Plaintiffs Seek $11.26M From Aryans


Thursday, September 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho (AP) — A lawyer who has said he hopes to bankrupt the Aryan Nations has asked jurors to award $11.26 million to a mother and son who were attacked by guards for the white supremacist sect.

In closing arguments Wednesday, attorney Morris Dees suggested $10 million in punitive damages and $1.26 million in compensatory damages as a way for jurors to send a message to hate groups across the nation.

Jurors are deciding whether Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler and chief of staff Michael Teague were negligent in overseeing the group's security staff. After six days of testimony, they began deliberations late Wednesday and were continuing Thursday.

Victoria and Jason Keenan said they were chased, shot at and assaulted while searching for a lost wallet on July 1, 1998, in front of the Aryan Nations compound north of Coeur d'Alene.

Lawyer Edgar Steele, who represents Butler, Teague and the group, suggested the Keenans be awarded $4,000 to $10,000 each for their distress.

He blamed only two security guards who took part in the attack and said Butler was not responsible. Steele argued that Jesse Warfield and John Yeager were drunk, against regulations, when they attacked the Keenans.

Warfield and Yeager, who represented themselves, briefly addressed the jury Wednesday, taking responsibility for the attack but steadfastly refusing to implicate Butler, 82. Both men are serving prison sentences for the assaults, and a third former guard remains a fugitive.

Dees, of the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, characterized Butler as a purveyor of hate whose vision of America is one of white superiority.

``You are the conscience of this community,'' Dees told jurors. ``Tell Richard Butler, 'We don't believe in your America, Mr. Butler.'''

Dees, who has previously won large awards against the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, has said he hopes the case will bankrupt the Aryan Nations.

Steele urged the jury to disregard Butler's racist, anti-Semitic views.

``He may not be, in your eyes, an attractive man, and you may not like what he says or thinks ... but he's got a right to believe what he wants as long as it doesn't hurt people,'' Steele said.

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On the Net:

Southern Poverty Law Center: http://www.splcenter.org

Aryan Nations: http://www.christian-aryannations.com