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Appeals court affirms Tews' conviction for stealing from Willmar Area Food Shelf

WILLMAR -- The Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction of a 39-year-old Raymond woman found guilty of stealing from the Willmar Area Food Shelf.

In an unpublished opinion released on Tuesday, the court found that the evidence presented during Tews' trial was sufficient to find her guilty, that the district court's conduct did not demonstrate bias against her and that the court did not abuse its discretion by requiring her to write an apology letter.

Tews was found guilty in September 2007 of four misdemeanor charges of theft. She was sentenced in October 2007 to 20 days in the county jail, 80 hours of community service, a $200 fine and one year of probation for making unauthorized charges on the nonprofit agency's accounts.

In the appeal, Tews' attorney, John Mack, had argued that her convictions were based on circumstantial evidence only. However, the appeals court ruled "that circumstantial evidence in the record, when taken as a whole, supports the jury's guilty verdict and excludes the inference that (Tews) purchased groceries on food-shelf credit for use at the food shelf or by 'special needs' clients and not for her own personal use."

The appeals court also ruled that Judge Donald M. Spilseth did not bias the jury by sustaining an objection by the prosecutor during Mack's closing arguments. Mack had written "assume, assume, assume" on a white board in the courtroom and said "assuming makes an ass out of you and me." Assistant County Attorney Stephen Wentzell objected and Spilseth ordered Mack to erase the board immediately and the jury to disregard "any profanity, including the three letters of the word just written on the board."

Tews' appeal also objected to the court's order that Tews write a letter of apology to the food shelf as a condition of probation. She argued it violated her right to remain silent on appeal.

County Attorney Boyd Beccue was pleased Wednesday with the affirmation of both the conviction and the sentence. He noted that the apology letter is now a very common part of sentencing and that he was surprised by the appeal of that.

"Judges all over the state are doing that (ordering apology letters)," he said, adding that the order is an outgrowth of attention to victim's rights. "It's good to have the affirmation."