Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.173] The punishment phase of the case consisted of nineteen witnesses testifying in less than an hour. Prosecutors were confident; the facts were so horrific, they would have to do little to secure a death sentence from this jury. They were also concerned about precisely where the new legal boundaries lay in death penalty trials. As of June 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court had not ruled on any state’s new death penalty statute enacted after the 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia. It wasn’t until 1976 that the Court approved the new Texas law in Jurek v. Texas.
First, Craig lead eighteen witnesses through brief testimony on Kleasen’s reputation in the community. All said virtually the same thing, mouthing the legal buzz words that translated into Kleasen’s bad reputation for breaking the law. None went into his or her personal exposure to or opinion of Kleasen unless asked on cross-examination.
For instance, prosecutors called O. B. McKowan, Jr., who lived near the Austin Taxidermy Studio and Kleasen’s stolen camper. He did not know Kleasen but, when asked about his reputation, said, “It’s bad, sir.” There were no questions from the defense. A rancher and Blanco County precinct commissioner, E. “Sonny” Bergman, was next. He testified that he knew Kleasen and that Kleasen had a bad reputation. Again the defense did not question him. Then Earl Dunagan, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent and Littleton’s supervisor, took the stand. Dunagan, a former Garland, Texas, police officer, also testified that he knew Kleasen and again said he had a bad reputation. This time Ganne cross-examined him, but his questions brought out damaging information that the jury had not heard before. Without going into details, Dunagan testified about Kleasen’s earlier firearms violations in New York, saying Kleasen [p.174] had been in mental hospitals and indicted for armed assault. “We talked with our New York office, and they furnished us with information that he was under indictment for an assault to murder in that state and that he had at one time been in a mental institution there,” the former policeman said. In fact, Kleasen was charged with a New York assault, but not with an intent to murder. Ganne tried to recover by asking Dunagan about Texas authorities’ refusal to extradite Kleasen to New York on those charges. Dunagan claimed he knew nothing about that. On redirect, Craig brought out details of Kleasen’s New York problems with ATF. “There were 160- some-odd firearms seized eventually as the result of that investigation, some of which were automatic or machine-gun type weapons which were not registered as required by law,” Dunagan testified.
The State pressed on with Texas Highway patrolmen Michael Pitcock and Leonard Vaughn; Texas State game wardens Robert W. Johnson, Max Hartman (who had arrested Kleasen on the buffalo shooting charge), Larry Brock (who had investigated the buffalo matter), Warren Guthrie, Larry Sodek, Norman Henk (who had come to loath Kleasen in the Fredericksburg jail), Roger Ensley, and Grover Simpson; Johnson City Justice of the Peace Albe E. Mayfield; Fredericksburg police officer Paul Oestreich; Gillespie County deputy sheriff David Nair; twenty-two-year veteran FBI agent Joseph G. Butler; and finally Travis County commissioner Johnny Voudouris, a close neighbor of the taxidermy studio. Only Hartman and Dunagan were briefly cross-examined by Ganne.
Then Smith called psychiatrist Richard Coons as the final prosecution witness. In addition to his University of Texas-Galveston medical degree, Coons’s 1964 law degree from the University of Texas at Austin gave him added credibility with the jury. Coons testified that he first met Kleasen on November 13, 1974, during a competency evaluation. He met with Kleasen five more times in February and March 1975 when he administered a few tests. He also claimed to have consulted with three Springfield, Missouri, psychiatrists who had evaluated Kleasen at the federal facility there. “My opinion is that there is a probability that the defendant would commit acts of violence which [p.175] would endanger society,” he testified. Coons was, in effect, answering the most important special questions before the jury.
The brief remainder of Coons’s testimony concerned the extent the three Springfield psychiatrists agreed with his conclusions. He admitted on cross-examination they did not share his diagnosis. On redirect, Coons said they didn’t discuss future dangerousness in so many words, but “discussion of violence, fear, dangerousness did arise, and they, in fact, shared my opinions.” With that, the State rested its case.
