Request denied for new trial in Vick case

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2007 - 9:25 PM

A judge finds that a juror in the murder trial of Harry Evans was not racially biased. Evans was convicted of killing a St. Paul police officer.

Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin denied a defense motion to grant an acquittal or a new trial to Harry J. Evans, the man convicted of murdering St. Paul police Sgt. Gerald Vick.

In a ruling Tuesday, Gearin said evidence presented at a court hearing did not prove that a juror in the Evans trial was racially biased.

The hearing was held after the Minnesota Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court to investigate allegations of juror misconduct.

Cathy Arver, a former pulltab seller at the Lucky Foxx bar in St. Paul, testified this month that she called Gearin's clerk while Evans' trial was underway to report that she had overheard Fay Haakinson use a racial epithet while talking about victims of Hurricane Katrina. She said Haakinson, a regular at the bar, made it known that she was a juror on the case.

Arver said she believed Haakinson got on the jury through "shenanigans" because a relative works in the court system. Arver also admitted making comments about the fact that Vick and his partner had been drinking at Erick's Bar on the night Vick was killed, but denied making any anti-police statements.

Haakinson denied ever using the epithet or making racist statements. "Many of her fellow workers [at a board-and-care home where she is a cook] are persons of color," the judge wrote in summing up the testimony. "She doesn't think it is right for anyone to use racist terms in describing other people."

Defense attorney David Gill brought forward two other witnesses -- Arver's co-worker and her boss -- who said Arver told them about the alleged racist comment. Both said they hadn't heard it themselves.

Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner later produced five witnesses, all people of color, who said they know Haakinson from work or from the bar, and they do not believe she is prejudiced.

Gloria Caseillus, the bar owner, "has heard racist comments made in the bar," Gearin wrote. "She ignores them. She has never heard Ms. Haakinson say anything racist and does not consider her prejudiced."

In a memorandum, Gearin wrote: "It is important to remember that there has been absolutely nothing presented at any hearing challenging the juror's conduct during the trial or during deliberations. The only issue is whether the juror involved in these proceedings is a person incapable of sitting as a fair and impartial juror in this case because of prejudice against African-Americans. The defendant's burden of proving this has not been met."

Gearin's ruling returns the case to the Supreme Court, which automatically hears appeals on first-degree murder cases.

"The judge's decision is very sound," Gaertner said Tuesday. "She wrote a very careful opinion, articulating her reasoning, articulating why she found witnesses' testimony believable or unbelievable.

"It's clear from the judge's decision that a racially prejudiced juror did not sit on the Evans case."

Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551

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