The Wamego Times, March 13, 2003 Vol 116 Number 11
by Mark Portell
Wamego Times Editor
In what the prosecution termed as "Silliness," defense attorneys in the LSD conspiracy trial last week filed motions to dismiss the case, claiming prosecutorial misconduct based on "new information" obtained in the case.
In a hearing Thursday in U. S. District Court to argue the motion for dismissal, Gordon Todd Skinner, the prosecution's primary witness against William Leonard Pickard and Clyde Apperson, was recalled to the stand by defense attorneys and was later accused by the prosecution of committing perjury in his new testimony.
Skinner has been gr anted immunity by the U. S. Department of Justice in exchange for his cooperation in the case against Pickard, 57, and Apperson, 47, the San Francisco area men charged with one count of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute more than 10 grams of LSD. The defendants were arrested in early November of 2000, after leaving the former Aflas-E missile base northwest of Wamego driving a rented Buick and Ryder truck containing the alleged LSD lab.
THE ALLEGED perjury may have also jeopardized Skinner's imunity agreement with the government, according to Assistant U. S. Attorney Greg Hough, who said perjury is not covered under the agree that the government is contemplating charges against Skinner.
Prior to the start of Thursday's hearing, for which jurors were not present, Ron Wurtz, a federal public defender representing Skinner, questioned the court about Skinner's immunity agreement in light of a possible perjury charge.
"There are no guarantees," said U. S. District Court Judge Richard Rogers.
"Then we can't testify, your honor, and we exercise our Fifth Amendment right," Wurtz said.
"UNLESS THERE'S a withdrawal of the immunity, we believe the order stands," Rogers said. With that, Skinner took the stand.
Under direct questioning by Pickard defense attorney William Rork, Skinner made the following claims.
On October 27, 2000-during a walk-through of the missile base by DEA agents-Special Agent Karl Nichols opened and swabbed the inside of a can of ET (ergotamine tartrate, an LSD precursor) found inside the base. The alleged incident occurred prior to the DEA executing a search warrant at the base October 31,2000.
On the October 27 walk-through, John "Zach" Zajak, with DEA headquarters at Washington, D. C., made a personal video of the missile base which was never entered into evidence by the prosecution. Skinner also testified that Ralph Sorell, DEA Task Force officer, had told him in a phone conversation following Skinner's original testimony, that he (Sorell) had watched that video on a monitor in the U. S. Marshals' office in the federal court building.
LATER IN the hearing, Hough recalled Nichols and Sorrell to the stand to refute the claims made by Skinner.
Nichols, a former forensic chemist, said he did not open the can of ET; that exposure to the chemical can cause convulsions.
Sorrell testified he had never watched the video in the U. S. Marshals' office, and that he has never been in that office.
"I would want you to find me one U. S. Marshal or any employee that has ever seen me in that office," Sorrell said.
SORRELL ALSO testified he had had a phone conversation with Skinner following Skinner's previous testimony. In a verbal jab at defense attorneys, Sorell said Skinner "was asking me about the stupid questions you (Rork) and Mr. Bennett (Apperson attorney Mark Bennett) have been asking and I told him you were still asking them."
Bennett also questioned Skinner about the videotape.
"Did anyone ever suggest to you that you should not make known the existence of the videotape?" Bennett asked.
"I'm not trying to be difficult, I'm trying to be accurate," Skinner replied as he leafed through an exhibit of his previous testimony. "I'd love to see it," Skinner said. "I'd love to have a copy of it. Everybody has a video of that base except me."
BENNETT REQUESTED a copy of the tape, saying, "It's certainly relevant evidence. I would request we be given an opportunity to look at it . "
Hough gave a copy of the tape to the defense attorneys and said he was "tired of counselors' pontificating on the subject."
Another issue raised by defense attorneys in Thursday's hearing was the ownership of the missile base and whether or not DEA agents had legal authority to conduct a walkthrough October 27, 2000.
I I At the time of the walk-through, the base was owned by Wamego Land Trust with Graham Kendall listed as the trustee. A court ruling
issued March 27, 2002, however, stated that Skinner "had the authority to consent ... to all the searches conducted in this case."
Defense attorneys pointed to a court document in which Skinner, prior to the bust, had given power of attorney over the missile base property to the defendant.. William Leonard Pickard.
SKINNER SAID he and DEA agents had had heated arguments about the ownership of the base the day of the October 27, 2000 walkthrough. "They kept calling me a liar about the trust," Skinner said. "They were all over me and abusive. They said, 'If you lie to us or trick us, you're going to be charged in the conspiracy ",
"Were you aware there was a document that showed Mr. Pickard had a beneficiary interest in that missile base?" Rork asked, implying that Pickard had the right to exclude people (including the DEA) from entering the base.
Hough interjected: "Your honor, all he has to do is ask him (Skinner) if he controlled the missile base on October 27. If lie answers yes to that, this hearing should be over."
"It's a complicated issue...a Fourth Amendment issue' " Skinner replied.
"I need to talk to my lawyer before answering that question."
SKINNER SAID he and Pickard had an agreement that if one died or went to prison, the other would take care of that persons family. He also said DEA agents "became very upset" when he showed them the document giving Pickard power of attorney over the base.
In cross-examination, Hough asked, "Mr. Skinner, I have just one question for you. Tell me exactly where in your testimony you lied, and do not pontificate."
Judge Rogers sustained an objection from Rork that the question was too broad.
Hough: "Did you lie when you testified about the ownership of the base?"
Hough: "Did I?'
