First degree murder charges brought

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 4, 2000

A Mower County grand jury returned first degree murder indictments late Thursday afternoon against participants in a June 30 robbery-murder at the Downtown Motel in Austin.

Friday, August 04, 2000

A Mower County grand jury returned first degree murder indictments late Thursday afternoon against participants in a June 30 robbery-murder at the Downtown Motel in Austin.

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Vernon Neal Powers, 27, Scott Perry Christian, 29, David Kenneth Christian, 28, and Jenea Larae-Nichol Weinand, 18, will each be charged with four counts of murder in the first degree, four counts of murder in the second degree; and one count of assault in the first degree.

The defendants are all from St. Paul. The Christians are brothers. Each has a court-appointed public defender.

Powers and Scott Perry Christian will also be charged with one felony count of possession of a handgun.

Both have lengthy criminal histories and have served time in prison.

The four defendants will appear in Mower County Third Judicial District Court 1:30 p.m. Monday.

A fifth defendant, Janet Elizabeth Hall, 18 of St. Paul, has agreed to become a material witness for the prosecution. In return, charges against her were dropped. Hall was released Wednesday on her own recognizance.

The grand jury first convened Tuesday to hear attorneys present a case for first degree charges. By 5:15 p.m. Thursday, the jurors were dismissed and minutes later prosecutors talked to the press.

Deflecting congratulations for obtaining the first degree indictment, Mower County Attorney Patrick A. Oman said, "Don’t congratulate us yet. We still have a job to do in court when this comes to trial."

All five defendants were originally charged with felony counts of aiding and abetting robbery in the second degree and murder in the second degree following the deaths of two men and the wounding of a third in room 28 at the Downtown Motel in the early morning hours of June 30.

According to the criminal complaint, Juan Vincente Ramirez, 41, and Raul Pedro Guiterrez, 26, died of multiple gunshot wounds, when two masked intruders burst into their motel room, demanded money and opened fire after the victims, four adult males and a 14-year old male juvenile, said they had no money.

Benjamin Moreno Hernandez, 20, suffered gunshot wounds to his hands and arms in the shootings, but recovered after treatment in a Rochester hospital.


Investigators theorized the motive was robbery of Ramirez, who went to a room occupied by Jenea Larae-Nichol Weinand earlier June 30 to have sex for money.

Ramirez had $8,900 rolled into a red bandana and Weinand saw the money and allegedly told Powers and Scott Perry Christian and the other defendants about it and suggested a robbery.

Weinand went to the room occupied by Ramirez and four others. When the door was opened, Powers and Scott Perry Christian burst inside, the report alleges.

David Kenneth Christian has been identified as the driver of the getaway vehicle. He and Weinand and Hall waited outside the motel room.

Afterwards, the five people fled Austin and returned to St. Paul, where they all live.

The $8,900 in cash Ramirez kept in a handkerchief was over-looked in the robbery. A wallet was taken, but discarded along Fourth Street SE.

Austin Police Department detectives and officers had a description of the getaway vehicle and when it was broadcast to law enforcement agencies. Twin Cities metro area police became involved and the five suspects were captured less than 16 hours after the crime and returned to the Mower County Jail in Austin.

From the start, the Mower County Attorney said he believed he had a case that merited a grand jury’s convening to consider first-degree murder charges.

Murder committed during the course of an unpremeditated robbery is enough, under Minnesota law, to merit a first degree indictment.

After three days of hearing witnesses and deliberating, a grand jury gave Oman what he wanted Thursday, but not before another defendant in a different courtroom received her freedom.

Material witness

Hall had her bail reduced to $50,000 by District Judge Donald E. Rysavy July 19 at an arraignment hearing, while the other four defendants’ bail remained at $1 million each.

Her apparent role in the robbery-homicide diminished as the prosecution reviewed the evidence until Oman was ready to ask the court to drop the charges.

"We had indications from the start from one defendant of significant participation on her (Hall) part, which led to the charges in the first place," Oman said.

"As the case worked out and we took a much closer look into the actual facts presented to us," Oman said, "we determined, between us and the Attorney General’s office, Ms. Hall was more of a witness than a participant in the crimes and, therefore, we agreed we could dismiss the charges."

Hall has been described as a teenager, who met Scott Perry Christian only two weeks before the crimes occurred.

Court records indicated Weinand and Hall, plus other unidentified females, were brought to Austin by Powers and the Christians to become prostitutes.

However, investigators characterized Powers and Scott Perry Christian as opportunists, who brought the women to Austin to work as prostitutes for their sole financial gain and not to supplement the income of any organized gang.

Cooperation helps

Oman praised the Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch’s office’s assistance in putting the first degree indictment together. Singled out were Peter J. Orput, the head of the Attorney General’s criminal investigation division, and Tim Rank, Assistant Attorneys General, and Bill Klumpp, Jr., the lead prosecutor for the AG.

Oman also praised the Austin Police Department’s investigation into the crimes and the assistance from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

He singled out for special praise the St. Paul Police Department and its own gang strike force agents with their quick apprehension of the suspects.

Thursday’s first degree murder indictment returned by the grand jury was the third such indictment sought by the Mower County Attorney returned in four years.