Before proceeding farther, the lawyers and judge huddled without a court reporter. After they broke, Haley turned and spoke to the courtroom. “Would you let the record reflect that we have instructed Judge Blackwell that Robert Kleasen is taking the stand on his own volition and against the advice of all three of his counsel.” Kleasen’s lawyers had entered the punishment phase hoping that even with a guilty verdict there was a possibility some jurors had doubts. A jury may convict someone of capital murder but still be unwilling to award a death sentence—what death penalty lawyers call “residual doubt.”
The jury’s verdict of conviction may well have been reached against a backdrop of such doubt. There was no confession, there were no bodies, some witnesses suggested the victims were still alive, and the evidence was all circumstantial. Pat Ganne, for one, entered the penalty phase reasonably optimistic. He felt the jury might still harbor some residual doubt about guilt, enough to make them uncomfortable about sending his client to the electric chair. The defense felt that Kleasen could do himself nothing but harm by testifying and tried to discourage him. Smith brought years of experience to his cross-examination.
To Ganne, Kleasen was “too arrogant to be coached.” There was no telling what he might say, and no way to get him to appreciate how badly he could come across. No attempt was made to prepare him for his cross-examination because Kleasen had no intention of taking direction from anyone. The reality was that he would sit in the witness box virtually defenseless against Smith’s aggressive approach.
There was more damning evidence the jury had not yet heard, evidence which would only come to light through cross-examination if [p.176] Kleasen testified. Kleasen’s lawyers appreciated this and must have known how self-destructive their client could be. To a man they urged him not to testify. When he insisted, they tried to prepare him for what they knew could be a damaging cross-examination. Kleasen refused to accept any preparation. So now for the first time the jury would hear from the man who had been demonized for the past week. The courtroom was packed with spectators.
Roscoe Haley, whom Kleasen had first approached after firing his initial battery of lawyers, lead him through a brief direct examination. Kleasen prefaced his testimony by saying, “I realize this is the first time I’ve had to speak to the jury.” Asked about his education, Kleasen said he had a 1970 bachelor’s degree in sociology from the State University of New York at Buffalo, had done graduate work there and at Berkeley, and had master’s degrees from the University of Stockholm and the University of Copenhagen. He explained that only a shortage of funds kept him from securing a doctorate at Copenhagen. Haley then asked about his work history. Kleasen said coyly his “work background varied considerably,” that he had worked for “various companies, various lengths and periods of time.” He added, “The last teaching job I had was in the town of Sale [Zahle] in Lebanon and I worked there as a teacher until it was destroyed by an Israeli attack. I was the only survivor.”
Haley asked Kleasen to explain the 1969 buffalo rustling charge. Kleasen insisted it was all legal, that he had a bill of sale authorizing him to shoot the buffalo. Someone else had failed to get the required federal permit for an exotic game hunt, he claimed. Then he complained about being “paraded around in chains and ridiculed” for the entertainment of the game wardens. He said the game officers’ earlier testimonies regarding his bad reputation related to this incident and to one other where he was hunting with a returned Mormon missionary who neglected to tag his kill properly. These, he said, “were the only convictions I’ve ever had.”
Kleasen flatly denied having killed the missionaries, or even seeing them the day they went missing. “I want to say flatly, bluntly that I did not see or kill any human being, including Mr. Darley or Mr. [p.177] Fischer.” He knew them “only very slightly,” he said. Addressing the jury, Kleasen said, “I know you have all thought the thing over and convicted me of murder, and I’ll probably die for it, but I didn’t do it.” The missionaries had never shown up for dinner on October 28, he claimed. “When 4:30, quarter to five came around and they had not shown up, I started my own supper, cooked a short meal and went out dove hunting until dark.” When he returned, he claimed his trailer had been entered. “Nothing was taken but I noticed things had been rearranged. I thought the elders had stopped by or something, but there was no note.”
Haley asked Kleasen to explain his living in a stolen trailer. He simply denied knowing it was stolen when he bought it. Then addressing the question of Kleasen’s possible future dangerousness, Haley asked him if he thought he was a threat to society. “I don’t think so. I haven’t been in the past,” Kleasen said innocently.
