When Daniel Hauser and his mother walked into the plush office of criminal defense attorney Jennifer Keller in Irvine, Calif., on Sunday, the 13-year-old farm boy from Sleepy Eye was exhausted.
"He was tired but didn't seem to be in any pain," Keller said in a telephone interview Monday night. "He was just eager to get back home. And he was very worried he might be placed in foster care."
Keller said she hadn't followed the media accounts of Daniel's bout with Hodgkin's lymphoma, his family's fears about chemotherapy or their weeklong flight from the law.
On Sunday, however, she suddenly became the dealmaker -- intent on bringing a mother and son home.
"Colleen had never intended this whole firestorm or to flout the orders of the court,'' Keller said.
Keller, 56, is a well-known California lawyer. She once represented actor Robert Blake but quit before he was charged and subsequently acquitted of killing his wife in 2001.
Keller said she first came into the matter when she got a phone call over the weekend from Karen Pezzuto, another California lawyer and World Series of Poker player. Her husband, Al Pezzuto, owns a media and film company in Southern California and met the Hausers there as they sought help in the alternative-medicine community. Karen Pezzuto has breast cancer and counseled the Hausers on Daniel's disease.
"She was able to speak with a lot of empathy, as well as authority, about what course should be followed," Keller said.
Keller was at least the third California lawyer contacted by the Hausers as their story mushroomed in recent weeks.
Susan Daya, also known as Susan Hamwi, a family mediation specialist and a supporter of alternative health treatments, had been at the Hauser home last week and accompanied them to the doctor's office in Sleepy Eye last Monday, according to court testimony. A criminal alert issued Tuesday by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said she might be in their company. Daya denied that Friday and said she was at home in Los Angeles.
Brown County Sheriff Rich Hoffmann said many facets of the case remain under investigation. But Keller said it was her understanding that a California attorney who befriended the family in Minnesota had persuaded Colleen and Danny to come to California and had provided plane tickets. Court records show they flew out on Sun Country Airlines early last Tuesday.
Anthony Hauser told the court last week that his wife didn't have a credit card or checks from the family checkbook with her.
"The Hausers don't have the resources" to travel cross-country, Keller said. Whether they made it to Mexico, as authorities guessed, Keller doesn't know.
"I don't know, and I didn't ask where they'd been or where they were going," Keller said. "I just said: 'How soon can I get Danny back to Minnesota?'"
She called FBI special agent Mike Dudley and contacted Hoffmann on Sunday. The FBI offered to fly the mother and son home on a commercial flight, but Keller resisted because of the intense media attention the case had attracted.
"They were so recognizable, we were afraid there would be a feeding frenzy and Danny would be traumatized," Keller said. "He's been through a lot and he's pretty worn out. The poor kid,'' she said.
"Colleen wanted to return, and we made the arrangements because we didn't want to walk her into an arrest and have handcuffs clamped on her in front of her son," Keller said.
Looking for a plane
So she hustled to find a private jet, but her friends who own them were either unavailable on the holiday weekend or, in one case, were using their jet in Puerto Rico.
At that point, the Pezzutos offered to pay for a charter jet and accompanied the Hausers home to New Ulm's airport at 3 a.m. Monday, shooting video along the way to show that she had come back to Minnesota voluntarily and hadn't been arrested.
Keller said her work is done now that the Hausers are home. As for what happens next, she doesn't know. But Colleen shared her hesitations about chemotherapy with Keller.
"She has very strong beliefs that it's toxic and dangerous," Keller said. "But it's my understanding that she intends to ask the court to allow her to pursue an alternative therapy regimen. But whatever is ultimately decided by the court, she'll abide by it."
Curt Brown 612-673-4767