Prosecution struggles with key witness in trial

Struggling through an obstacle course of defense objections and fragmented witness recollections, prosecuting attorney Steve Redding tried desperately to extract key testimony Wednesday from Rachel Kemptner.
It was to Kemptner’s St. Paul apartment that alleged rapist Antonio Burton and three other men fled after the Oct. 8, 1996 break-in during which two University students were raped.
While on the stand, Kemptner had difficulty remembering conversations she had with the four men, who slept in her apartment the day after the incident.
But in previous statements to police and in testimony in the trial of Puiassance Andersen, Kemptner claimed to have witnessed Burton bragging about the sexual assaults.
Redding stiffened with frustration every time Kemptner was unable to recall answers to questions he had posed to her in the past.
“Would it refresh your recollection to look at your previous statement?” Redding asked Kemptner on numerous occasions.
Defense attorney Joseph Margulies successfully blocked Redding’s attempts to show Kemptner the documents at first. But after repeated objections and conferences at the bench, she was allowed to look over the documents and re-formulate her answers.
Kemptner’s live-in boyfriend is Will Andersen, brother of Puiassance and Giezwa Andersen, who with Burton and Victor Porter were implicated in the incident.
Kemptner made eye contact with Burton only once during her testimony, when she was asked to identify him. She appeared reluctant at first to offer any testimony to incriminate Burton, and said at one point that she was threatened into making certain statements to police.
But after more than two hours of tedious inquiry, Kemptner finally testified that she had heard Burton describe the sexual assaults with some detail. Burton was then verbally scolded by Puiassance Andersen and Victor Porter for doing so in front of her.
“They were saying, Shut up, shut up’ — like he was telling me the business — and they didn’t want me to know,” Kemptner said.
Burton faces 11 counts of aiding and abetting robbery, burglary and criminal sexual conduct in Hennepin County District Court.
Testimony from Kemptner and DNA experts will continue today.