First suspect in break-in awaits verdict

Tom Lopez

After a week of testimony, the case against Puiassance Andersen rests in the hands of the jury.
Attorneys from both sides made their closing arguments Thursday night, leaving the jury to deliver a verdict in the burglary and rape case.
Andersen and three other men have been charged in the incident that took place near campus last October, where the apartment of three women was burglarized and two of the women were raped. Andersen faces 11 counts of burglary and aiding and abetting sexual assault. He could also be convicted of possessing and attempting to sell stolen property.
In his closing argument, prosecuting attorney Steve Redding said the evidence presented to the jury met the test of “reasonable doubt.”
“I’m not going to stand up here and ask you to convict this man on any single piece of evidence,” he said. However, taken en masse, he said the state presented “a wall of evidence that is conclusive, solid, impenetrable, and leads you to no other conclusion but that he is guilty.”
However, defense attorney Peter Schneck attempted to show the jurors a fundamental weakness in that wall, accusing the state of having “rushed to judgment” and thereby unfairly implicating his client.
“I know you wouldn’t make a major decision in your life or the lives of people you love based on this evidence,” he said. “Don’t do it to my client.”
One sharply disputed issue in both arguments was the conduct of Sgt. Cari Ann Gerlicher, a Minneapolis police officer in the sex crimes unit who investigated the case. In an aggressive cross-examination to testimony she delivered earlier, Schneck accused her of encouraging witnesses to give testimony that helped the state and of jumping to conclusions to accumulate evidence.
He was especially critical of her treatment of Victor Porter, one of the four men charged in the incident, who agreed to testify against his co-defendants in exchange for a lighter sentence. Schneck pointed to interviews Gerlicher conducted with Porter in which she warned him that he could be facing up to 40 years in prison.
“Do you think threatening people with 40 years in prison will get them to tell you what actually happened, or what you want to hear?” he said.
Schneck also pointed to the fact that Gerlicher identified a man in a pawnshop security video positively as Andersen. However when her partner reviewed the tape, he could only make out “an unidentified black man.” Schneck also pointed to instances when Gerlicher made changes to her original report, changing the identification of the suspect in a video of a pawn shop transaction from G. Andersen (Puiassance’s brother Giezwa, also charged in the incident) in her original report to P. Andersen five days later.
“Anything that didn’t fit the rush to judgment got … fixed,'” Schneck said.
Schneck criticized Gerlicher for lying to Porter when she was interviewing him, telling him that the three other suspects were busted. Gerlicher admitted to lying to Porter, but it is not illegal for police officers to lie to suspects in this situation.
Gerlicher’s actions were not deliberately malicious toward Andersen, he said, but the result of clouded judgment in what he agreed was a terrible crime.
However, Redding defended Gerlicher’s actions, calling her “a good cop, a tough cop.”
He said deceiving Porter was the only way for her to get the truth. He asked the jury whether, while Porter was lying, Gerlicher should have stood there and done nothing. “Is that what you would want your police to do?” he asked. “In a perfect world, maybe that would be appropriate police conduct. But this is not a perfect world, this is the real world. Sgt. Gerlicher did exactly what she should have done, exactly what we all would’ve wanted her to do.”
However, Schneck said gross inconsistencies in Porter’s testimony made it unreliable — and that this highly questionable evidence was the basis of the prosecution’s case. “They know that without him they don’t have it,” he said. He also submitted that Porter’s testimony is not enough to convict Andersen. “But they have asked you to find it enough because they wouldn’t have (a case) without it.”
Redding conceded that “if I were going to go on vacation and needed someone to house-sit, I certainly wouldn’t call Victor Porter.” However, he urged the jury to match the testimony with a variety of corroborating evidence. “You don’t look at one part of anything,” he said. “You have to look at the whole picture.”
Perhaps in an attempt to dissuade the jury from being tempted to compromise, Redding told jury members that if they didn’t find Puiassance Andersen guilty of all charges, they shouldn’t find him guilty of the lesser ones of possessing and attempting to sell stolen goods. Such a decision, he said, would “make a travesty of this case.”
Schneck objected to Redding’s logic, saying it was an improper argument.
Redding also disputed notions that Andersen was not involved in the actual rape, and so should not be found guilty of aiding and abetting sexual assault. He was allegedly in the room and carrying a knife at the time.
Redding made an impassioned criticism of Andersen’s actions. He said Andersen was in the same room as Antonio Burton, Andersen’s cousin and the man believed to have raped two of the three women in the apartment, and yet didn’t prevent the assault. “Nobody stops him,” he said. “They were in the room, and they do nothing.”
Redding also warned the jury not to accept potential theories from the defense that Andersen was not one of the four men allegedly at the crime, that instead the culprit is a yet unknown “Mr. X.”
“I would ask you not to take that bait,” he said.
However, the defense took a different tack, saying that there is no conclusive proof that there were even four men present at the scene of the crime. He said because Andersen’s cousin and brother were charged, and because he was found in the passenger seat of the stolen car, that the state was unfairly assuming he was guilty. He said his client was only in the car because he was trying to get to Chicago to see his daughter. “If Antonio had given someone else a ride, would that make that person guilty?”
The jury will begin deliberations this morning, and neither attorney would speculate regarding when they would reach a decision in the case.