Nason trial nears final chapter

Date: 1995-09-20
Source: Nugget News

By Eric Dolson
The following is not, in the strict sense, a news story. It includes impressions beyond words spoken in the courtroom. Sometimes, facts can obscure the truth. Reader be warned.

The Nason trial is coming to an end. After more than 200 witnesses, with more than 89,000 pages of discovery and an exhibit list that runs into the thousands, Diane Nason is set to take the stand this week. It's about time.

Central Oregon's suburb of "Simpsoncity," which is how one writer refers to the circus in Los Angeles, may actually be over before the end of the year. The parade of witnesses could end around the middle of October.

Prosecutor Kathleen Payne-Pruitt doesn't believe her closing argument will take more than four or five hours. Defense attorneys feel they will need less. Jurors looks like they would like to move on, as well.

Last week Donny Nason was on the stand. Donny, a biological Nason child, has been a supporter of his parents. In another tape, possibly a second copy of the original taken of the awards ceremony, Payne-Pruitt asked Donny to identify all the teachers and others who came up to receive an award.

Perhaps the prosecutor will use his testimony later to cast doubt on Donny's truthfulness, but the tape had another impact, at least on one listener. There was much clapping and laughter. There were adults present, and of course many children. The awards ceremony seemed to be a very happy occasion.

The tape did not portray an oppressive criminal enterprise of physical and emotional abuse upon which the prosecution has based a charge of racketeering.

Payne-Pruitt also probed Donny's memory of what happened 10 years ago when he was nine.

She was able to make the point that while Donny could remember details of a phone call between Diane Nason and the doctor that preceded the death of one of his adopted brothers, Donny was not as clear on other memories from the same period.

She questioned him on a comment Donny made about going "downstairs" from the main floor kitchen to the bedroom of the brother who died.

"There is no basement in the house," she said, and pressed him to clarify. He said there were two or three steps from the kitchen to the family room or hallway to the bedroom. Where were these steps, she wanted to know?

But when she put a large exhibit, a diagram of the home up on an easel, she would not let him approach to point to where the steps were or had been. Donny said he could not clearly read the diagram. She asked if he could describe the location of the steps by numbers on the diagram. He said he could not really read the numbers. She pressed on.

"He says he cannot see the diagram, ma'am," suggested Judge Sullivan from the bench.

"I am aware of that. Thank you," snapped Payne-Pruitt.

The judge leaned an inch further forward from the bench and cocked his head, as if he wanted to give her a chance to retract the dismissive tone in her reply. Several pairs of jurors turned to one another, widened their eyes, opened their mouths in surprise.

But Payne-Pruitt pressed on, seemingly unaware of the reaction her comment caused.

At some point, this may mean as much to the outcome of the Nason trial as any of the evidence or the carefully constructed theory of criminal enterprise.

The prosecutor may have scored a point, however, when she got Donny to acknowledge that one child who may have been a threat to younger, smaller children was locked in a room with three of these adopted siblings each night.

Many adopted Nason children had physical or emotional disorders. The one Payne-Pruitt referred to had hurt other children, Donny admitted. Prior to having a bedroom that could be locked, the boy had a bed like a crib but full-sized, that stacked with another and could be locked like a cage.

One could almost feel the sense of confinement.

But this dissipated when Payne-Pruitt asked Donny if the boy had been locked into his bed as early as 3 or 4 p.m.

"For his nap, yes," Donny replied.

Later, Donny testified he told a detective the cattle prod the prosecution alleges was used on children was kept on a high shelf in a closet in the barn.

The detective, who wrote in his report that Donny said the prod was kept in the house, argued with him, Donny remembered, telling Donny that there was no closet in the barn.

"He (the detective) kept trying to put words in my mouth. We actually argued about it for some time," Donny testified. "He kept saying the closet in the house. I kept saying the closet in the barn."

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