Defense attacks witness testimony

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 7, 2001


Thursday, June 07, 2001

HASTINGS, Minn. – A Dakota County jury is expected to deliver a verdict today in the trial three St. Paul men accused of murdering two men and injuring a third in an Austin motel last summer.

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The jury deliberated for five hours after attorneys completed their final arguments around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Sequestered overnight, the jury was scheduled to resume deliberations this morning.

Vernon Powers and Scott Christian have been charged with nine counts of murder, aggravated assault, and possessing firearms as convicted felons. David Christian faces seven counts of murder and assault.

If convicted of first-degree murder charges, all three defendants could be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, attorneys say. In closing arguments Wednesday, defense attorneys concentrated on establishing a reasonable doubt about their clients’ guilt.

&uot;What this all boils down to, ladies and gentlemen, is reasonable doubt,&uot; said Scott Christian’s attorney, Rachael Drenckpohl. &uot;You don’t know what happened, I don’t know what happened, the state doesn’t know what happened.&uot;

&uot;What went on in that (hotel) room is a reasonable doubt,&uot; said Powers’ attorney, Chester Swenson. &uot;One great big huge reasonable doubt.&uot;

Defense attorneys spent hours urging the jury to disregard the testimony of Jenea Weinand – a prostitute and accomplice in the crime who testified against the defendants as part of her plea agreement with prosecutors.

Weinand has made six different statements concerning the case, presenting at least nine versions of events, Drenckpohl said.

&uot;The question you’ve got to ask is, is she truthful? I have no idea how you would know,&uot; she said.

Weinand pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 31 years in prison, provided she testify truthfully in the case against Powers and the Christian brothers.

&uot;What did she do when she came in this courtroom? She turned a trick,&uot; said David Christian’s attorney, Barry Voss. &uot;She didn’t sell her body, but she sold her spirit and she sold her lies.&uot;

Voss said David Christian has been charged in the crime because the police rushed to judgment, and is is guilt by association.

&uot;These three prosecutors are greedy. They want David Christian so bad, they were willing to charge Jenea Weinand with murder then give her a kiss on the cheek,&uot; he said. &uot;To bring David Christian in here to face these charges of murder one and murder two and let Jenea Weinand walk out of here, is greedy.&uot;

Using a visual guide entitled &uot;Why believe Jenea,&uot; Prosecutor Pete Orput outlined similarities between Weinand and other witnesses’ testimony. Weinand had lied in the past, but her testimony in court did not waver during five hours of cross examination, Orput said.

&uot;If you think she came here and told you the truth, I don’t care how many times she lied before,&uot; he said.

Prosecutors believe the three defendants planned a June 30, 2000 robbery at Austin’s Downtown Motel which resulted in the shooting deaths of St. Paul roofers Juan Vincente Ramirez and Raul Pedro Guiterrez. Benjamin Moreno Hernandez was wounded.

After Powers and the Christians escaped from the Mower County Jail and were recaptured, the trial was moved from Mower County to Dakota County because of media coverage.