Key witness testifies in new Adams trial
A key witness in the new assault trial of Detroit Lakes Schools Superintendent Mark Adams testified Tuesday.
Matt Lanoue, a self-employed trucker who lives on 25 acres in Becker County near Waubun, testified that Adams stopped at his place to ask directions to the Mark Rothschadl farm a good four hours earlier than Adams claims.
The time difference is important because the prosecution hopes to show that Adams pre-planned the confrontation that occurred about 5 p.m. Sept. 9 at the Rothschadl farm, located about a half-mile from the Matt Lanoue residence.
In fact, that time difference was enough for County Attorney Joe Evans to call a grand jury to consider charges in the case. Evans had previously said there was not enough evidence to file charges, since there were no witnesses to say who threw the first punch.
Adams was charged by a Becker County grand jury Nov. 1 with first- and third-degree felony assault for allegedly punching Rothschadl in the face, breaking his left eye socket and causing serious vision problems that still persist.
Adams says he went to the Lanoue place about 4:30 p.m. to get directions to the Rothschadl farm after Rothschadl invited him there for a discussion.
There was bad blood between the two men because Adams is involved with Rothschadl's ex-wife, Terri Anderson.
The discussion grew heated when Adams talked about being involved in the lives of the two Rothschadl children. The two men differ in their accounts of what happened from that point.
Rothschadl says Adams took him by surprise with at least one punch to the face.
In the past, Adams said Rothschadl hit him first, and a fistfight and scuffle ensued as he defended himself.
At the latest trial, which started Monday with jury selection in Fergus Falls, Lanoue testified that he was friendly with Rothschadl but they didn't socialize, had never been in each other's homes, and he had spoken with him maybe a half-dozen times in the past 10 years. But he said his brother, Ronnie Lanoue, is a good friend of Rothschadl's.
In quiet, confident testimony, Lanoue said he was positive Adams stopped for directions early in the afternoon -- before Lanoue, his three children and a friend, Chris Brunner -- went to Fergus Falls to pick up an ATV that had been repaired at Edge Motorsports.
Lanoue said his original timeline estimates -- given to the grand jury -- of when he left for Fergus Falls and returned to Detroit Lakes were off because he was going by memory. No investigator asked him about the day's timeline until several weeks after the incident.
"I didn't know him (Adams), I didn't know the family, I didn't know anything about it -- I didn't think it was important to notice exactly what time it was," he finally told defense attorney Peter Wold of Minneapolis, who had been pressing him about the conflicting time given in his grand jury testimony.
Receipts from Edge Motorsports and Wal-Mart in Detroit Lakes show that Lanoue could well have been home around 4:30 p.m., when Adams said he stopped for directions.
By telling the grand jury that he didn't get home until after 5 p.m. -- when the assault incident occurred -- Lanoue made Adams look like a liar and helped convince the grand jury to file charges, Wold said.
But Lanoue testified Tuesday that he didn't even know at the time of his grand jury testimony that his story conflicted with Adams'.
"I knew that's when it (the assault incident) happened, but I didn't know Mr. Adams said he had stopped for directions in the (late) afternoon," Lanoue said.
Lanoue said he told his brother, Ronnie -- either on the night of the incident or the next morning, he wasn't sure which -- about Adams stopping for directions.
It wasn't until the sheriff's department changed investigators and took a fresh look at the case several weeks later that anyone talked to him about it, Lanoue said.
After the assault incident, Lanoue said he and his father had written a letter to the editor, published in this newspaper, which was critical of Adams. Lanoue signed the letter.
Lanoue said his 10-year-old son was riding a dirt bike when Adams drove into the yard to ask for directions, and he feared for his son's safety because it was unusual for an unfamiliar vehicle to be pulling into the driveway.
Wold pointed out that Lanoue had told the grand jury the boy was riding a four-wheeler when Adams came in the yard. Since the family's only four-wheeler was the one he had just brought back from Fergus Falls, that meant Adams had to have stopped there in the late afternoon, Wold said.
"Are you saying your son was not riding that four-wheeler when you got back from Fergus Falls?" Wold thundered at Lanoue.
"I may have misspoken to the grand jury about the a four-wheeler. It was actually a dirt bike," Lanoue said calmly. "That's why I got him a dirt bike, the four-wheeler was too big for him."
