle, yelling, with something Waiters said appeared to be a weapon.

In his closing statement, defense attorney Michael Kuehn called the idea that Waiters was enraged “a fantasy” and argued that Waiters had backed up several times to try to get away and, in a panic, felt that he was without options.

The prosecution, however, claimed that Waiters’ case did not meet the criteria for self-defense not only because they didn’t believe there was cause, but also because Waiters was safer in a car and had opportunities to leave the parking lot.

They also pointed to his firing the day before from his job, his coming to the bar so late after drinking at a bar in Wisconsin and leaving the scene as either contributing to a mood that made him likely to commit violence or showing that he did not act as someone who shot in self-defense would act.

The defense had also claimed witness statements were contradictory and the witnesses themselves were drunk and aggressive.