Before resting his case, prosecuting attorney Steve Redding dropped a final bomb Tuesday on the defense of alleged rapist Antonio Burton in Hennepin County District Court.
Redding called 19-year-old Jennifer Hameister to the stand to testify that Burton told her in December of 1996 that he and Victor Porter committed the Oct. 8, 1996 rape of two University women.
Hameister is Burton’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of his two children.
Her testimony contradicts previous accounts of the incident in which the two victims said that while four men burglarized their apartment, only one man assaulted them sexually.
Burton squirmed uneasily in his chair as Hameister entered the courtroom, twisting around to look at the witness and back again to confer with his attorney. His agitated murmuring reverberated through the court as Hameister took the stand.
Under direct examination, Hameister testified that she and Burton had daily phone conversations from the time he was caught in Eau Claire, Wis., and during the months after he was moved to Hennepin County Jail.
She also said that despite Burton’s requests, she refused to lie to police in any way to protect him.
Redding asked if Burton admitted any involvement in the incident to her during their extensive talks.
“He said he was there, but had said he wasn’t the one who committed the rapes,” said Hameister, who delivered her testimony with detached exasperation.
But when Redding asked Hameister if the subject ever came up again, she told the jury that in December of 1996, Burton changed his story.
“He said that himself and one other guy committed the rapes,” she said.
She added that she questioned Burton as to who the other person was. Burton finally admitted to her that the other assailant was Victor Porter.
Porter pleaded guilty to robbery and burglary charges and has already served his sentence for the crimes.
Redding later asked Hameister if Burton told her why he committed the rapes.
“He said he didn’t know why,” she replied.
“Did he tell you about his condition when he did it?” Redding continued.
“He said he was intoxicated … and he was high,” she said.
But Hameister’s lack of emotion faded under the cross-examination of defense attorney Joseph Margulies, who asked her whether Burton had left her to raise their children alone.
Hameister froze as her response turned to sobs, prompting Judge Andrew Danielson to call for a break in the proceedings.
During the break, with the jury and witness out of the room, Burton requested to speak before the judge.
Burton said he had threatened Hameister and her family — threats he said were the reason for her incriminating testimony.
Asked whether he believed Hameister’s testimony would be damaging to Burton’s defense, Redding nodded firmly. “Oh, yeah.”
Before dismissal, Danielson warned the jury they could be sequestered Wednesday evening, as the case will probably be in their hands by this afternoon.