As Haley concluded his brief direct examination, Kleasen broke down and cried. “I know that Mr. Smith is waiting with his hatchet to chop me to pieces, and he probably will. I know that everything I’ve said will not make the least little bit of difference as far as the verdict goes. I have no doubts that I will die. But I will die for a crime that I didn’t commit, so help me God,” he told the jury through tears. With that Haley ended his direct examination. Kleasen seemed startled, not yet ready to face Smith. “I’d like to make one more statement if I may. I’d like to make some kind of a statement about the so-called evidence that was found and so forth and so on,” he protested. “All right, I’ll do it on redirect,” Haley said on his way to the defense table.
Now Smith stood, armed with Kleasen’s long history of conflicts with the law and his fabricated life. Smith had sized the man up and figured he didn’t need to do too much damage on his own. Kleasen would destroy himself once Smith started pushing the right buttons in his twisted psyche. First, Kleasen denied having ever been arrested for game violations. Smith asked if he’d been kicked out of Denmark for assaulting a woman. “No,” Kleasen denied, “I overstayed my visa.” How about the New York assault charges, Smith asked. Kleasen launched into a long account of how someone had been shooting at his [p.178] wife and how he had merely come to her defense and disarmed careless hunters. The man was never actually shot, Kleasen claimed, but was injured by stones when Kleasen fired into the ground. The only reason there was trouble was because the victim was “a local boy,” he explained. Then Smith brought up the New York firearms charges. All a misunderstanding, Kleasen claimed; the offending machine guns had been left in his care by an FBI agent.
How about the time he went into a Buffalo hospital emergency room and shot up the place, Smith asked next. Kleasen told his story about having injured his foot while hunting, getting lost in a blizzard for three days, then waking up in a hospital room with no memory of the offending events. He claimed he was never prosecuted. When Smith told him and the jury that he’d been placed in a mental institution as a result, all Kleasen would say was, “Oh, they checked me over, sure.” Kleasen said he couldn’t remember if he’d been held in the hospital for the next year. The jury was wide-eyed. They were hearing all this for the first time.
Smith then asked Kleasen to explain why his Swedish wife, Irene Fredriksson, claimed he’d beaten her. She never made such a claim, he said flatly. She just got scared when she witnessed ATF agents beating him during their raid of his home, and that scared her so much she went back to Europe. Smith asked about Fredriksson’s having seen him naked in a bath tub dressing a deer. Never happened, Kleasen said. Did Kleasen ever break his elderly mother’s leg, Smith asked. No, never.
Smith next turned to Kleasen’s use of false identities. At first Kleasen denied ever using any names other than his own, but when Smith confronted him with the evidence seized from the trailer Kleasen launched into his CIA agent fantasies. He used these names while working for the CIA, he said, and his handlers had provided him with the identities. “When you desire to become a different person, you have to assume a complete identity,” he explained, and that was why he had been provided with birth certificates and drivers’ licenses. “And were you many persons under many circumstances?” Smith asked innocently. “That was part of my job in the agency,” Kleasen said, now [p.179] warming to the part. He explained that the CIA was upset by his defection to the peace movement. “I happened to be trained as a field agent. They cared very much when I left because I had access to certain information which they did not want the general public to know.”
Knowing Kleasen could not resist playing the role, Smith asked him to explain his CIA career. “It half started when I was working for Bell Aircraft in about 1951,” Kleasen began. He would have been eighteen or nineteen. “After I had been under observation, checked out,” he explained. There was a man in the courtroom who would testify to this part of his spy career, he claimed. “Point him out if you don’t mind,” Smith asked. “I can’t see him at the moment, sir,” Kleasen quickly backpedaled. “He was here every day since the trial began.” Continue telling us about after you left the CIA, Smith encouraged.
