Trials set for parents accused of starving child
Parents want him in court, not on video
By Dan Nienaber
ST. PETER — An attorney for a North Mankato couple facing criminal charges for allegedly starving their adopted son said he plans to argue against a prosecutor’s motion to have the child testify by video during the couple’s trials later this year.
A judge issued an order in April that permanently removed the 9-year-old boy from the home of Russell and Mona Hauer, both 45, after a civil trial. Three other children, two of the boy’s younger adopted siblings and the Hauers’ biological child, were allowed to stay with the couple under county supervision. Nicollet County Attorney Michelle Zehnder Fischer has appealed that portion of District Court Judge Todd Westphal’s order. She wants all of the children removed from the home (see related story).
The Hauers are each facing six felony charges accusing them of child neglect, child endangerment and malicious punishment of a child. Both trials are scheduled to last two weeks. Mona Hauer’s trial is scheduled to start Oct. 21 and Russell Hauer’s trial is scheduled to start Nov. 14.
They are accused of nearly starving the boy to death and other abuse, including making him sleep in a plastic snow sled in their basement and having their other children wash the boy outside with a garden hose. The charges were filed, and the civil process for taking away their parental rights, was started last year after Mona Hauer took the boy to the hospital because she thought he was vomiting blood. It turned out he was regurgitating a frozen treat, but tests showed the boy was so malnourished he was no longer able to properly digest food.
About a year prior to that, during the fall of 2011, a Nicollet County deputy found the boy walking along Highway 169 at night, according to the criminal complaints. He told the deputy he was walking to a convenience store because he was hungry and wanted a hamburger. The nearest store was more than three miles away.
Both Hauers are scheduled to be in court Tuesday during a hearing before District Court Judge Allison Krehbiel. Their attorney, Chris Rosengren, will be arguing against Fischer’s motion to have the boy testify by video and another motion to have one of her witnesses, Dr. Lloyd Wells of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, testify out of order.
The Hauers denied abusing the child during testimony at the parental rights trial. They said he had mental and physical problems because his real mother was using drugs while she was pregnant with him. That is what caused the problems with feeding him and that also made him difficult to discipline, they said. Several people who knew the family from their Mankato church testified on their behalf.
Rosengren said he understands that sitting on witness stand and answering probing questions from lawyers can be a difficult situation for a child. It won’t be easy for the Hauers either, but his clients have a right to ask those tough questions to test the accuracy of Fischer’s allegations, he said. Most of the evidence from the parental termination case came from social workers and medical staff. Nothing came directly from the child, Rosengren added.
“Up until now all of those statements have been made someone with the county with an agenda,” Rosengren said. “He’s got to testify and he has to be subject to cross examination.
“I don’t know how we are going to avoid it. (The Hauers) are still adamant that they did the best they could under the circumstances with a boy who was basically a crack baby. That doesn’t amount to criminal neglect.”
Rosengren also said he is going to ask Krehbiel to require Wells, who has a conflicting event to attend during the first part of Mona Hauer’s trial, to testify in the correct order. He said he doesn’t want the jury to be interrupted by Wells’ testimony while Mona Hauer’s case is being presented.
Fischer doesn’t comment about ongoing criminal cases.
Page A6 Nicollet County will appeal a parental rights ruling that leaves three children in the care of Russell and Mona Hayer.