Nason defense questions key witnesses (Mentions Mandy Nason Mays)
By Eric Dolson
Mandy (Nason) Mays was on the stand at the Nason trial last week. The defense probed changes in her testimony since May, 1992, when she denied she had ever been shocked with a cattle prod or hit with a bottle by Diane Nason.
These are key accusations in the trial of Dennis and Diane Nason on charges of abuse, forgery, manslaughter and racketeering.
Mandy (Nason) Mays, 18, was an armless baby girl from the slums of Calcutta when the Nason's brought her to Sisters in 1980. The Nasons argue the adoption of Mandy was an act of Christian love. The prosecution says Mandy was used in a criminal racket to raise funds from well-wishers.
Defense lawyer Valerie Wright hammered at apparent inconsistencies in testimony Mandy had given over the last couple of years.
In a May, 1992 interview with police, Mandy said she had not been beaten or shocked. In January, 1993, she said she had been beaten and shocked but had repressed the memories, a stand she reaffirmed in testimony given in court in April, 1995. Last week Mandy said that she actually remembered the incidents, but a change of environment had made her feel safer in talking about it.
The prosecution objected because Mandy Mays is not an expert on repressed memory. The defense has argued that "repressed memories" are not necessarily real, that they can be easily contaminated by improper suggestion or questioning, and if Mandy claimed she had repressed memories, then this is extremely important.
The defense believes they can show that police investigators were very capable of suggestion and contaminating her memories.
Two supporters of the Nasons, William Carmichael and James Knapp, each testified outside the presence of the jury on October 18 that police investigators told them there were problems in the family.
Carmichael said that while he was being interviewed by a detective on the case the detective said "when this comes down, it is worse than you or other people on the board could imagine."
When Carmichael read the police report of his interview with the detective, he said in court "I hardly recognized it...the conversation sounded like he had been talking to another person besides me."
But this was not heard by the jury. Prosecutor Payne-Pruitt said it was not relevant to the case, since Carmichael's testimony in court was not affected by the detective's statements about what was allegedly being discovered in the Nason household.
The jury was also not allowed to hear from James Knapp that the same detective said during an interview that there were deep problems in the family.
The prosecution argued that the fact that Carmichael and Knapp, supporters of the Nasons, were told by a detective that there were severe problems in the Nason home had no bearing on what others may or may not have been told.
The defense argued that similar statements were made to Mandy Nason, that she was told that detectives had "people coming up from Bend who will testify they saw you get shocked with a hot shot (cattle prod)." They imply that such comments could have contaminated Mandy's testimony, if not her memory.
Judge Sullivan ruled that testimony about the detective's statements "opens a Pandora's Box as to contaminated testimony" and since it did not affect Knapp's or Carmichael's testimony directly in the trial, it would not be allowed.
Nor would he allow Carmichael to repeat testimony that Diane Nason was so naive about fundraising that she had thrown away envelopes that carried contributions after TV's "60 Minutes" did a show on the family.
Carmichael had hoped the Nasons could use those envelopes to establish a mailing list for future fundraising efforts.
The defense wanted to use Carmichael's testimony to counter the prosecution's charge of racketeering, but since Carmichael had given similar testimony when the prosecution presented its case, the judge ruled against repeating this Information to the jury.
Another judge visiting the trial commented that this presented the defense a difficult task in having to piece their case together from testimony scattered throughout the year-long trial.
James Knapp testified that he had offered to sell his company, K/P Corporation, and establish an endowment for the Nasons that would have provided from 1/3 to 1/2 of their annual requirements.
Knapp said the Nasons asked him how he really felt about the offer, and when he expressed some reservations, the Nasons told him "we would rather you did not sell...we would rather have your friendship than your money."
Prosecutor Payne-Pruitt argued against allowing this testimony, saying that "the state never argued that the sole reasons (for the racketeering charge) had to do with money. It is much more complicated than that..."
Earlier, she had argued that the state also does not have to prove motive to prove the charge of racketeering. Payne-Pruitt is probably an expert, having come from the Attorney General's Organized Crime Division to prosecute the case.
The defense argued that since Carmichael, Knapp and others had testified earlier how much money they had donated or otherwise secured for the Nasons, "the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Nason were offered a substantial sum of money and turned it down is extremely relevant."
The judge allowed this testimony to be heard by the jury.