http://www.spokane.net/news-story.asp?date=090700&ID=s848216 September 7, 2000 Plaintiffs ask $11.26 million from Aryans Case goes to jury after closing arguments Bill Morlin - Staff writer Coeur d'Alene _ A 12-member jury returns today to decide whether Richard Butler and his Aryan Nations were "grossly negligent" and responsible for an assault carried out in 1998 by Aryan security guards. The victims of the attack near the Aryan compound, Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason, should be awarded $11.26 million in damages, their attorney Morris Dees urged the jury Wednesday. Dees, in an impassioned 90-minute closing argument, urged the jury to award the Keenans $10 million in punitive damages and $1.26 million in compensatory damages. "I think these are very reasonable sums of money," Dees told the jury panel, composed of nine women and three men. Nine of the 12 jurors must agree that the "preponderance of evidence" -- meaning more likely than not -- shows that the defendants were grossly negligent. The jurors deliberated two hours, until 8 p.m. Wednesday, before 1st District Judge Charles Hosack sent them home. "You've had a long day," the judge told the jurors in the well-guarded Kootenai County Courthouse. "You made a run at it." He instructed the panel to return at 9 a.m. today to resume deliberations. Dees argued that punitive damages are a way to punish Butler and his Aryan Nations and deter similar conduct in the future. "This is where this jury can send a message not just to these defendants, but people like them throughout the United States," Dees told the jury. But defense attorney Edgar Steele said the jury shouldn't award a dime in punitive damages, and said Butler and his Aryan Nations were the victims of a "railroad job." The only ones liable for damages are guards Jesse Warfield and John Yeager, Steele told the jury. The 82-year-old Aryan leader stared straight ahead, rolling a ballpoint pen in his hand, as Dees addressed the jury, once dropping to his knee. His Southern Poverty Law Center has successfully brought seven similar suits in the past against other hate groups, winning millions. Dees started out by saying Victoria Keenan should be given $100,000 for the assault by Warfield and Yeager. She also is entitled to $100 a day since the July 1, 1998, attack, for compensatory damages totaling $176,000. Her future losses, based upon chronic post-traumatic stress from the attack, should be pegged at $770,000, for a total of $940,000, Dees said. Pro-golfer Tiger Woods gets $1 million for a golf game, so Victoria Keenan certainly is entitled to $100 a day for the rest of her life for injuries she suffered, Dees said. Jason Keenan is owed $138,000 in compensatory damages for the assault and $182,500 for future suffering, Dees said. Dees said the case doesn't involve issues of free speech or freedom of religion as suggested by Steele. "You need to return a verdict that will be heard all over this nation," Dees urged the jury. Butler should be sent a message that "you can practice your hate, but in America you don't have a right to hurt people." As he made those remarks, Dees put his hand on Victoria's shoulder as she sat in the front row with her son's arm around her. Steele responded by telling the jury that Dees had delivered a "killer closing argument." "But please don't rush to judgment," he told the jury. "Every story has two sides. This one is no different." Steele said while Dees' argument was impassioned, "mine is primarily a cold, logical argument." "There's no denying that the Keenans were terrorized," Steele said. Then, pointing to Warfield and Yeager, he said: "They did it." Steele said if the jury decides compensatory damages should be awarded, they shouldn't exceed $10,000 for Victoria Keenan and $6,000 for her son. He said punitive damages shouldn't be awarded because Butler isn't "grossly negligent" for the acts of Warfield and Yeager. A third guard involved in the attack, Shane Wright, is still a fugitive. "They're out to bankrupt the Aryan Nations, so they have to ask for big numbers," Steele said. Dees jumped to his feet and objected, and the judge ordered Steele's remark stricken and told the jury to ignore it. But Steele continued on another tack. "Please don't let a railroad job take place" against Butler, the Aryan Nations and its former chief of staff, Michael Teague. Steele represented only those defendants in the trial, which began Aug. 28. Warfield and Yeager, both convicted of assaulting the Keenans and currently serving prison terms, acted as their own attorneys in the civil trial. Both Warfield and Yeager told the jury they alone are responsible for their criminal conduct. Dees said their statements were like soldiers falling on their bayonets to protect their leader, Richard Butler. Steele attempted to convince the jury that Warfield and Yeager were rogue volunteer guards who broke Aryan rules by drinking beer and leaving the compound with an SKS assault rifle, pursuing the Keenans' car. He repeatedly referred to Warfield as a "wing nut" whose actions were regarded as "nutty" by his fellow Aryans. Butler and Teague, he said, "didn't chase the Keenans down Rimrock Road. They didn't pull the trigger of the SKS, and they shouldn't have to pay." Steele said the Keenans' legal team had "constructed a very impressive house of cards" that would come tumbling down. "Was it reasonably foreseeable that these people would get drunk against orders, go off property against orders and use a weapon against people fleeing down the road from them?" Steele asked the jury. The defense attorney said there is a "superseding cause" for the assault on the Keenans, and that is the drinking and criminal acts of Warfield and Yeager. "If these guys hadn't been blotto, would they have used better sense?" Steele asked. But Dees said the jury shouldn't buy the defense theory that "this is the gang that was too drunk to shoot straight." Four shots from Yeager's assault rifle were grouped together near the left rear of the old Datsun and a fifth bullet flattened its right rear tire, sending the car into a ditch. Such marksmanship from the back of a moving pickup would be difficult even for a sober shooter, Dees argued. He also attacked the defense for attempting to depict Butler as a kindly old man who runs a bed and breakfast. "He runs a haven for hardened criminals ... who have terrorized this community," Dees said. Plaintiffs attorney Ken Howard, who concluded closing arguments, said Butler and his Aryan Nations have "betrayed" the region's values and high level of tolerance. "The Aryan Nations compound is no Boys Town and he's no Father Flanagan," Howard said. The trial, he said, has exposed the Aryan Nations for the den of hate it's become. "North Idaho will not tolerate violence being used in order to promote hatred," Howard said. Victoria Keenan's life has not been her own since the attack, he said, pointing to a chart listing suggested damages. "This is not enough money." "The world knows what's going on here," Howard said. "Your verdict in this case will be a statement to the rest of the world. "It is your duty to speak out on behalf of our community," the Coeur d'Alene attorney said. "It can't be a whisper. It can't be a statement. It has to be a shout."
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