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After drug sale conviction vacated, Montevideo man receives stayed sentence on drug possession

New information led to a vacated conviction for Donald Schmitz of Montevideo. A seven and a half year prison sentence was vacated, and he was given a new prison sentence that was stayed if he completes probation. He received credit for the time he had already spent in prison.

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MONTEVIDEO — A Montevideo man has been sentenced to a stayed prison sentence for drug possession, after an earlier conviction for drug sale was vacated.

Donald Duane Schmitz, 42, had been convicted by a Chippewa County District Court jury in April 2021 for first-degree drug sale, second-degree drug possession and possession of brass knuckles. He was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison after the drug sale conviction.

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Schmitz appealed the conviction and sentence with new information that could implicate another person in the drug sale conviction.

Last week the first-degree drug sale was vacated, and Schmitz pleaded guilty to the charges of possessing drugs and brass knuckles. His plea was an Alford plea, meaning he pleaded guilty without admitting guilt, agreeing that the prosecution had evidence that could make a conviction likely at trial.

An Alford plea is treated like any other guilty plea at sentencing.

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On the drug possession charge, Schmitz was sentenced to three years and three months in prison, stayed on the condition he successfully serve 10 years of supervised probation. He was given credit for one year and 38 days already served on the vacated conviction.

Schmitz was also sentenced to 33 days in the Chippewa County Jail on a charge of possessing brass knuckles, with credit given for 22 days already served.

According to the Minnesota Department of Corrections website, Schmitz is scheduled to be released June 28 from the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Lino Lakes after serving a sentence for property damage related to the theft of catalytic converters and other auto parts.

Donald Duane Schmitz, 41, of Montevideo, was sentenced to 21 months and given 98 days credit for time served related to the theft of catalytic converters earlier this year. He was already in custody in the Faribault Minnesota Correctional Facility following a May felony drug conviction in Chippewa County.

Schmitz was first arrested on the drug charges in March 2020 after a traffic stop in Granite Falls. Schmitz was a passenger in the vehicle.

A search of the vehicle uncovered 44.8 grams of methamphetamine and 10 pills of Ecstasy. Schmitz was also arrested for having brass knuckles in his possession.

He was charged with first-degree drug sale, second-degree drug possession, fourth-degree drug possession, all felonies. He was charged with a misdemeanor for possession of the brass knuckles.

According to court records, Schmitz and his attorney were unaware during his trial that the woman who had been driving the car, Katelyn Jo O’Connor, 33, had been arrested on similar drug charges in Wisconsin.

Officers at the scene had also noted that his fingernails looked like they had been “chewed down to nothing,” considered a sign of drug use. Schmitz offered evidence that he has a hereditary medical condition that causes his fingernails to appear to have been chewed down.

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"The part that is not resolved is not going to be resolved ever," the victim's daughter said after the sentencing. "He's obviously not going to admit to this at all, whatsoever."

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered his case returned to the district court to seek a review of his conviction in light of the new information.

Judge Thomas Van Hon vacated the most serious of the jury verdicts May 19, and Schmitz agreed to the Alford plea agreement on the lesser charges, receiving no additional prison time.

In an affidavit in the court file, public defender Erica Allex said that she had argued in the trial that the drugs found in the car had belonged to O’Connor.

After the trial and Schmitz’s conviction, she said, she learned that O’Connor had been arrested in Wisconsin on drug charges, including methamphetamine sale.

Prosecutor Christopher Reisdorfer had not given her that information, she said in the affidavit, and she would have used it in Schmitz’s defense had she known.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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