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Star Tribune from Minneapolis, Minnesota • Page 15
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Star Tribune from Minneapolis, Minnesota • Page 15

Star Tribunei
Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Minneapolis Star and Tribune Mar. 22,1986 15A Continued from page 1A who cares for the three children, ages 16, 14 and 11, left alone after her sister, Deborah Race, died and Larry Race went to prison. Assistant St Louis County Attorney John DeSanto, who prosecuted Race, doesn't share that belief. "The only rational conclusion was that it was murder," he said Friday. Yet DeSanto admits there were weaknesses in the evidence against Race I i it tsi I lT3ffi fllll The Pie Ladv 1 1 andfQther Mi 1) to 1 Larry Race In a 1983 photo with hit thro children, Michelle (standing), Jennifer and Steven. Race. That's the reality of a circumstantial case, he said. "We simply dont have enough facts to theorize In detail," DeSanto said. "The point Is that you look to the facts that you do have and decide what was the rational conclusion." The facts started when Larry and Debbie Race met In Minneapolis In 1966, while she was a student at North Central Bible College. They were married on May 11, 1968. Fourteen years later, the couple celebrated their wedding day with a dinner at Lakeview Castle, just outside Duluth, on Lake Superior's rugged North Shore. Then they took a ride aboard their 21-foot cabin cruiser, the Jenny Lee. Larry Race returned alone. He told authorities that Debbie took to a life raft in panic about 9 p.m. after they developed engine trouble and water started coming into the boat (Race and two of their children had to abandon the sinking Jenny Lee on one occasion the previous summer.) Because a second raft aboard the boat leaked, Race, an experienced scuba diver, donned a dry suit and tried to swim about a mile to shore, he said, towing his wife's raft But discouraged by cold water cramping his bare hands, he returned to the boat signaled for help, restarted the engine, searched about 20 minutes for his wife, drove to shore, and reported an accident to authorities. Debbie Race's body washed ashore in Duluth about 19 hours later. The St Louis County medical examiner said she died of hypothermia In the 37-degree water. The only raft found was aboard Race's boat wet and slashed in each of its air chambers. The prosecution theorized that there was only one raft and that Larry Race cut it out from under his wife, knowing that the cold would kill her. Race wanted her dead, the state said, because he was interested In other women and in the $108,000 for which Debbie's life was Insured. "Yes, I had an affair, and yes I'm sorry. But that doesn't make somebody a killer," Race said. "I loved Debbie I'm not guilty. But don't think anybody will challenge the Supreme Court now We have no more money, so where do we go?" Defense lawyers now own the Race family house In Hoyt Lakes, Minn. The Jenny Lee was repossessed, as was the family car, Race said. His full shock of dark wavy hair has grayed a bit since the five-week trial. Yesterday, blue Jeans and a gray striped shirt replaced the conservative blue business suit that he wore every day In the courtroom. The Supreme Court saw holes In the evidence presented at that trial. There was the drift question. An expert for the state testified that a glng, welding and odd Jobs. His sister is a waitress. Race once assumed that the criminal-justice system was infallible, he said. "I believed and my family believed that authorities wqre right We're not a very educated family, and we're naive as far as the law goes." Now the system scares him. "There Is no such thing as Innocent until proven guilty," Race said. "Our society is not that way any- more. I was judged guilty before I walked into the courtroom, and I've had to try to prove my innocence all the way" Race accused the government of withholding evidence to win the case. Race blames Mahlum for not putting him on the stand. "I should have testified, because they want you to. Something In our society says you have to testify." During more than two years of aD-peals, Race has lived day to day, hoping for release. Now he's ing to think in a 15-year chunk, the earliest he would be eligible for parole. At one visit per month, he's count- ing the times he'll see his children and calculating their ages at his -release. "You want to see your family so much, you want to hold them so 1 much It hurts." Race's current attorneys, Philip Villaume and David W. Larson, said they may petition in federal court for Race's release from prison or appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court 09 constitutional -grounds. But Race wasn't ready yesterday to raise his hopes again. "I don't know if It does any good anymore. And it puts you through, so much pain." partially submerged body would not have drifted as far as Debbie Race's did, given the winds and currents on Lake Superior that night A skimming raft would be another story and would support Race's story. But DeSanto argued that no one knows exactly where Debbie Race got into the water except her hus- band. Race made a diagram for police when he called for help. DeSanto said It was imprecise. "DeSanto keeps saying that there Is -no reliable point of origin. They lost that diagram just as they lost Debbie's clothing and her life jacket" Race complained. Photographs taken shortly after a 15-year-old boy found Debbie Race's body show her fully clothed Si and wearing a life jacket but the i prosecution was unable to produce the garments at the trial. The Supreme Court found DeSan- to's version more rational. The justices doubted Race because the raft was never found, although his lawyers pointed out that smelt fishermen or anyone else along the shore could have carried it off. Inconsistencies In Race's story also troubled