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See No Evil focuses on Poirier murder case

Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler displays some photos from the investigation into the kidnapping and murder of Moose Lake’s Katie Poirier in 1999. Pertler was one of several people interviewed for “See No Evil,” an Investigation Discovery television series that looks at how real crimes are solved with the help of surveillance cameras. A program on the Katie Poirier case will air April 19 on the Investigation Discovery channel. Jana Peterson/jpeterson@pinejournal.com

Although Donald Blom was found guilty of killing Moose Lake convenience store worker Katie Poirier in August 2000, more than 15 years ago, a fourth television program about the high-profile kidnapping and murder will air on cable television later this month.

The Poirier case captured the attention of the state when the Barnum High School graduate disappeared from her job at the convenience store, and grainy black-and-white surveillance video showed a man forcing the 19-year-old from the building at around 11:40 p.m. May 26, 1999. The man’s hand was at the back of her neck, but it appeared from the way that she touched her throat that there might have been a cord tied around her neck. The abductor was wearing jeans, a backwards baseball cap and a throwback New York Yankees baseball jersey with the number 23 on the back. He had long light-colored hair. Investigators initially thought he was about 25 years old.

Carlton County Attorney Thom Pertler was one of several people — including Katie’s brother, law enforcement officials and a NASA scientist — interviewed for “See No Evil,” a 13-part television series that looks at how real crimes are solved with the help of surveillance cameras. The episode on the Katie Poirier case is scheduled to air at 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 19 on the Investigation Discovery channel with repeat screenings from then on.

A description of See No Evil at IMDb.com says the program uses first-hand witness interviews, real footage from cases and dramatic reconstruction to reveal how video surveillance footage has unlocked the answer to cases that otherwise might have remained unsolved — “leaving dangerous killers at large.”

Pertler said two different videos were used by the prosecution in the Poirier case: the video showing the man abducting the night clerk and a video from a different Moose Lake convenience store, showing Donald Blom with blond tips on his long grey hair around the date of her abduction.

Pertler, who was assistant Carlton County attorney at the time but took the lead on the case, said they sent the abduction video to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for help enhancing the grainy film.

While the video may not have clearly identified Blom, it did show his general appearance, and the prosecution was able to introduce evidence that Blom’s brother had sent the family a box of clothes including the same jersey in the trial.

The video also kept an innocent man out of jail, Pertler said.

“One of our potential suspects — there were thousands of leads, every day people would call and try to help — had a very large tattoo on his forearm,” Pertler said. “He insisted he was innocent, so investigators asked him if he would be willing to put on an identical jersey and go to the convenience store. He did it. You could see the tattoo in the [new] video and the man with Katie did not have a tattoo on his forearm.”

The county attorney said he thinks investigative television shows keep revisiting the case for a number of reasons, one of those being that it was a fairly unique case.

Hundreds of people and National Guardsmen helped search for Poirier’s body on Blom’s 20-acre property, located 12 miles from the convenience store, before investigators found what appeared to be bone fragments in a burn pit on the property. Her body was never discovered, but one of her teeth was, the one filled by her Esko dentist only a couple weeks before with a new amalgam made by 3M that contained some unique compounds that survived the fire.

“That was one of the really unique and fortunate breaks we got,” Pertler said.

The interviews with the London-based production team for See No Evil took place at a Canal Park hotel. Pertler said, adding that the team also interviewed Katie’s brother, Patrick. He thought they spoke to Dr. Steven Squyres, a NASA scientist who analyzed imaging data from the Voyager mission to Jupiter and Saturn and was principal investigator on several later missions as well and who helped enhance the convenience store video in the Poirier investigation.

“Each person [they interviewed] had a unique take on the case,” Pertler said, adding that he talked with the interviewers about both the investigation and the trial, which was also unique.

“That case had just about every legal concept or challenge, evidentiary, challenges to his confession, litigation about search warrants, challenges to some of the processes that were used to analyze the evidence,” he said, noting that the trial lasted 12 weeks and took place in Virginia, Minn., because the defense had requested a change of venue. It took the jury 10 hours to convict Blom, who was a registered sex offender involved in five known cases of kidnapping or sexual assault prior to Poirier’s murder.

If something similar were to happen today, Pertler said he figures the ubiquitous video cameras at stores and other places would contribute even more.

“Most of the video we see now is of such high-grade quality that when security people look at the videos, they know exactly who they’re dealing with,” he said. “The detail leaves no questions as to what or who you’re looking at. And as the quality has improved, so has our ability to rely on that type of evidence.

“And there are a lot more places with video now,” he continued. “No matter where you go, where you’re shopping, what you’re buying, chances are good that you’re being recorded.”

Pertler said he plans to watch the program with his family on April 19. He will see it for the first time then, along with the rest of the viewers.

Still, Pertler said he’s not too worried about the See No Evil team getting it wrong, since the facts of the case have been public for so many years. Other previous shows featuring the Katie Poirier case include “Forensic Files,” “Extreme Forensics” and “On the Case with Paula Zahn,” also on the Investigation Discovery Channel.

Mediacom subscribers can find Investigation Discovery programming on channel 205, while DirecTV subscribers can find it on channel 285, or HD 285. Not finding it? Go to www.investigationdiscovery.com/channel-finder/ and plug in your zip code and cable provider.

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