Nason trial: After a year, the jury is out (mentions Jodi, Jason & Natasha Nason)

Date: 1995-11-15
Source: Nugget News

By Jim Cornelius
Now comes the waiting.

After a year of courtroom examination and cross-examination of the Nason family and its saga, the fate of Dennis and Diane Nason -- accused of racketeering, three counts of manslaughter and sundry charges of criminal mistreatment, forgery and aggravated theft-- is finally in the hands of the jury.

And Diane Nason is at home in Sisters -- sewing.

"I'm sewing and making Christmas presents for the kids," Nason told The Nugget. "I'm making shirts for the older kids and little matching outfits for their kids. Pillows for friends and other relatives. Stuffed toys for the 11 grandchildren."

Dennis, she said, is working long hours at Lutton's Ace Hardware. Diane said that because the state has garnished his wages for support of some of the children, he sometimes brings home $50 less per month than their rent payment. They are getting by, she said, with the help of family and friends.

She is prepared for a long wait for the verdict.

"I don't think they will come back before Thanksgiving," she said, "but the people who know these things don't think it will take that long."

The jury retreated to begin deliberations on Friday, November 10. The prosecution and the Nason's defense attorneys left them to choose between two portraits of the Nason family.

In her summation on Tuesday, November 7, prosecutor Kathleen Payne-Pruitt portrayed the Nason's Celebration Family and their Great Expectations schools as "a monstrous family enterprise," a malignant machine that adopted as many as 80 children in a scheme to draw notoriety and donations from a well-meaning but beguiled community.

Diane Nason's attorney David Glenn in turn extolled "the wonderful experiment, the Nason family" an experiment dogged by tragedy, not by criminal activity.

Payne-Pruitt hit hard on the racketeering charge. The Nason family and their schools were an organized criminal enterprise, she argued, built on lies to government adoption and child services agencies.

She said the Nasons misrepresented who they were and what they could do for adopted children because they needed to maintain a large family to keep their high profile and to keep donations rolling in. She said they lied so that they would be chosen over other adoptive families.

"These defendants were in a competitive war to get those children," Payne-Pruitt said.

And in Payne-Pruitt's argument, Jason and Jodi and Natasha Nason became casualties of that war.

Jason and Jodi died of shigella in November of 1985; Natasha died in March, 1988. Prosecutors allege she died of malnutrition and starvation.

Those deaths, Payne-Pruitt argued, were "the inevitable result of the criminal enterprise." She faced Dennis and Diane Nason as she accused them of reckless conduct that allowed children to die because the Nasons were too busy promoting to care for them.

Then, the prosecutor argued, the Nasons obstructed health department investigations, forged doctors' signatures on adoption documents and pocketed in excess of $10,000 that was to go to the Great Expectations schools -- all to keep their criminal enterprise going.

This was all denied by Diane Nason's attorney David Glenn

"Where's the evidence?" asked Glenn in his closing argument. "Aren't we supposed to talk about the elements of what happened here?"

The prosecution, he said is "saying: Trust me; they're guilty; they're evil people."

On the contrary, Glenn said: "There are not enough Dennis and Diane Nasons to go around."

Glenn then conducted a meticulous re-examination of defense experts' testimony. He read transcripts of doctors' testimony indicating that the deaths of Jason and Jodi Nason from shigella were sudden and unexpected, that the family saw only flu-like symptoms and thought Jason was getting better. His death, then Jodi's, came as a shock.

Glenn read transcripts of testimony on Natasha's frail condition, the result of malnourishment in the first months of her life on the streets of Calcutta. He reminded the jury that defense experts believe that her death could well have been the result of her weakness and frailty, the result of that early trauma.

The prosecution, he said, did not demonstrate that reckless conduct caused those deaths. The prosecutor has proven no crime.

Diane Nason told The Nugget Sunday night that their attorneys are "upbeat because the prosecution's case was based on speculation, not facts . . . It was a witch hunt and a case built on story to story to story."

Which of these remarkably different portraits tells the true story? Now it is finally up to the jury to decide.

And after nearly five years of battling the courts for custody and defending themselves against the charges, all that is left for Dennis and Diane Nason is the waiting.

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