the Justices. Race first told authorities, for instance, that he had no scuba tank aboard the boat but later said he had used a tank to inflate the raft Race Insists that he answered questions truthfully as he understood them. "The scuba tank wasn't In the boat it was In the raft," Race said. During closing arguments, Race's former attorney, William Mahlum of St Paul made confusing statements. Race said, and that deprived him of a fair trial. The court called his claim speculative. Race, 36, grew up In Crosby-iron-ton, the son of a vacuum-cleaner salesman. His four brothers do log- Star and Tribunepjm Minneapolis Star and Tribune writers Peg Meier and Dave Wood have found the character and flavor of Minnesota while sitting at kitchen tables and in main street cafes, drinking coffee and talking to people. For the past several years they've traveled around the state, gathering stories about urban, rural and small-town existence for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, and now they've compiled these contemporary grassroots tales into a book, The Pie Lady of Winthrop and Other Minnesota Tales. In this book, you'll not only meet the Pie Lady, you'll also be introduced to the powder room attendant at Murray's Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis and the Tom Sawyer experiences of a 10-year-old boy in Rollingstone. You'll meet a lovable priest in Mazeppa, sausage makers in New Prague, the unemployed on the Iron Range. And many more special Minnesotans. The Pie Lady of Winthrop and Other Minnesota Tales. With 22 illustrations by Todd Grande. Softbound, 240 pages. Berndt Continued from page 1A Please send me copies of The Pie Lady of Winthrop and Other Minnesota Tales (softcover) at $10.00 (Includes shipping and handling.) Make check or money order payable to: Neighbors Publishing Mail to: He said possible appeals in federal court were being explored. If the state Supreme Court's ruling was overturned, Berndt would return to prison. However, because a federal question Is not at Issue It is considered unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court would take the case. Berndt cannot be tried again for the deaths. He said yesterday he is not bitter about his experience. "I'm not a revengeful person," he said. "I like to keep a low profile. Now that it's all over with, I want to get back to a normal life. I want to get a job and be with my family." Among the people he is looking forward to seeing are members of his late wife's family. He said his family contacted her family yesterday about the decision and that they have been supportive of him. While In prison, Berndt worked In the print shop and said he hopes to find a job in that Attorney Knutson said yesterday that there has been no decision on whether Berndt will file a civil lawsuit In connection with his case. He said Berndt wants to put the matter behind him and any legal action could prevent that What has his experience the past 4 4 years taught him about the criminal justice system? "It's not all good, It's not all bad. For me, the system worked In the end." of his wife, Brenda, and three sons, Corey Berndt Michael Gage, 10, and Richard Gage, 13. The four died In a fire In their Brooklyn Center townhouse on Aug. 21, 1981. The state contended that Berndt had spread gasoline throughout the townhouse and started the fire as his family slept Berndt escaped serious injury. The defense claimed the cause of the fire was unknown. The Supreme Court said there was no link between Berndt and gasoline. Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Dan Byrne, who prosecuted the case, said yesterday, "I was and still am extremely proud of the 12 responsible and diligent jurors who convicted the defendant They understood from firsthand experience four weeks of testimony things which are difficult to recreate In legal argument to the Supreme Court including that the defendant's claims were In direct conflict with the theories of his own fire expert "The Supreme Court's decision is troublesome. We plan to petition the court for a rehearing. We also are exploring to determine whether the decision can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court" Hennepin County Attorney Tom Johnson said It Is an understatement to say they were surprised and disappointed In the decision. "We are firmly of the belief that there was enough evidence to sustain the jury verdict and that the Jury was correct" Johnson said. Berndt's attorneys said they are unaware of any other case Involving multiple victims. He said the news that the Supreme Court had reversed his conviction was a total shock he had thought that the most relief he would get would be a new trial. After the session with reporters, Berndt and his attorney, David Knutson, at last were free to head to Berndt's mother's home. Late yesterday afternoon, Berndt said there that the reality of the court decision hadn't hit him yet "In 24 hours, I went from doing a life sentence to being free," he said. Berndt said he and Knutson had planned to stop for lunch somewhere outside Stillwater, but he changed his mind when they started driving down Hwy. 36 toward the Twin Cities. Berndt wanted to go directly to his mother's home In Osseo. His first afternoon of freedom was spent sitting around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and visiting with friends and relatives. Frequent phone calls Interrupted the conversation. Such relaxed, easygoing conversa-tlon was what Berndt said he had missed greatly while In prison. He was convicted by a Hennepin County District Court Jury in November 1983 on eight counts of first-degree murder for the deaths Name. Address Zip- Gty. Mail this coupon to: Neighbors Publishing P.O. Box 15071 Minneapolis, MN 55415 The Pie Lady of Winthrop and Other Minnesota Tales is also available from bookstores.

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