The 10-year-old is set to testify today (Wednesday), providing that District Judge Mark Hansen determines him to be capable of testifying.
Lanoue said he never intentionally misled anyone about his timeline on the day of the alleged assault.
Asked by Evans during re-direct if he was absolutely sure that Adams stopped in the early afternoon, rather than the late afternoon to ask for directions, Lanoue said "there's no doubt in my mind that that's true."
In other testimony, the jury of nine women and five men heard from Becker County dispatchers Jeff Swanson, who took a 911 assault report from Rothschadl at 5:01 p.m. on Sept. 9, and Carol Johnson, who received a 911 assault report from Adams five minutes later.
"I think he broke my hand," she said Adams reported.
White Earth Tribal Police Patrol Sgt. Zach Lamblez and tribal officer Todd Wise also testified, since they responded to the call that day.
Lamblez talked to Rothschadl, who he said was angry and upset following the incident. Photos taken by the officer showed Rothschadl with a badly swollen left eye and small cuts and scratches on his lip and nose, which had been bleeding.
Lamblez said he tried to calm Rothschadl by telling him he had to ask questions to collect the facts about what happened. Rothschadl agreed to cooperate, saying, "whatever I need to do to get charges brought up against this home-wrecker."
Rothschadl told the officer that Adams became belligerent when he exited the vehicle.
"Mark Adams referred to he and Terri Anderson being together and him being included in the lives of his (Rothschadl's) kids. Rothschadl said at no time soon would that be allowed to happen," Lamblez said.
As to the alleged assault, Lamblez said, "Mr. Rothschadl said he put his hand out to Mr. Adams' chest (to stop him from advancing) and at that point Mr. Adams sucker punched him. He went to the ground, got up, they wrestled a little bit and that was pretty much it."
He said Rothschadl had to stop to vomit at one point during the initial police interview, but answered questions coherently and declined medical attention beyond an on-scene evaluation by an emergency medical technician, Sara Zettel, who also testified.
She said Rothschadl's eye was swollen shut, and she warned him that vomiting was a sign of a potential brain injury, but he answered questions politely and coherently and declined further treatment.
(He later sought treatment in Mahnomen at the urging of his brother.)
Lamblez said he spoke briefly to Adams and noticed slight debris on his clothing, but that he "appeared to be free of any visible injuries that I could see at that time."
Lamblez noticed swelling around the outside part of Adams' left hand. Adams complained that he had injured the hand, perhaps from blocking a kick, and said he'd have a doctor look at it.
Lamblez said it was his understanding from talking to the two men that they had agreed to meet at the farm, and he testified that Adams told him he thought earlier threats from Rothschadl were "water under the bridge," and that he went to the farm to "have a serious discussion with another adult."
Adams also admitted to the officer that he had been throwing punches during the fight, Lamblez said.
When Wold reminded Lamblez that he had told the grand jury that Rothschadl could have hurt his eye by hitting an exterior vehicle mirror during a scuffle, the officer agreed that the mirror scenario was one of several possibilities he believed could have caused Rothschadl's injuries.
Prior to testimony from Lanoue, and while the jury was out, Judge Hansen rejected a defense request that he warn Lanoue about possible criminal penalties from perjury. Hansen warned Wold not to threaten the witness or even mention anything about criminal sanctions, as it could have an unfair chilling effect on testimony.
Referring to the erroneous timeline given the grand jury by Lanoue and his friend Chris Brunner about the trip to Fergus Falls, Wold said, "it's a civil rights conspiracy to deprive this gentleman (Adams) of his occupation and his right to make a living."
Evans strongly disagreed. "There's a huge difference between knowingly providing false testimony and testifying by mistake," he said.
As county attorney, Evans makes the decision whether to prosecute or not, and "obviously, he does not believe a crime has been committed," Hansen said.
"He has a dog in this fight," retorted Wold.
"You cannot suggest to witnesses that they are subject to criminal charges, it is unfair, in my opinion," Hansen said. "You can certainly disagree with what they said (to the grand jury), that's why we're here."
Adams' first trial ended in a mistrial in early March, after the jury witnessed Rothschadl having a seizure on the stand, while testifying.
Adams, who started with the Detroit Lakes School District in July 2006, is on paid administrative leave pending the results of the trial.