Kleasen explained he thought he could lie low and continue his education in Buffalo, “but they weren’t satisfied with that. And eventually I was more or less forced to leave the United States. And, of course, I did some work for the various peace organizations with their base in Stockholm, Sweden, sponsored by the Swedish government.” He claimed he traveled between Europe and the United States thirteen or fourteen times during this period. The CIA was always after him. He had to travel under “many different visas.”
Smith brought Kleasen back to Denmark, challenging him with his 1972 deportation. Now Kleasen brought NATO into the conspiracy, claiming the United States got the treaty organization to discredit him in Denmark. But the Danish government knew of Kleasen’s vital role in the peace movement and was sympathetic, so when he was deported they arranged for his escape to Lebanon where he would be beyond the reach of the CIA. The Danish government and the police were in on it. “They had to get rid of me because it made them look rather bad.”
Smith asked about his November arrest for making false statements while buying firearms. Kleasen claimed he’d never really been in a mental institution, that his answers had been truthful. As to the New York assault charge, Kleasen claimed Texas’s refusal to extradite him represented a kind of amnesty.
[p.180] And what about the gun purchased using the name Richard Raadt? “You can order a gun under any name you want as far as I know,” he insisted.
Smith returned to the CIA and Kleasen’s multiple identities. How many names did he use as an agent? “I have no idea. I went under so many. There were so many different passports, so many different countries from time to time that I have no recollection of how many names I have been under.” So why return to the United States if the CIA was after him? “Because I love the United States. The United States is my home.”
Unprompted, Kleasen then launched into a discourse on Southeast Asia. “The war was over with ’Nam. Thank God our troops were pulled out. At least most of them. The official ones were, although the unofficial ones were left. We were out of Cambodia. We were out of Laos. And I was sick to death of the whole thing. And I wanted to come home and I wanted to have some peace and quiet,” he rambled. Smith leaned against counsel’s table and let him talk.
As Kleasen wound down, Smith asked, But didn’t you think buying guns as Robert Kleasen would tip off the CIA? No, there were too many government forms in existence. “The chances of me being run down through that were very slim.” Yet he decided not to teach because he didn’t want the CIA to hear of his whereabouts through his students. Smith didn’t ask Kleasen if his earlier Associated Press interview might not tip off the CIA to his being held in the Travis County jail.
But Kleasen tried to explain the murder charges as a CIA plot. “You see, all your law enforcement agencies work hand in hand together. One scratches the other’s back. I’m sure that the jury and everyone here is aware of that. You’re arrested for a firearms violation and end up in a murder investigation. While the CIA does not like to expose itself in the open, it would have one of its agencies make the arrest for one violation or another,” Kleasen explained. “And a good case of that is the buffalo shooting incident.”
What about the Rambler jack found in his car, Smith asked. I got it in an auto junk yard, Kleasen claimed, then anticipating Smith’s next [p.181] question said he must have spilled his own laundry detergent on it while taking his clothes to the wash. He couldn’t explain how the soap powder also turned up on one of the recovered tires. Asked in which junk yard he found the jack, Kleasen said evasively, “I haven’t the foggiest idea.” He also claimed he had the suspicious bolt cutters to work on cars.
Over an objection from Haley, Smith began to ask about how Kleasen secured and paid his lawyers. Kleasen claimed he didn’t have the money to pay his first group of lawyers and fired them because they didn’t follow his views about the case. Then Smith came to Kleasen’s interview with Associated Press reporter Robert Heard. “I talked to Mr. Heard, yes I did,” Kleasen acknowledged.
Smith next took up the license plates from the missionaries’ car which were recovered from a shack near his trailer. “What moron would take the license plates off the car of a person who could be identified directly to them and put them in a chicken coop twelve feet from their house?” Kleasen asked rhetorically. “I don’t think it’s a very smart person. I think a person would have to be out of their ever-loving mind. What good would two license plates off a stolen car be to anybody except to point towards that person to make him look guilty. … After you find the car and the car supposedly had two dead people in it, you wouldn’t be running around with their license plates because any law enforcement agency would certainly be aware of that number. You certainly wouldn’t take them home with you,” he went on.
