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Accused of burglary at stepmother's home, U.S. senator says she wanted her father's ashes: charges

Democratic State Sen. Nicole Mitchell, right, of Woodbury, speaks with Sen. Robert D. Farnsworth, a Republican from Hibbing, on the floor of the Minnesota Senate on April 2, 2024, at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski) Democratic State Sen. Nicole Mitchell, right, of Woodbury, speaks with Sen. Robert D. Farnsworth, a Republican from Hibbing, on the floor of the Minnesota Senate on April 2, 2024, at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)
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MINNEAPOLIS -

A Minnesota state senator and former broadcast meteorologist told police that she broke into her stepmother's home because her stepmother refused to give her items of sentimental value from her late father, including his ashes, according to burglary charges filed Tuesday.

Democratic state Sen. Nicole Mitchell, 49, of Woodbury, was arrested early Monday at the home in the northwestern Minnesota city of Detroit Lakes. The arresting officer wrote in the complaint that he heard Mitchell tell her stepmother "something to the effect of, ’I was just trying to get a couple of my dad's things because you wouldn't talk to me anymore.'"

The complaint charges Mitchell with one count of first-degree burglary, a felony. Becker County Judge Gretchen Thilmony allowed Mitchell to go free on the condition that she not contact her stepmother.

Although Senate Republicans called on Mitchell to resign, she's expected to return to her duties. Her trouble comes at an awkward time for Senate Democrats, who hold just a one-seat majority with just under four weeks left in the legislative session.

Mitchell's attorney, Bruce Ringstrom Sr., said in an interview that the dispute arose out of a “fractured relationship” between the senator and her stepmother that has been aggravated by age-related issues.

“It's not exactly the wicked stepmother from Cinderella,” Ringstrom said.

Ringstrom said he’s sure there will be “internal discussions” among Senate Democrats regarding her future but that she’s entitled to a presumption of innocence. He said he told her to suppress her instincts “as a media person, a weather person and politician,” and that she agreed “to hold her tongue and say nothing.”

But in a post later on Facebook, Mitchell denied stealing. She did not, however, explain why she entered the home without permission in the middle of the night.

“Like so many families, mine is dealing with the pain of watching a loved one decline due to Alzheimer’s and associated paranoia. ... This has been a true tragedy for our family and my hope is it can return to being a private matter,” Mitchell wrote.

The senator wore an orange jumpsuit and looked tense but said little during her brief court appearance. She did not enter a plea.

Mitchell’s father, Rod Mitchell, died in March 2023 at the age of 72, according to his obituary. He had been married to Mitchell’s stepmother for 40 years, it said.

“I know I did something bad,” the criminal complaint quoted Mitchell as saying.

Mitchell was dressed all in black and wearing a black hat when she was arrested, the complaint said. The officer said he discovered a flashlight near her that was covered with a black sock, apparently modified to control the amount of light coming from it.

Mitchell told the officer she was after pictures, a flannel shirt, ashes and other items, but that her stepmother had cut off all contact with her, according to the complaint.

The lawmaker acknowledged entering through a basement window that had been propped open with a black backpack, the complaint said. Officers found her Senate ID inside it. She claimed her stepmother had given her a laptop found in her backpack “way back when,” but the stepmother disputed that. The senator, who has a law degree, also indicated that she got caught soon after entering.

“Clearly I'm not good at this,” it quoted her as saying.

The stepmother said in an interview that she's afraid of her stepdaughter. She also said that although most of her husband's ashes were buried, she sent Mitchell a miniature container with some of them. Ringstrom, however, said that account is “not totally accurate.”

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, of St. Paul, called the allegations “upsetting” but indicated that Mitchell will be allowed to return to her duties.

“We believe in due process, and Senator Mitchell has the right to a full defence of her case in court,” Murphy said in a statement.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, of East Grand Forks, said in a statement that she should step down. The complaint describes allegations of disturbing conduct unbecoming of a legislator, including extensive preparations to burglarize a relative’s home, he said.

Mitchell was a meteorologist with the U.S. military, KSTP-TV, Minnesota Public Radio and The Weather Channel before she was elected in 2022 from a suburban St. Paul district.

Mitchell’s next court appearance is set for June 10.

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