Trial of accused cop killer Fitch begins today in St. Cloud

Brian George Fitch
Brian George Fitch
Courtesy Minnesota Dept. of Corrections

Updated 4:15 p.m. | Posted 4 a.m.

What is expected to be a long jury selection process began today in the trial of Brian Fitch, Sr., the man charged with killing a Mendota Heights police officer last July.

A Dakota County judge ordered Fitch's trial moved to Stearns County last month, citing extensive media coverage in the Twin Cities. Fitch has pleaded not guilty to charges that he shot and killed Officer Scott Patrick when he was pulled over in a traffic stop in West St. Paul.

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Fitch also is charged with three counts of attempted murder, several counts of assault and engaging in a drive-by shooting.

Police captured him in St. Paul's North End after a manhunt that ended in a gun battle that left him wounded.

Patrick, a 19-year police force veteran, left behind a widow and two teenage daughters.

Fitch's attorneys commissioned a public opinion poll and said it showed a substantial majority of potential jurors in Dakota County already believed he was guilty of the slaying.

On Monday, a pool of about 75 potential jurors in Stearns County received a questionnaire asking about everything from their age to occupation. The questionnaire also asked potential jurors to share their attitudes about police officers and whether they learned anything about the case through media coverage.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will begin questioning the potential jurors Tuesday. Jury selection is expected to last a week, with opening statements slated for next Tuesday.

The two sides are also still hashing out arguments about evidence that may be admitted during the trial, including allegations by prosecutors that Fitch conspired to commit murder from his prison cell and tampered with a witness. His defense team wants to exclude any evidence of Fitch's prior criminal history because it may prejudice the jury.