Murders suspects to be arraigned Monday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 5, 2000

Four suspects in a double homicide that shook Austin this summer will be arraigned Monday in Mower County Third Judicial District Court.

Saturday, August 05, 2000

Four suspects in a double homicide that shook Austin this summer will be arraigned Monday in Mower County Third Judicial District Court.

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Vernon Neal Powers, 27, Scott Perry Christian, 29, David Kenneth Christian, 28, and Jenea Larae-Nichol Weinand, 18, all of St. Paul, will each face two counts of premeditated murder in the first degree, two counts of murder in the second degree; and one count of assault in the first degree.

Powers and Scott Perry Christian also face one felony count of possession of a handgun.

The Christians are brothers. Each has a court-appointed public defender.

The arraignment comes after a grand jury returned a first degree murder indictment on the foursome last Thursday.

"All of the first degree murder charges carry a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment," said Patrick A. Oman, Mower County. "All counts of second degree murder carry a maximum penalty of 40 years of imprisonment."

Assault in the first degree carries a maximum penalty of 20 years," he said. "The charges of felon in possession of a pistol carries a maximum penalty of 15 years."

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 June 30.

Hall is material witness

The fifth defendant, Janet Elizabeth Hall, 18 of St. Paul, had charges against her dismissed last week, because, Oman explained, "of a lack of evidence of active participation in the incident."

However, Oman also said Hall remains classified as a "material witness" and has been released on her own recognizance.

The additional charge of a felon in possession of a pistol against both Powers and Scott Perry Christian reflect the fact they each have criminal histories and have been convicted of felony crimes.

Security concerns

Austin Police Chief Paul M. Philipp said he was pleased with the grand jury’s verdict and he praised the Mower County Attorney’s and the Minnesota Attorney General’s offices for their efforts in organizing the case against the defendants.

He added, "And I am looking forward to seeing how the case progresses."

According to the police chief, early in the investigation there was some reason to believe the crimes were gang-related, because of the suspects affiliations with organized gangs in the Twin Cities area.

However, that changed and the chief said, "We learned there was not a significant showing of support for them and therefore had reason to believe they were, in fact, persona non grata, with their former gang friends."

That suspicion of possible gang-related support caused local law enforcement to exercise extreme caution when the original five defendants made their first appearances in court.

Both Austin police and Mower County Sheriff’s Department detectives were out in force, when the five handcuffed and ankle-shackled defendants were marched into court.

Spectators to the proceedings were thoroughly searched including the use of a metal detector and the examination of purses and other handbags.

Mower County Third Judicial District Court does not have armed security guards, during court proceedings; only unarmed bailiffs. Deputies and police officers are summoned from their on-the-street duties when a security risk exists in the courtrooms. Even jail administrator Bob Roche has assisted law enforcement personnel at times in patrolling the courtroom area.

Thus far, the Mower County Board of Commissioners has refused repeated requests to hire armed security guards.

Mower County Sheriff Barry J. Simonson said the robbery-homicide crimes point to their need as much as anything.

"We will have extra personnel available as needed," Simonson said. "That’s all we can do so far.

"The request for an armed security guard has been around for a long time. It goes back, according to correspondence between the sheriff’s office and the county board to my predecessor and, yes, I think it is something we need," Simonson said.