Arraignments in killings continued

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Arraignments for five people accused in the robbery and shooting deaths of two men were continued until a Mower County grand jury considers first-degree murder indictments.

Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Arraignments for five people accused in the robbery and shooting deaths of two men were continued until a Mower County grand jury considers first-degree murder indictments.

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Four of the five defendants will remain in the Mower County Jail on $1 million bond each, while the fifth had bail reduced.

County Attorney Patrick A. Oman filed a request to convene a grand jury earlier Tuesday, which embarrassed the five public defenders, who appeared on behalf of their clients for the late Tuesday afternoon arraignment hearing.

The grand jury will be called Aug. 1 and until it decides on the first-degree murder charges requested by the county attorney or to leave the second-degree charges in place, District Judge Donald E. Rysavy had no alternative but to continue the arraignments.

Once again, security was tight outside the Mower County Third Judicial District courtroom, where court bailiff Arden King and Mower County Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Pearson checked everyone with a metal detector before allowing them to enter the courtroom.

Inside the courtroom, one side of the spectators’ gallery was filled with relatives and friends of the five defendants, while the other side was filled with attorneys, reporters and a row full of relatives and friends of the two men murdered June 30 at the Downtown Motel in Austin.

Vernon Neal Powers, 27, Scott Perry Christian, 29, David Kenneth Christian, 28, and Jenea Larae-Nichol Weinand, 18, all of St. Paul, and Janet Elizabeth Hall, 18, of South Minneapolis, have been charged with three serious felony counts of aiding and abetting murder and robbery in the second degree.

Juan Vincente Ramirez, 41, and Raul Pedro Guiterrez, 26, both of St. Paul, were shot to death after a robbery in Room 28 at the Downtown Motel in the early morning hours of June 30.

Benjamin Moreno Hernandez, 21, also was shot, but recovered from his wounds after being hospitalized.

Both the murder victims and Hernandez traveled to Austin from their St. Paul homes to work as roofers.

The three men, plus another man and a 14-year old boy shared Room 28 at the Downtown Motel.

According to the criminal complaint, Ramirez went to a room to have sex with a woman identified as Weinand. During that time, Ramirez showed Weinand a red bandana in which he had a large amount of money stashed.

Ramirez left the room and returned to the one he shared with four companions.

Weinand told Powers, Hall and Scott Perry Christian about the man’s stash of money and a robbery was planned.

Weinand allegedly knocked on the motel room door occupied by the roofers. When the door was opened, Powers and Scott Perry Christian burst into the room and demanded money.

The room’s occupants refused and the intruders fired their weapons, 9mm handguns, killing two and wounding a third man.

In making their escape, one of the intruders left behind a tennis shoe while another left the face mask he wore to hide his identity.

They made their getaway in a sport utility vehicle, but not before discarding a wallet and its contents along Fourth Street SE near the Roosevelt bridge.

All they got for their efforts was a small amount of money. They missed the money wrapped in the red bandana that Weinand allegedly told them to steal.

Later, police revealed Ramirez kept $8,900 in cash rolled up in the bandana.

The five suspects were arrested in St. Paul 16 hours after the crime, when Twin Cities law enforcement agencies combined to search for the vehicle.

Authorities revealed the three accused male defendants brought Weinand and Hall to Austin, as well as other females, for prostitution. They were to either work at two downtown bars featuring nude dancers or from the same bars to solicit men for sex.

Only last week, four women from Milwaukee, Wis., and a man accompanying them were arrested on prostitution charges.

Austin Police Chief Paul M. Philipp has linked other illegal activities, such as drug dealing, as well as prostitution, to the activities at the two bars featuring nude dancers.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the only fireworks were verbal and one of the public defenders, Chester Swenson, was responsible for them.

When Glen Jacobsen, county assistant attorney, announced to the court a request for a grand jury had been filed only hours earlier, Swenson, the court-appointed attorney for one of the alleged shooters, Powers, was chagrined.