What about the five tires also found near your trailer? “I was in jail when all that stuff was found. It was pretty well strewn around the landscape,” he said, but went on to imply that it was planted there by police. “Practically every law enforcement agency in the United States was represented and prowling around. We have people going through these places and not seeing these things, and then suddenly they appear. That’s very strange to me.”
The questioning then drifted back to October 28 and the time when Kleasen claimed to have returned from his dove hunt to find that his trailer had been entered. “I saw that someone had entered the trailer and things were not in the order that they were,” Kleasen said. He [p.182] didn’t notice the victim’s missionary materials or their watches, which he claimed were plants. “I didn’t see anything missing. I just noticed that somebody had entered and somebody had left and I don’t know who. This had happened before.” He claimed “small things” had been stolen previously.
The D.A. returned to how Kleasen had acquired the trailer. He claimed to have bought it from a mysterious “Mr. Adams,” a CIA acquaintance whom he knew “slightly” and who “was on his way to Cambodia last time I knew.” He gave Adams $1,200 down and was to pay the remainder “bit by bit.” Kleasen wouldn’t get title to the trailer until he had paid for it in full. “I did not have any idea the trailer was stolen.” How could you run into a CIA man when you were hiding from the CIA? “I maintained certain contacts here and there,” Kleasen said, now completely consumed by his spy persona. “This fellow wanted to get out and he looked me up more than I looked him up. He had had enough. He was supposed to be part of Operation Phoenix which was an extermination program of the United States government against people not considered to be reliable, who were not considered pro United States, pro Saigon, pro puppet government. And Adams was sent over to head up one of those assassination teams. He wanted out of the CIA. He wanted to know what connections I had. He wanted to know if I could give him a contact. He wanted to disappear.” Smith couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Craig was so pleased he had to conceal his face at counsel’s table.
“I assume the trailer had Oklahoma tags because Adams was living there at the time.” Kleasen trusted Adams because they had worked together on at least two CIA missions. They didn’t haggle over the price, Adams wanted to escape and Kleasen “wanted to get out of the taxidermy studio and out of the stinking smell.” He’d been living in an unused office of the business at the time.
Next Smith asked about the human tissue found on the band saw. “I doubt very much if you could cut a human head on that saw,” Kleasen responded dismissively as he gestured toward the band saw which still stood before the jury. “I don’t know what advantage it would be to cut a human head on it anyway.” He talked about how the saw was used in [p.183] the taxidermy business. “I don’t know if those are animal hairs, human hairs or any other kind of hairs. It’s the normal practice to saw bones, tissue, skin, cartilage and so forth on that saw.” Nor would he let himself be goaded into saying the CIA had planted the evidence.
At this point the court recessed for lunch. Smith and Craig could hardly believe their good fortune: Kleasen was destroying himself on the stand with his fantasies and patently unbelievable answers. Smith could hardly wait for the recess to be over. There was gloom among the defense lawyers.
The jury had barely settled in for the afternoon session when Smith went right for Kleasen’s John T. Williamson identity. Kleasen would only admit that he may have used the alias in Denmark. After being shown an envelope addressed to him as Williamson, he acknowledged using it, adding, “I used several other names too.” He couldn’t remember if he’d used it before leaving the CIA in 1965. He also denied writing the Williamson deer poaching manuscript found by police in his trailer.
Smith shifted the questioning to Kleasen’s return to Texas in late 1972. The witness denied ever telling anyone he was a student at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. Smith confronted him with his post office box application where he reported being a student there. Now Kleasen claimed he had planned to enroll there, “but I never completed it.” Smith further pointed out that Kleasen had listed the former South Lamar Street location of the Austin Taxidermy Studio as his home. “At the time I was in transit,” Kleasen replied.
Next Smith asked about Jack Paris’s testimony. Kleasen claimed Paris was mistaken, he’d never said he’d killed anyone, including Che Guevara. “I told Mr. Paris that while I was in South America I was asked to secure proof of his death. My superiors told me that I should bring back his fingers because they had records of Che Guevara’s fingerprints. I did not take the fingers. I was not there when they were taken. They were brought to me in a bottle and I transported them back to the United States.”
