Jury delivers guilty verdicts in double murder

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 8, 2001

Vernon Powers and Scott Christian were convicted Thursday of killing two men in the Downtown Motel last summer, and sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Friday, June 08, 2001

Vernon Powers and Scott Christian were convicted Thursday of killing two men in the Downtown Motel last summer, and sentenced to spend the rest of their lives in prison.

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Powers and Christian, both of St. Paul, were sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for killing St. Paul roofers Juan Vincente Ramirez and Raul Pedro Guiterrez during a robbery on June 30, 2000. They were sentenced to 86 additional months for injuring Benjamin Moreno Hernandez in the attack.

Powers and Christian were convicted on six charges of first and second degree murder, first degree assault, aiding and abetting each other in the crimes, and possessing firearms as felons.

David Christian, who drove the getaway car, was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree assault. He will be sentenced following a criminal history examination by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said Mower County Attorney Pat Oman.

The jury announced its verdict at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, after deliberating more than seven hours. Because of the defendant’s criminal history and nature of the conviction, about 15 law enforcement officials stood guard in the courtroom Thursday, Dakota County Deputies said. Trim pieces were removed from court benches, and sections of the gallery taped off to keep the public away from the defendants.

The first-degree murder convictions carry a mandatory life sentence, but defense attorneys asked Third District Judge Donald E. Rysavy to allow their clients to serve the terms concurrently.

&uot;We believe that Scott Christian didn’t intend to kill anybody,&uot; said his attorney Rick Smith. &uot;It was a robbery gone bad. Things got out of control.&uot;

Buy Rysavy denied the request.

&uot;No matter what you may have done on June 30, I don’t believe either of you are truly evil people,&uot; he said to the defendants. &uot;In that respect I’m thankful the state of Minnesota does not have a death penalty…But I am also responsible for serving justice.&uot;

&uot;I pray and hope that you both will be able to change your lives, but you will have to do that in prison,&uot; Rysavy said. &uot;You have the rest of your lives to spend. (The victims) have no appeal.&uot;

Prosecutors were satisfied with the sentence, and defense attorneys were not surprised.

&uot;I think it’s justice,&uot; said Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Pete Orput. &uot;We’re very happy with the verdict. It won’t bring the victims back, but short of bringing them back, we have taken those monsters off the streets.&uot;

The prosecution will ask the judge for consecutive terms for David Christian, Orput said.

Power’s attorney Chester Swenson said the verdict and sentence didn’t surprise him.

&uot;Vernon had pled guilty once upon our advice,&uot; Swenson said. &uot;He chose to run the risk of trial and this was a probability.&uot;

Attorneys would not comment on whether they believed Powers’ taking the stand, presenting a version of events contradicted by witness testimony and physical evidence, hurt his case.

&uot;It is the client’s ultimate right to choose to testify or not to testify,&uot; said his attorney Sara Jane Olson.

After Powers and Scott Christian were sentenced, guards patrolled the Dakota County Courthouse and parking lot, but there were no incidents, deputies said.

Powers and Scott Christian have the right to appeal their sentences. Scott Christian has not indicated he will appeal, but defendants could contend that the joint trial gave the prosecution an advantage, Smith said.

&uot;I think it was a distinct disadvantage for us,&uot; he said.