Jury acquits Adams
An Otter Tail County jury acquitted Detroit Lakes Superintendent Mark Adams of both felony assault charges against him Friday.
The jury of seven women and five men took about 90 minutes to reach a verdict.
Defense attorney Peter Wold of Minneapolis rested his case as soon as the proceedings started Friday morning, without calling any additional witnesses. Closing arguments for both sides lasted until about 11:50 a.m.
Becker County Attorney Joe Evans went first, doing his best to sum up a difficult case for the prosecution.
He argued that the injuries sustained by Ogema-area farmer Mark Rothschadl -- a broken eye socket and some permanent vision damage -- met the definition for conviction for both first- and third-degree felony assault as defined by law.
He painted a picture of Adams, a former college football quarterback, as a "man of action" who saw Rothschadl as standing in the way of his relationship with Terri Anderson, Rothschadl's ex-wife.
Because of a "rule" imposed by Rothschadl and honored by Anderson, Adams was never allowed to be around the two Rothschadl children.
This led to extended periods when Adams had to stay away from Anderson's lake home, Evans told the jury. He said Adams went to see Rothschadl, at his farm, and when he couldn't talk him into relaxing his stance, grew frustrated and assaulted him.
If Adams had really just wanted to talk through the issues, it could have been done over the phone, Evans said.
"If you just want to talk, a phone conversation might work," Evans said. "If you have something else in mind, you have to be there in person."
Adams had divorced his wife, left his three children behind in Grand Rapids, and took the Detroit Lakes superintendent job.
"He's made huge changes in his life and it's time to move this thing along to the next level," Evans told the jury. "But there was this rule in place that he would never see the Rothschadl kids. It was clear to Adams he had a problem -- a serous obstacle in the way -- and that obstacle was in the person of Mark Rothschadl."
He said Adams is "obviously a leader, used to supervising people, calling the shots. He is also a person not accustomed to taking 'no' for an answer ... Mark Adams was frustrated, he takes out his frustration on Mark Rothschadl -- he delivers what we now know was a brutal blow," Evans said.
Evans presented cell phone records to back up the prosecution's contention that Adams had scouted out the location of the Rothschadl farm early in the afternoon on the day of the assault.
Adams had made numerous phone calls throughout the day, and there was a gap of just over an hour in the late morning/early afternoon where no calls registered. Evans noted that the cell phone calls from a short-range Detroit Lakes tower showed the same pattern then as they did later in the day, when all parties agree Adams headed up Highway 59 to the farm.
He addressed issues with timelines given by prosecution witnesses, noting that they were going by memory nearly three weeks after the event.
Evans admitted that Rothschadl had told different things to various police and medical personnel following the incident, but said one thing always stayed consistent -- that Adams had thrown the first, hard punch.
Wold started his closing argument by asking the jury to remember the "presumption of innocence that protects all citizens targeted by the govern-ment."
In any criminal trial, the defendant is a "huge underdog," because of the powers of the state.
He said Adams was "ambushed" during the grand jury proceedings by "bogus stories" from prosecution witnesses, that he accused of conspiring together to get Adams charged and convicted.
They made Adams look like a liar by saying they weren't even home at 4:30 p.m. or so, when he testified he had stopped at Matt Lanoue's for directions, Wold said.
He criticized Evans for "not presenting (complete) cell phone records to the grand jury, and for not getting retail receipts that showed the time the prosecution witnesses left for Fergus Falls and returned to Detroit Lakes. The defense had to obtain those records, he said.
Those retail receipts showed that the group had left for Fergus Falls and returned that day much earlier than they had testified, and could well have been home when Adams said he was there.
"They'd been developing their story (from the beginning)," Wold told the jury. "This was a work in progress."
Wold noted that "nothing material changed in Mark Adams' story -- when you tell the truth it's easy to keep things straight."
Wold continued: "The story falls apart, and what happens next is shameful, shameful. They bring in a child, a child! And put him in this position to bail out his father."
He reminded the jury that Terri Anderson's mother had testified that she ran into Rothschadl in White Earth village just prior to the incident, and she testified that "he had a very strange look on his face, one I'd never seen before," as he told her that he was on his way to the farm for an "appointment."
(Cathy Anderson also testified Thursday that she had loved her son-in-law, Rothschadl, for years, but preferred to avoid him around the time prior to the incident -- he was too often angry and bitter, and not always nice to her daughter since Adams came into the picture, she said.)
Wold told the jury that the physical evidence at the scene supported Adams' account of the fight, and that Adams was not the aggressor, but defending himself in the Sept. 9 incident.
"The evidence shows that Mark Rothschadl was on a slow boil, and when Adams got to the farm he blew his top off at the man who had wrecked his family," Wold said.
He pointed out that Adams could have found Rothschadl at the cabin, where he was working that day, if he was trying to hunt him down. He also could have got directions to the farm from Terri Rothschadl if he needed them.
"It's silly, it's just silly," to think that he was out scouting the Rothschadl farm earlier in the day, Wold said.
"If Mark Adams' goal is to continue his relationship with Terri, does beating up the father of her children make any sense?" Wold asked the jury.
"Mark Adams is very sorry about injuries to Mr. Rothschadl, but they were not his fault -- he caused them himself."
In the end, Wold said, the prosecution has to prove that Adams struck the first blow, "and that's not possible to do," he said. "That's why these kind of cases are usually not charged out."
Several jurors, interviewed after the trial, said the retail receipts and issues with timelines presented by prosecution witnesses led them to conclude that Adams was innocent. They also found Adams to be the more credible witness.
Adams told KDLM radio after the verdict that he hopes and prays that Mark Rothschadl makes a full recovery and that the healing can begin for the families involved.