Asked if Paris had misunderstood Kleasen’s story, he replied “Deliberately or otherwise, yes, sir.”
[p.184] “And he’s just like all the Mormons, as far as you’re concerned?”
“I don’t categorize people as all anything,” Kleasen snapped.
“Well, you had a general animosity toward the Mormon church, did you not?”
“No, I didn’t. I never had an animosity toward the Mormon church. I am a Mormon today,” Kleasen shot back. “There were some people I liked better than others.” Given the opportunity to explain himself, Kleasen went on: “I didn’t have any trouble with the fact that the church, when I was in desperate need and had no family, that they could have done more than they did.” He promised to produce the letter from Bishop Bruce Smith attesting to his being “a member in good standing.” He denied having any enemies in the church: “I have no brothers and sisters, the church is my family.” He claimed extensive correspondence with church leaders, including Apostle and later President Howard W. Hunter. Unknowingly, Kleasen had walked right into a trap set for him by Smith.
“Do you know a person by the name of Blair Bell who lives in San Antonio?” Bell was the Mormon missionary who had corresponded with Kleasen and apparently asked the two murder victims to fellowship him.
“Well, he lived in many places. He was an elder and a teacher. He taught me and I knew him very well,” Kleasen said. “I carried out, I would say, a weekly correspondence that you’re probably aware of because I guess you’ve got every paper that I’ve got.” He had to have some idea of what was coming.
Smith then had four Kleasen letters to Bell marked as State’s Exhibits 71, 72, 73, and 74. Shown the letters, Kleasen reluctantly acknowledged they were his.
Without making further use of the correspondence, Smith ended his questioning. Now it was Haley’s turn to try to repair some of the damage. He began by asking Kleasen to explain the September 30, 1971, ATF raid on his Buffalo home.
He was outside on a stepladder painting the house, Kleasen said, when “one of them pointed a submachine gun at me and told me to get off the ladder and handcuffed me behind my back. They threw me to [p.185] the ground, roughly searched me, kicked me in the ribs, then dragged me up the stairs.” Agents cursed and insulted him. His young Swedish wife witnessed all this. “She couldn’t understand this type of treatment. She had never seen anything like this.” His elderly mother also saw this “and she went completely to pieces.”
Haley then asked Kleasen about his Lebanon period. He claimed the American Embassy treated him badly in spite of the fact he had just barely escaped with his life after Israel had bombed the school where he was teaching. He implied he’d also been a PLO captive for some time. After a week of recovery, the embassy returned him to the United States where, he claimed, the buffalo shooting charges were almost immediately dropped on him.
Asked to account for the New York assault charge, Kleasen explained it in terms of local hostility towards Mormons like himself. “My farm was within about two miles of the Hill Cumorah, and as Mormons well know, it is not exactly friendly territory for us.” He went on to explain how the shooting victim was hunting illegally on the farm and he was merely protecting everyone from their stray bullets. He claimed the two men would not give up their weapons when he confronted them. “I did the only logical thing that I could think of doing, and that was to fire at the roadbed next to his feet showering him with rocks and debris. Then he dropped the pistol.” This was completely contrary to the established facts of the incident. When New York then tried to extradite him from Texas, an investigation was undertaken. “The State of Texas found that in no way could I receive a fair trial and that they would not extradite me under any circumstances to the State of New York,” he claimed. “I’m sure Secretary of State Mark White has the transcripts of all that.”
Haley turned to Kleasen’s four bombastic letters to Elder Bell. They were written in August and September 1974, just weeks before the murders. The writings were filled with violent language directed toward individual Mormons and self-righteous posturing on the part of Kleasen. Knowing the jury would soon see them, Haley had his client read the letters and add a commentary as to what he really meant. He dismissed the more violent language as literary flourish, adding, [p.186] “The language is a little rough, but that’s me.”
