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Appeal denied for killer of Two Harbors teen Paul Antonich

The Minnesota Supreme Court said it had no basis to intervene in the 1996 case, turning down arguments from John Steven Martin for a third time.

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DULUTH — The Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected another appeal from the man convicted of killing Two Harbors teenager Paul Antonich more than 25 years ago.

The Wednesday ruling marked the third time the high court has denied claims from John Steven Martin, who is serving a mandatory life sentence for the kidnapping and shooting death of the 17-year-old.

Paul Antonich
Paul Antonich

The senseless circumstances surrounding the murder shocked the Northland. Antonich, a senior-to-be and student-athlete at Duluth Central High School, was driving home after attending a church youth group meeting in Hermantown when he was involved in a minor traffic collision with Martin at a Duluth intersection Aug. 28, 1996.

Five assailants were convicted of beating the teen at two Duluth locations before he was driven to a remote location on the Fond du Lac Reservation, where Martin shot him.

Martin, now 49, claimed in his latest petition from prison that the state of Minnesota lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him because he is an enrolled member of the Fond du Lac Band and the crime occurred on the reservation. He cited the 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared half of Oklahoma to be tribal land, placing criminal prosecutions under federal jurisdiction.

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But Congress specifically gave Minnesota jurisdiction over offenses committed by or against Native Americans on most reservations, including Fond du Lac, in 1953, Associate Justice Margaret Chutich noted in Wednesday's opinion.

John Steven Martin.jpg
John Steven Martin

Chutich wrote for the court that the claim also was barred because the circumstances were known to him at the time of the trial and he did not file a timely challenge.

That was the same basis relied on by the court in rejecting Martin's two additional arguments: that he "was incapable of premeditation at the time of the murder because of past head trauma and an alcohol-induced blackout" and that he was subject to prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel.

The decision affirms a February 2021 ruling from Judge Robert Macaulay, who summarily declined Martin's request to reopen the record. Macaulay, who presided over the trial and retired last summer, said the defendant's claims were time-barred.

The Supreme Court first upheld the case on direct appeal of Martin's 1999 conviction, later affirming the denial of a request for post-conviction relief in 2008.

Martin, one of three defendants serving life in prison, is currently incarcerated at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Moose Lake.

After Antonich's murder, his parents successfully lobbied Minnesota lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting parole for anyone convicted of first-degree murder while committing kidnapping. But, because Martin's crime occurred prior to that change, he can be considered for release after 30 years, in 2026.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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