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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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