In the August 17 letter, Kleasen had written of local Mormon leaders who questioned him about his conduct in Denmark: “I want their heads.” Given the band saw evidence the jury had just heard, the phrase was chilling, but Kleasen dismissed it: “I’m not speaking literally. I mean I want to get this matter straightened out.” The courtroom rustled with disbelieving reaction.
When he wrote in his September 7 letter, “I’m going in for the kill,” he really meant: “I’m going for a lawyer. I’m going all the way this time. I’m through playing with this man,” referring to Bishop Frank McCullough. No one in the jury box looked convinced.
After going through the individual letters and sensing Kleasen’s explanations had not moved anyone on the jury, Haley asked him to explain the exchange with Bell. “It was a fight to stay within the Mormon church,” he said. “I was having trouble in the ward that I was in and I wanted to transfer to another. I was having trouble getting my property back after it was taken from my trailer by Mormons when I was in jail. No one came out. No one visited. No home teachers showed up. In the Mormon church we have what we call a once a month Family Home Evening where we get together, and if you don’t have a family generally there’s some kind of arrangement where you have a group to meet with.” He complained that none of these activities happened for him.
With that Haley sat down and Smith had one last crack at Kleasen. It was mercifully brief, with Kleasen saying the missionary materials found in his trailer would not have been of any value to him personally. “It has no intrinsic value to anyone who is Mormon and has already gone through the instruction and read the Book of Mormon.” Then Smith turned him loose. At this point, the defense rested. Kleasen had been on the stand for nearly four hours.
The prosecution was not yet ready to let go and brought Lem Rathbone back as a brief rebuttal witness on Kleasen receiving mail as Williamson and on the use of the band saw. This time the defense did not cross-examine him. That ended the testimony.
The jury was read their brief instructions and set out the special [p.187] questions they would be required to answer. Then Charlie Craig stood up to argue for the prosecution. “The people of this state, the people sitting in the jury box have got rights to be protected,” he began, telling them those rights would only be protected with a death verdict. “He’s a professional poacher,” Craig said of Kleasen, “That’s all he does.” He then read from Kleasen’s violent letters to Bell. “You know how deliberate he was—he put it on paper,” he noted in reference to the deliberateness special question. There’s no doubt John T. Williamson is Robert Kleasen. “Over two thousand deer he’s slaughtered,” Craig said, holding up the poaching manuscript. “Killing means nothing to the man. It means nothing.”
Then the young prosecutor turned to Kleasen’s future dangerousness. “It is established very clearly that he lives by criminal acts of violence. About all we can do to predict the future is look at the past, and this defendant has in the past done nothing but commit criminal acts of violence.”
At this point Craig turned the floor over to the defense. Pat Ganne, hardly a year out of law school, was the only lawyer to plead for Kleasen’s life. He began by telling the jury how as a child he was scared by memories of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg walking to the electric chair. “It scared me then. It scares me now. In spite of the fact that you found Mr. Kleasen did a horrible thing, are we, as human beings, going to reduce ourselves to his level? Are we that inhuman ourselves? What has been done has been done. Nothing can change that. Are we now going to lower ourselves to Mr. Kleasen’s level?” He reminded jurors that being a poacher did not make Kleasen a threat to society. “Are we to crush whatever life he has out of him? He acts peculiar. You heard him. I have no doubt that Mr. Kleasen believes everything that he told you. Are we going to snuff the life out of him? Are we going to kill him? I hate to be so brutal with you, but that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about legally killing another person. It’s a hard thing to talk about. It’s a hard thing to consider. But morally, can you do it? Can you look Mr. Kleasen in the eye and tell him: You are worthless. You’re never going to amount to anything ever. Nothing you can do, nothing anybody can do for you will ever [p.188] amount to anything. You are to die now. Can we right this wrong by killing another man?” Ganne argued that life in prison would be worse than death: “Is there a fate worse than death? There probably is when a person can no longer see the sun; can no longer see the grass; when a person is locked up like a dog for the rest of his life.”