"All five defendants have representation by public defenders, your honor," Swenson said. "All of these defendants will now think we’re idiots for not knowing this before entering the courtroom."

Swenson chastised county attorney Oman – not present Tuesday at the hearing – for "calling press conferences" to discuss the case, but not advising the clients’ attorneys.

According to Jacobsen, the delay in requesting a grand jury be convened occurred partly because medical reports and other information from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension had been received only July 14.

Rysavy listened to both the prosecutor and defense attorney and then continued Powers’ arraignment.

The same results followed four other defendants who appeared before Rysavy.

David Kenneth Christian, believed to be the driver of the getaway vehicle, was represented by attorney Evan Larson, who was the first public defender to bring up the subject of reducing the $1 million bail on his client.

Larson characterized his client as being "peripherally involved" in the robbery-homicide and asked that bail be reduced to $75,000

Jacobsen quoted a bail study by Gary Nyquist for Mower County Correctional Services that declared the defendant to be a flight risk, who is of "significant danger to potential witnesses."

The judge ruled no change in bail for David Kenneth Christian and it remains at $1 million, while his arraignment also was continued.

Richard Smith of Rochester appeared as counsel for Scott Perry Christian. The public defender claimed the criminal complaint showed his client has a "weak connection" to the robbery homicide based on the testimony of a girl whose identity has been kept secret.

Smith had gone so fair as to do a bail study of the Third Judicial District of his own. The results of the attorney’s study showed no bail higher than $750,000 for defendants in any murder case and he pointed out, the two men convicted of killing an Austin man by shooting him 19 times (they later were convicted of the crime and are now serving time in prison) were held under only $250,000 bond at the time of their arrest.

"I’m not aware of any case involving $1 million bail, your honor," said Smith, who then asked for his client’s bail to be reduced to $250,000.

Jacobsen pointed out Scott Perry Christian also is believed to have been one of the shooters in the robbery-homicide and that he has a lengthy criminal history.

Rysavy said, as he did previously, "I see nothing under the circumstance that has changed," and left bail at $1 million and continued arraignment pending the return of the grand jury’s verdict.

Stephen R. Erickson, an Albert Lea attorney, appeared on behalf of defendant Weinand, who asked the court for a public defender only earlier Tuesday.

Erickson had no comment as to bail matters and the judge also continued his client’s arraignment pending the grand jury’s decision.

The last defendant to march before the judge in orange jail coveralls and shower sandals was Hall, the youngest and the only one without a criminal history.

She will be represented by Julie Maxwell and Greg Colby.

Rysavy finally admitted to his own exasperation with the late-filing of the request for a grand jury. The judge told Maxwell and Hall, "The court does not disagree with you in that better communications could have helped us all."

Maxwell also reminded the court that her client’s involvement in the robbery-homicide is based solely on a girl apparently unknown to all the defendants.

"Her involvement, if any, was absolutely minimal," Maxwell told the court.

Hall said the teen-ager’s father, Joseph, present at the hearing, promised to monitor his daughter’s whereabouts if she could make a reduced bail. Also, the defendant volunteered for electronic home monitoring.

Maxwell said Hall’s family could not afford the $200,000 bail already placed on the defendant and asked that it be reduced to $50,000.

Jacobsen again cited Nyquist’s bail study that said Hall was a flight risk, but Rysavy agreed with the public defender and ordered Hall’s bail reduced to $50,000 with electronic home monitoring and other conditions.

Under the watchful eyes of Jail Administrator Bob Roche, the defendants were returned to the Mower County Jail and the hearing ended.

Outside the courtroom, Amber Neal, who described herself as a cousin of defendants Scott Perry and David Kenneth Christian, brothers, angrily told reporters, the million-dollar bail was unfair.

"It’s just an unfair situation. I don’t believe they did it. They should look further," Amber Neal said.