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Hollis Larson

Other Minnesota Exonerations
On December 16, 2007, 43-year-old Hollis Larson, who was in prison in Minnesota for a sexual assaulting his niece, telephoned his sister, Wendy Goodman, and her husband. He called to request that they send him money because he was anticipating being released in February 2008. During the conversation, Goodman’s husband accidentally disconnected the line.

Wendy believed that Larson would assume that the disconnection was intentional and get angry, so she wrote a letter of apology and mailed it the following day.

Meanwhile, Larson fired off an angry letter of his own, saying, “If it was/is your intent to piss me off, you’ve done a very good job. Remember what I did when I was pissed at you when we lived in Willow Run?

“Send me $50, I know you’re so very busy and sending me a money order is such a very difficult task for someone like you, but if you take an hour out of one of your overwhelming days, you may be able to handle it.

“By the way, DON’T bother coming to pick me up on 2/5/08. It is obvious you want nothing to do with me so I will happily oblige. I will send someone to pick up my stuff A.S.A.P.

Larson signed off by saying, “Have a nice life.”

Goodman received the letter on December 18, 2007, and her husband called police. Goodman told a Goodhue County Sheriff’s investigator that she considered the letter a threat to kill her. On December 31, 2007, Larson was charged with making a terroristic threat.

In February 2008, Goodhue County filed a petition to commit Larson as a sexually dangerous person and a sexual psychopathic personality. At the time he was nearing expiration of his prison sentences for four convictions for criminal sexual conduct entered in the early 1990’s.

He went to trial on the terroristic threat charge in Goodhue County District Court in May 2008 and chose to have his case decided by a judge without a jury. Goodman testified that “Willow Run” referred to an incident that occurred between 1975 and 1977 when Larson, who was then about 11 or 12 years old, caught Goodman, who was 5 years older, smoking marijuana and threatened to call their mother, who was at work.

Goodman, who admitted she was probably under the influence of marijuana at the time, testified that she and Larson argued and she then went into her mother’s walk-in closet. Larson came to the door of a closet with a “carving” knife. She said she was initially frightened and then began to laugh—as did Larson.

She testified that she did not recall what happened to the knife. “We were children,” she said. However, she testified that she believed the reference to this incident was a threat on her life.

Larson testified that he was angry about the telephone disconnection and assumed Goodman was signaling that she wanted no further contact from him. He testified that he did not intend any threat. Initially, he said that his “Willow Run” reference was to a time when he ran away from home leaving a note that said, “consider me dead.” But he later said he was in fact referring to the incident Goodman recalled. Larson said it was a butter knife, not a carving knife.

Larson also said he did not recall the incident having any connection to him catching Goodman smoking marijuana. He thought their mother was at home at the time of the incident, which meant it was inconsequential. He insisted the letter was intended to say that he would be out of Goodman’s life.

On May 12, 2008, the trial judge found that Larson made the statement in reckless disregard of the risk of causing Goodman fear and did cause her fear. The judge concluded that there “had to be something significant” about an incident that both Larson and Goodman remembered so many years later.

The district court credited Goodman’s testimony about the knife incident, and found that the reference was to the knife incident. The judge further found that by this reference, Larson indirectly threatened to commit a crime of violence.

The judge convicted Larson of making a terroristic threat and sentenced him to 29 months in prison. The judge also ordered him committed as a sexually dangerous predator.

Larson appealed. On September 15, 2009, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and ordered the case dismissed. The appeals court ruled there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction. Larson’s letter, the court held, “appears to be an expression of transitory anger that does not warrant the grave sanctions that flow from a conviction of terroristic threats.”

Larson subsequently filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation, but the case was dismissed.

In 2015, Larson filed a petition seeking compensation under the Minnesota compensation statute, which requires that a defendant establish innocence. The Minnesota Supreme Court granted the petition on March 15, 2015. In 2018, the state of Minnesota granted Larson $82,500 in compensation.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/20/2018
Last Updated: 10/15/2018
Most Serious Crime:Threats
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2007
Sentence:2 years and 5 months
Age at the date of reported crime:43
Contributing Factors:
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No