The last to argue to the jury was Smith and he went straight to Ganne’s argument. “We have been challenged by Mr. Ganne on the idea that we don’t have the moral right to do this. You hear people say all the time: I don’t believe in capital punishment. But everybody does. There is not a person that you can think of that when you get right down to it doesn’t believe in capital punishment. In Texas we have a frontier tradition of exercising our right to self-defense. Everybody you can think of probably believes in the right to self-defense, and that’s what we’re talking about today. The right of the community to exercise a basic right of self defense against a domestic enemy that is threatening society. It’s just that basic.” Kleasen can’t be deterred, Smith argued. “He’s been in mental hospitals, and they didn’t keep him. He’s been in jails, and they didn’t keep him.” He was beyond redemption.
Smith then attacked Kleasen’s performance on the witness stand. “Do you remember the little man in the Little Abner [sic] comic strip? He walks around under the dark cloud and always has the hard luck. That’s what Bob Kleasen acts like. Everybody’s down on him. Everybody’s been against him. He has so much hostility that you can feel it if you’re ten feet away. He has never been treated properly by the authorities in the United States, by the authorities in Denmark, by the CIA, by NATO, by people in the Mormon church, and I wonder what he thinks about the treatment he got yesterday from your verdict.” The jury then retired to a private jury room. Few people left, anticipating a quick verdict.
Jill Darley, who had sat through the whole trial, could no longer contain herself. She walked up to the defense table where only a low wall, “the bar,” separated her from Kleasen. “Why did you kill my son?” she demanded.
“I didn’t kill your son,” Kleasen insisted.
[p.189] The seven women and five men of the jury were out only twenty-one minutes before returning their verdict: death. His testimony had destroyed whatever chance he had for a life sentence. He’d scared them to death.
Smith was pleased. It was the first death sentence in Travis County in five years. He later told reporters, “The verdict was in the interest of justice.” Asked if he was willing to pull the switch to the electric chair himself, he said, “I wouldn’t ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t do myself.”
Kleasen was brought back to the 167th District Court for formal sentencing at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, June 4, 1975. Before court began, he chastised Ganne for “pleading” for his life during the previous day’s closing arguments. “If you’re going to die, you don’t die like a dog,” he scolded the young lawyer.
When Judge Blackwell appeared on the bench, Kleasen was more subdued. He stood up from the defense table and advanced to the judge’s bench. He then rested his hands on the ornate wooden bench, surrounded by his three attorneys. Judge Blackwell asked Kleasen if he had anything to say before sentence was passed. “Yes sir, I’m innocent,” he said quietly. “I did not kill Mark Fischer and I did not kill Gary Darley. I truly and honestly say this, so help me God.”
Under Texas law, Judge Blackwell could not have sentenced Kleasen to life even if he had wanted to. “[I]t is therefore the order of this Court that the defendant is sentenced to death” were among the last things Kleasen heard in court that day. He was then taken away by Travis County deputy sheriffs. A pack of reporters stopped them in the hall to interview the condemned man. “All I can say is, I’m innocent, I’ve been convicted of a crime I didn’t do,” he said. Asked if he had any hope for an appeal, he answered, “Yes sir, I think God will help us.” With that Kleasen was immediately driven the 200 miles to death row at Huntsville.
About six weeks after the verdict, Haley sheepishly approached Judge Blackwell with a “Motion To Be Appointed Counsel.” Ganne and Bays also signed the motion. When Haley had agreed to represent Kleasen, he believed his client’s representations about having plenty [p.190] of money to pay his attorney fees. He now told Blackwell in his motion, “During the course of the trial, and with no lack of diligence and care or neglect on the part of Movant, it became known that the defendant had no such assets of any kind, and that the defendant was penniless and in destitute straits.” Blackwell appointed the three luckless lawyers as Kleasen’s representation and authorized a modest fee. A single check was issued to Haley. Ganne and Bays were concerned they might not get their fair share, so they accompanied Haley to a bank where they divided up the cash. After that, Haley was out of the case; Ganne and Bays kept looking for a way for their client to avoid execution.