Feds Get Weird
Selective Facts Good,
'Selective Memory' Bad


  copyright 1996, Electric Nevada

Sometimes the scene before the federal district court jury in Reno last Wednesday got -- there's no other word for it -- bizarre.
U.S. government attorneys selectively recounted facts in their summation to the jury as they argued that garden center owner Jerry Keenan should be convicted of perjury.
And why should he be so convicted? Because, they said, he'd demonstrated "a selective memory" when talking to federal investigators.
"The defendant doesn't have the luxury of coming before you and minimizing things," Asst. U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Connell told jurors.
O'Connell then proceeded to minimize the help that Keenan had offered FBI and ATF agents in their investigation of the December 1995 bombing attempt at Reno's Internal Revenue Service offices.
"Dell Bidart gave the key information on the coffee klatch, so Keenan doesn't get any of the credit," said O'Connell.
But Keenan defense attorney Robert Ben Walker had already pointed out that when Keenan told FBI Special Agent William Jonkey and federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agent Jim Doreen how to find "Crazy Joe" Bailie, the chief suspect now indicted, Keenan didn't know what other witnesses had, just hours before, told the agents. It was clear, said Walker, that Keenan was truly trying to help.
Then there was prosecution witness Ricky "Sarge" Hallert, former son-in-law and former employee of Keenan.
As Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Rachow in his summation volunteered the next day, "Ricky Hallert is not the brightest guy in the world."
In fact, by the time Hallert got off the stand, it was clear that even Hallert didn't know what Hallert thought; he could be turned around in his testimony by almost anybody at anytime.
Almost his first words on the stand, elicited by federal prosecutors, were that he previously had lied to both the investigating agents and the federal grand jury.
Asked to explain why, he said that when called to the Keenan house to talk to the agents, he had felt intimidated by being in Keenan's home and hearing him tell the agents he "didn't know" something.
"I didn't want to call him a liar in his own house," said Hallert.
Similarly, he said, he lied to the grand jury a week later because when driving in to Reno that morning with Keenan, and Brian Crockett, both Keenan and Brian Crockett kept saying "I don't know nothing. I don't know nothing," and that had made him feel intimidated again.
But when he decided to change his story, said Hallert, he lied again -- this time about why he had lied before. That was acknowledged under defense cross-examination.
A statement by Hallert, hand-written the evening of his grand jury testimony, said the reason for his false witness was that he had been
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afraid of "Joe Bailie and his militia." The paper had mentioned nothing about defendant Keenan.
What made him decide to tell the government that he had lied at all? It seems to have been the influence of Dell Bidart, another member of the Gardnerville contingent who had testified to the grand jury. Hallert had ridden back home from Reno with his friend Bidart, who had come in another car.
Bidart, who would eventually be the government's strongest witness, is a tall, good-looking, intelligent and clear-minded ex-Marine. He had been distrustful of Joe Bailie from the first time he met him, testimony showed, and had been, apparently, the only one of the garden center coffee-drinkers to ever recognize the possibility that Bailie might do more than talk a lot and distribute political tracts. He later testified that when he met the others after the grand jury testimony, he had been "spooked" to hear they had testified they hadn't known "anything."
So it was after riding back to Gardnerville with Bidart, talking with him, and "having morality feelings" that, said Hallert, he called ATF agent Jim Doreen and told him he had lied.
But when he was questioned by defense counsel, it became apparent that Hallert has virtually no independent recollection of anything that happened. While he often said, during examination, that he is "awfully bad on dates," he usually also couldn't recall who had talked to whom, or what was said, in most of the key incidents upon which the government's case was based.
Asked a question by Walker, Hallert would page and page through the transcripts of his second period of testimony before the grand jury, and then would answer. Asked if he got the answer from the transcript, he would say 'yes.' Asked if he remembered the answer without looking at the transcript, he would say 'no.'
At other times, his answer to a question would begin, as he pointed to a line in the printed transcript, "it says here..."
And he acknowleged that he had studied the transcript the night before and then again that morning.
"Coming down here, I went over it," he said.
Asked at one point "when was the next time you saw Joe Bailie at the garden center," he gives one answer. But reminded of another time he had seen Bailie there, he says that was the next time. Then, asked which it was, he is at a loss. He complains to defense counsel he doesn't "understand where you are going."
The implication seemed clear -- that if he did understand what defense counsel wanted him to say, Rickie Hallert, a young man very anxious to obey, would earnestly try to say it.

-- Steve Miller


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