Arrests made in shooting

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 1, 2000

Austin Daily Herald.

Saturday, July 01, 2000

Austin Daily Herald

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Four St. Paul individuals are in custody in connection with the early Friday morning murders of two roofers at the Downtown Motel.

Vernon Neal Powers, 27, Scott Perry Christian, 29, David Kenneth Christian, 28, and Jenea Larae-Nichol Weinand, 18, all of St. Paul, are in the Mower County Jail after their arrests Friday in St. Paul. Scott Perry Christian and David Kenneth Christian are brothers.

"I feel 100 percent better today than I did yesterday," Austin Police Paul M. Philipp told reporters Saturday when the arrests were announced. "It all came together last night."

Mower County Attorney Patrick A. Oman and agents of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension spent Saturday discussing charges to be brought against the St. Paul residents.

It is possible, they could be arraigned Monday in Mower County Third Judicial District Court or held for court Wednesday because of Tuesday’s Independence Day holiday.

"There are a lot of things to be done and a lot of loose ends to be tied up," Philipp said Saturday.

Juan Vincente Ramirez, 41, and Raul Pedro Guiterrez, 26, were shot to death in an apparent robbery attempt in Room 28 at the Downtown Motel, 209 First Ave. SE.

Masked gunmen burst into the room, demanded money and then started spraying bullets in a hail of gunfire, waking other motel residents and others living in the area of the near-downtown motel.

Autopsies are scheduled Monday at Ramsey County Medical Center in St Paul. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Benjamin Moreno Hernandez, 20, is listed in fair condition at St. Mary’s Hospital, Rochester, under protection of a Mayo Clinic security guard. Hernandez suffered gunshot wounds to both hands.

A 911 call at 2:11 a.m. Friday to the Austin-Mower County Law Enforcement Center sent officers to the motel located across from the Austin Post Office at the intersection of First Street and First Avenue SE.

The responding Austin Police Department officers and Mower County Sheriff’s Department deputies found two men dead at the scene and one man injured with multiple gunshot wounds.

Two other men and a 14-year-old boy escaped injury.

The five men, all from St. Paul, were sharing a room at the motel while in Austin working for a roofing crew.

At the request of the Austin Police Department, the BCA sent its mobile crime unit to the scene and a team of investigators, including former Austin Police Officer Jim Bakos.

The motel was cordoned off Friday, while investigators went about their work.

Because the survivors of the shootings were Hispanic, interpreters were needed. Also, the survivors gave "conflicting stories" as to how the incident occurred.

The 14-year-old teen-ager, still unidentified, told investigators and later reporters he was sleeping when two men and a woman entered the room and demanded money. When the intruders were told the motel room occupants had no money, the intruders allegedly started shooting, according to the teen-ager’s account.

A white Dodge Durango was spotted in Austin the night before Friday morning’s shootings. Officers on routine patrol noted the vehicle’s description and Minnesota license plate numbers.

That proved to be valuable to the investigation, according to the police chief, as well as tentative descriptions given by the survivors of the shootings.

The vehicle was located in the Twin Cities, and three occupants were held for questioning late Friday as the first break in the case emerged.

Statements given by the individuals also helped Twin Cities’ investigators pursue other leads. Later, a member of the Minnesota Gang Strike Force located another suspect and finally the four were taken into custody and held for Austin police.

Philipp said the strike force member provided "extraordinary" detective work on his own in locating one of the suspects.

When investigators in the Twin Cities were satisfied they had gone as far as they could go and had apprehended the perpetrators of the crime, Austin police went to St. Paul, placed them under arrest and returned the suspects to the Mower County Jail late Friday.

According to Philipp, "The investigation indicates that this incident began as an attempted robbery that ultimately resulted in the death of two men and the wounding of a third."

Two weapons, 9mm semi-automatic handguns, were used. The victims had no weapons. Some movement by the robbery victims may have precipitated firing of their weapons by the intruders.

"The two individuals who were not injured were very lucky," Philipp said.

The police chief also said "good, old-fashioned police work," including the sighting of the vehicle the night before that was identified as being at the scene of the shootings, helped bring a successful conclusion to the investigation.

Philipp indicated officers continue their work through the weekend prior to the court appearance of the four suspects.

It is possible that more arrests could be made in connection with the crime, he said.

"The arrests came as a result of massive police cooperation and the Austin Police Department would like to recognize the outstanding efforts of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Minnesota Gang Strike Force, the St. Paul Police, Eagle Police, Bloomington Police, Oakdale Police, the Mower County Sheriff’s Department and members of the Austin Police Department, and we thank them for their assistance," Philipp said.