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Keenan lawyers seek $10 million

Aryan trial jury will continue to deliberate today

Staff writer

Thursday, September 7, 2000

COEUR d'ALENE -- Ten million dollars is not enough money to return Victoria
and Jason Keenan full control of their lives.

But such a hefty jury award would make a loud statement to any hate group
that might consider coming to North Idaho, said Ken Howard during final
statements in a seven-day personal injury trial that could bankrupt Richard
Butler and his Aryan Nations.

The jury of nine women and three men will resume deliberations today.
Jurors received the case at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and broke for the evening
about 2 1/2 hours later.

The Keenans were accosted by Aryan Nations security guards who chased and
shot at their car, forced it off the road and physically assaulted the
victims near the Aryan Nations grounds north of Hayden Lake on July 1, 1998.

They are seeking at least $10 million in punitive damages which could
bankrupt Aryan Nations and its white supremacist leader Richard Butler and
send an "unwelcome" message to other hate groups.

Howard is a hometown lawyer working with Montgomery, Ala., lawyers Morris
Dees and Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of the

They contend the Keenans are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder
because of the attack.

Howard told the jury that PTSD is a chemical disorder that burns brain cells.

"It's like being branded," he said.

Money can't cure PTSD.

"But, like or or not, money talks in this country," Howard told the jury.
"It is your duty to speak out on behalf of our community. It can't be a
whisper. It can't be just a statement. It has to be a loud shout ... that
North Idaho will not tolerate violence being used in order to promote hatred."

Howard said the trial is not about Butler's rights, but the rights of the
community to be free of fear.

"The Keenans came this close to not being with us today," Howard said,
holding up his right hand with an inch of space between his thumb and
forefinger. "One bullet came this close to their gas tank."

Howard said Butler has abused the tolerance of the community.

"He has abused our trust," he said. "We allowed him to be there without
being disturbed."

He described the Aryan Nations compound as a "home for armed felons and a
portal of violence. They are not staying on the compound. They are coming
after us. They are coming toward our homes."

Defense attorney Edgar Steele of Sandpoint the plaintiffs didn't prove that
Butler is responsible for the actions of the assailants.

Steele is representing Butler, Aryan Nations its former chief of staff
Michael Teague and property holder Saphire Inc.

He is attempting to aim all of the blame at assailants John S. Yeager and
former Aryan Nations security chief E. Jesse Warfield.

Yeager and Warfield, who are serving prison sentences for the assault, are
co-defendants in the lawsuit. They are representing themselves.

Shane O. Wright, another defendant in the lawsuit, is still a large. He is
also wanted on criminal charges.

Steele conceded he is up against powerful litigators who know how to appeal
to emotions.

"My is a cold logical argument," he told the jury. "The real issue is, 'Did
Richard Butler do it?' Was it reasonably foreseeable that these people
would get drunk against orders, go off the property against orders and
chase people down the road while firing weapons?"

He said Yeager, Warfield and others were secretly drinking in the Aryan
Nations watch tower where they knew Butler wouldn't find them the night of
the attack.

Alcohol is forbidden on the Aryan Nations compound.

"Butler and Teague didn't get these guys drunk," Steele said. "They didn't
chase anyone down the road. They didn't pull the trigger. And they
shouldn't have to pay."

Steele said Yeager and Warfield weren't on security duty. "They were there
because they lived there."

Steele said Butler has a right to what he thinks. "He says bad things, but
he doesn't hurt good people like the Keenans."

Dees said Butler should read his own Bible. Dees recounted the parable of
the Good Samaritan and quoted from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in which he
said, "Love your enemy."

Dees doubted Yeager and Warfield were drunk during the assault.

"This was the gang too drunk to shoot straight," he said with indignant
humor that drew occasional grins from jurors.

He pointed out that Yeager fired three bullets in a grouping less than 14
inches in diameter into the rear of the Keenan's moving car from the bed of
Warfield's pursuing pickup.

"If you can shoot like that and you're drunk, that's baffling to our
expert," he said.

He pointed to a photo of Warfield. "This man is burned in (Victoria
Keenan's) brain. She'll see his face forever."

His voice wavering and eyes turning red, Dees added, "They crushed a
beautiful spirit."

He suggested that the jury award the Keenans at least $10 million in
punitive damages and $1.26 million in compensatory damages. Under Dees'
proposed award, Butler would be responsible for more than $8 million.

"You may think that's not enough," he said.

Punitive damages are being requested to punish Butler and deter others from
grossly negligent behavior. Compensatory damages cover the injuries,
expenses and past and future pain and suffering.

"If a jury could bring her life back, she would ask for zero," Dees said.
"We're not here to bargain over a human being."

Yeager said Butler and Teague had nothing to do with the assault.

"If I only listened to them, this never would have happened," he said. "I
only hope the Keenans, Pastor Butler and Mike Teague forgive me for all of
the trouble I've caused."

Warfield said he still thinks the Keenans were part of a plot by the
Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Defense League, Kootenai County Human Rights
Task Force, Southern Poverty Law Center and law enforcement agencies to
cancel the Aryan Nations 100 Flag March that was held more than two weeks
after the assault.

Warfield also said he and "my alleged wannabe security force," were
responsible for the assault -- not Butler or Aryan Nations.

In a civil trial, a verdict can be reached by agreement of nine of the 12

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