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Dana Payne

Other Minnesota Exonerations
On June 22, 1988, 28-year-old Dana Payne was towing a flatbed trailer loaded with a bulldozer when he lost control as he approached an intersection in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. When Payne swerved to try to avoid a vehicle, the bulldozer slid off the trailer and crushed a Toyota, killing four-year-old Aubrey Jenson who was riding with her father, Jeff.
Payne drank three beers prior to getting into the truck, but his blood alcohol was .05, well under the .10 limit. He told police his brakes failed.

In October 1988, a Hennepin County grand jury indicted Payne on a charge of criminally negligent driving. He went to trial in March 1989.  Michael Stendal, a truck inspector for the Minnesota State Patrol, testified that he had examined the brakes on Payne’s truck and the brakes were in good working order. The prosecution contended that because no chain was recovered after the crash, Payne had failed to secure the bulldozer to the trailer.

The defense called a mechanic who testified that his examination showed the brakes were defective.

Payne denied that he was drunk. He said that his brakes failed as he approached a red light and he tried to swerve but wound up striking Jensen’s Toyota. As the trailer slid sideways, the bulldozer slid off and toppled onto the car. Aubrey died of a broken neck. Payne maintained that the bulldozer was properly chained to the trailer.

On March 7, 1989, the jury convicted Payne of criminally negligent driving. He was sentenced to six months in jail to be followed by six months in a jail work-release program.

Six months later, the prosecution requested that the conviction be vacated after discovering that Stendal, the prosecution’s witness who examined the truck brakes, had overstated his credentials and had actually failed to complete the tests on the brakes.

Payne went to trial a second time in August 1991 represented by a different lawyer, Pete Cahill.

The prosecution presented a mechanic who said the truck’s brakes appeared to be working. The defense presented their mechanic, who said the brakes were faulty and had to be replaced.

The defense presented for the first time a video that showed how Payne secured the bulldozer to the trailer on a daily basis and followed the truck on a typical route on expressways and busy city streets. Cahill argued to the jury that if the bulldozer had not been secured on the day of the crash, it would have slid off the trailer almost as soon as Payne had left his job site—about 20 miles from the site of the crash.

On August 7, 1991, the jury acquitted Payne.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/25/2014
Most Serious Crime:Other Violent Felony
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1988
Sentence:1 year
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No