Hough: "Has anyone at this (prosecution) table told you to lie in your testimony?"
WITH THAT, Hough offered as a non-jury exhibit a transcript of all interviews the government has had with Skinner in the case. "This should cover any further silliness that may arise," Hough said.
"Other than the word 'silliness,' your honor, we make no objection," Rork said.
The Wamego Times, March 13, 2003
by Mark Portell
Wamego Times Editor
A Wamego woman who worked at the Atlas-E missile base northwest of town said last week there was drug use at the base "all the time" and that she once observed an off-duty Wamego police officer smoking marijuana at the base.
Janice Eichem was one of three Wamego residents to testify last Wednesday in the trial of William Leonard Pickard and Clyde Apperson, the San Francisco men charged with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute more than 10 grams of LSD.
Other defense witnesses testifying last week were Kerry Dick, Wamego police officer, and Matt Pfrang, a former Wamego police officer and now a deputy with the Pottawatomie County Sheriff's Department.
EICHEM TOLD jurors she saw people at the base under the influence of drugs on more than one occasion during her two-year employment in 1996-97.
"Oh, yes," she said. "They were doing it (smoking marijuana) all the time. Things were getting worse and worse about the guys getting drugged up and it was more than I wanted to be around, so I quit."
On one occasion, Eichem testified, she arrived for work at the base and observed Dick and Gunnar Guinan, the operations manager, smoking marijuana in Guinan's station wagon.
Dick, who testified earlier he had never observed any illegal activity at the base, denied the allegation of his marijuana use to a reporter with The Topeka Capital -Journal.
"NO, AFRAID not," Dick was quoted as saying. "No, I'm a police officer, why would I do that?"
Dick testified he was employed at the base from 1996 until the summer of 2000, first as a security guard for Gardner Spring Factory during his off-duty hours as a Wamego police officer. The security position lasted eight or nine months, after which his job included taking care of the lawn, sandblasting and washing and servicing the vehicles of Gordon Todd Skinner, owner of the base. He also watched Skinner's children occasionally and once drove them from Wamego to Tulsa, Dick testified.
"Was part of your law enforcement training looking out for crime?" Pickard defense attorney William Rork asked Dick.
"Yes," Dick replied.
"Did you ever see any kind of criminal activity while you worked there?"
DICK SAID he saw large military-type boxes stored in the metal Lester building, but he didn't know when they got there and he thought they were for storing and shipping springs.
Dick identified Pickard in court, saying, "I believe he was there (at the missile base) one time." He could not identify Apperson, nor could he identify an earlier photo ID of Apperson when the defendant had a full beard.
Eichem said her job included making springs every two to four weeks, then doing odd jobs around the missile base.
"I fed the chickens, went and got chickens, went and got paint supplies, worked in the garden, and sat on a bucket and smoked cigarettes," Eichem testified. There were no set hours, she said, "come and go as you please and tell Gunnar how many hours you worked."
EICHEM SAID she was told to never go into Skinner's room in the base unless asked; that there were things going on the base she didn't need to know about. "We were told not to ask questions about anything," she testified.
She said she saw Skinner at the base only occasionally, but that she had seen him under the influence of drugs more than once. There was evidence of large social gatherings in the base, after which she was asked to clean up food and "every type of alcohol bottle ... but it wasn't just the alcohol that made him act the way lie was acting."
On one occasion, Eichcrn testified, she helped unload numerous gallon cans of acetone from a Ryder truck into the underground missile silo, then drove the rented truck back to Topeka.
"I didn't know why we would need that many kinds of acetone, 'she said. She was told it was for cleaning paint brushes.
EICHEM SAID the last time she saw Gunnar Guinan was in the Wamego Post Office sometime after the LSD bust November 6,2000. "He said, 'I'm waiting for my passport so I can get the so-and-so out of here,"'
Pfrang, who never worked at the missile base, testified briefly about drawing a map of the base for U. S. Marshals, who were preparing to serve papers on Skinner following his arrest for impersonating a Secret Service agent at Harrah's Prairie Band Casino in January of 2000.
Pfrang said he had been at the base once in 1999, and drew the map' from memory.
Pottawatomie County Sheriff Greg Riat said Monday he will initiate an "internal affairs" investigation into an allegation of a Wamego police officer smoking marijuana while employed offduty as a security guard at the Atlas-E missile base northwest of Wamego.
Another Wamego resident employed at the missile base in 1996-97 testified last week in S. District Court that she observed Wamego Police Officer Kerry Dick smoking marijuana once at the base.
Riat said the outcome of the investigation will determine whether or not the sheriff's department revokes Dick's "deputy card" giving the Wamego officer jurisdiction outside the city limits of Wamego in Pott County. Historically, Riat said, Wamego police officers are issued "deputy cards" to assist county officers in law enforcement matters just outside the Wamego city limits.
Wamego City Manager Merl Page said Monday city officials will also review the allegation made against the Wamego police officer.
The arraignment of Gordon Todd Skinner on a charge,of felony theft has been continued to 9 a.m, April 10, in Pottawatomie County District Court,
Skinner's arraignment had been scheduled forThursday, March 6, but was continued when the former owner of the Atlas-E missile base northwest, of Wamego was recalled for testimony in the trial of William Leonard Pickard and Clyde Apperson in U, S. District Court, Topeka.
The Pott County charge of felony theft against Skinner stems from the alleged theft of a stereo speaker system from Audio FX, Sacramento, Calif., prior to the November 6, 2000 LSD bust at the base (see related story this page),