Juror not a racist, 5 witnesses say

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2007 - 9:09 PM

A second day of testimony was heard on whether alleged comments of bias warrant a new trial for the convicted killer of St. Paul police Sgt Gerald Vick.

Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin told prosecutors and attorneys defending the man convicted of killing St. Paul police Sgt. Gerald Vick to be prepared Wednesday to argue motions for a new trial or an acquittal.

Gearin's statement came at the end of the second day of a "Schwartz" hearing to investigate allegations of juror misconduct in the trial that convicted Harry J. Evans of first-degree murder in Vick's death.

On Friday, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner brought forward five witnesses who all said they had never known juror Fay Haakinson to make racist remarks at her workplace or at the Lucky Foxx bar, where she and her husband were regulars.

On Monday, the first day of the hearing, attorney David Gill, who is representing Evans, produced Cathy Arver, who said Haakinson used a racial epithet at the bar while talking about victims of Hurricane Katrina and made it known that she was a juror in the Evans trial.

Three other witnesses said Arver, who had sold pulltabs at the bar, told them what she had overheard and said it was "common knowledge" that Haakinson was racist. Arver had called Gearin's clerk to report the comments during the trial in January 2006.

Testifying Friday, Gloria Caselius, a Filipino woman who has owned the Lucky Foxx for about three years, said Haakinson comes in five or six days a week with her husband, Don. The bar has a "very diverse" clientele, Caselius said. She said she herself has never seen Haakinson have trouble with people of color nor has she ever felt any prejudice from her.

Under cross-examination from Gill, Caselius said, "I hear a lot of things at the bar. I usually just blow it off. ... If I had to listen to everything, I'd go crazy."

Chanliz Hoeun, a Cambodian woman, and Robin Cummings and Ramonia Brooks, who are black, all work at the Hayes Residence, a board-and-care facility for the elderly where Haakinson is a cook.

All told Gaertner and the court that they had never heard Haakinson say anything derogatory and hadn't experienced any racism from her.

"She's nice, generous, always asking people what they need, helping people out," Brooks said of Haakinson.

Gill asked each woman whether they had socialized with Haakinson outside of work and whether they had ever seen Haakinson when she was drinking. Each woman answered no.

Stephen Jones, a St. Paul firefighter and emergency medical technician who is black, said he knew Haakinson "in passing" from the Lucky Foxx.

"Do you think Fay Haakinson is prejudiced?" Gaertner asked.

"No," he replied.

Gill argued Monday and again Friday that prosecutors should not have interviewed Haakinson before the hearing began and angrily told the judge that he had received a 19-page transcript of that interview just minutes before the hearing started.

He said a Schwartz hearing prohibits prosecutors from talking to witnesses beforehand. Gaertner argued that Schwartz hearings prohibit harassing witnesses but does not preclude talking to them.

Gill made a motion to strike both Haakinson's testimony during Monday's court session and the transcript of her interview. Gearin said she would rule on the motion Wednesday as well.

Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551

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