Evil Among Us
by Ken Driggs
[p.210] With the CCA’s reversal of Kleasen’s conviction, the U.S. Attorney initiated prosecution for his 1968 federal Firearms Act violations. A month before the Travis County district attorney’s Motion for Rehearing was denied in the Court of Criminal Appeals, a federal bench warrant was issued with a $100,000 bond. In the meantime, New York had also asked to prosecute him on the 1971 assault charge.
The Texas feds charged Kleasen with purchasing three firearms in Austin and San Antonio in June and August 1974. Anyone who purchased a firearm was required to fill out a form—with “yes” or “no” answers—attesting to the fact that he or she was not under indictment for or previously convicted of a felony, was not a fugitive, nor had ever been committed to a mental hospital. It was illegal for persons to possess a firearm under these circumstance. Kleasen answered “no” to each in spite of bold type on the form warning that “an untruthful answer may subject you to criminal prosecution.” In at least one instance, Kleasen used a fake Texas driver’s license to purchase a .22 Walther Hornet rifle in San Antonio using the name Richard Raadt.
Finally Kleasen had a lawyer whose counsel he was willing to follow. Teague was appointed on January 20, 1978, to represent the indigent Kleasen in U.S. District Court. Teague was paid $20 an hour for out of court work, and $30 an hour for courtroom time. The lawyer entered a not guilty plea to all six counts. While awaiting trial, the prisoner was held in the Bastrop County Jail just east of Austin.
U.S. district judge Jack Roberts looked and sounded like state district judge Blackwell. Roberts was a 1931 graduate of the University of Texas law school who had earlier been both a state prosecutor and state district judge. He was appointed to the federal bench [p.211] in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson. The federal appointment realized his greatest ambition. Roberts was from a family of lawyers and regarded it as the most honorable profession. Attorneys who practiced before him did not regard him as a legal scholar—“Not a bookworm,” one said—but he knew the law and loved to preside over trials.
While being held in Bastrop, Kleasen again encountered Pentecostals ministering to inmates, one of them, an Austin cook named Mark Finger, with whom he would correspond for many years. Rev. Kenneth Phillips of the World of Pentecost Church also came to know Kleasen. Many regarded Kleasen as an intelligent man who sincerely embraced their religious beliefs. It is unclear if Kleasen ever formally became a member of the church, but many people approached him as one.
With the murder charges disposed of, Teague tried to get Kleasen released for the first time in three and a half years. His Motion for Release on Personal Recognizance Bond urged that the government was not acting in good faith. Kleasen wasn’t going anywhere should he be released, Teague wrote the court.
At a February 9, 1978, hearing, Teague called the recent indictment on the firearms charges nothing but a “harassment measure” by the government. The U.S. attorney had dismissed the original charges in 1975 following his conviction for capital murder, Kleasen complained, and only revived them when his conviction was ruled to have been improper.
In his written response, San Antonio assistant U.S. attorney Jeremiah Handy insisted he was acting in good faith and that Kleasen had never been pressed for trial on the charges. He argued the defendant had a proven record as a flight risk, had no ties to the community, and that in view of his love of firearms he should be considered dangerous. Finally, he urged the court to consider Kleasen’s earlier Travis County murder conviction as evidence of his character, pointing out that the reversal was not based on an insufficiency of the evidence but rather on the search and seizure issue.
Judge Roberts refused to release Kleasen on his own recognizance. If he wanted out, he would have to come up with a $20,000 bond. Given Kleasen’s financial situation, it might as well have been a [p.212] million dollars. For his part, Kleasen wearily complained to Roberts, “I am very, very sick and need a doctor very badly. I suffered very, very much on death row, suffered from malnutrition.”
Mindful of his past history, Judge Roberts just before trial ordered that Kleasen again be examined by a psychiatrist on his competence to stand trial. Dr. Coons was brought back to see the defendant. Kleasen remembered full well Coons’s earlier testimony, and the encounter was icy—“Mr. Kleasen recognized me immediately and conveyed to the Marshal that he refused to speak with me”—but the psychiatrist had no doubt of Kleasen’s competence. The doctor’s March 24 letter to the court noted, “Though he refused to answer my questions, I was able to observe his conversation with the U.S. Marshal.” The letter sets out information on this and past mental status exams of Kleasen and concluded: “He is presently competent to stand trial in that he is able to understand the proceedings against him and to properly assist in his own defense.” Kleasen’s mental competence would not resurface in any court.
It took one day on March 27, 1978, to select an eight-woman, four-man federal jury from a pool of 104. Surprisingly, few said they recalled any publicity about Kleasen or knew who he was.
Teague filed another Motion to Suppress, again alleging that the November 5, 1974, search of the trailer was unlawful in that the warrant was issued without probable cause. Once again he challenged the sufficiency of Littleton’s accompanying affidavit. Teague hoped to dispose of the federal charges on the same grounds as the murder charges. The motion was heard right after the jury was selected on March 27, 1978. This time prosecutors were ready.
Where the record in support of the search warrant in the murder trial emphasized the stolen character of the trailer, here the focus was on the probable cause investigators had developed in support of the warrant. On direct examination, Handy lead ATF agent Dale Littleton through a lengthy description of his role in the investigation and how several pieces of reliable information came together to establish Kleasen’s illegal gun purchases. Littleton told Judge Roberts how local ATF officers routinely established files on suspicious gun pos-[p.213]sessions and purchases with information they secured from local law enforcement. They had one on Kleasen. By October 1973 they had a list of five firearms he possessed from various encounters with game officers.
When Kleasen came to their attention again as a result of the missing missionaries, Littleton began tracing the guns Kleasen reportedly had. He explained ATF’s going through the Washington, D.C., based National Tracing Center. Using the description and serial numbers from the gun they began with, the manufacturer tracked the gun to the retailer, and they then located the sales records. Part of these records were the required disclosure forms where Kleasen indicated he was not a fugitive and had no psychiatric history.
Within twenty-four hours, the ATF had confirmed his purchasing the Browning .22 rifle on August 11, 1973, from McBride’s Gun Shop in Austin. Having already verified Kleasen’s being a New York fugitive, they now had probable cause for the search warrant and went to U.S. magistrate-judge Phil Sanders for it. Littleton emphasized that without the search warrant they would not have searched Kleasen’s trailer that day. The next day, after Kleasen’s arrest, Littleton got verification on the second gun purchase, a Colt Trooper .357 magnum pistol bought on June 27, 1973, from an Austin Montgomery-Ward’s.
Sometime after Kleasen’s arrest, the ATF investigation connected Kleasen with a San Antonio gun purchase under the alias Richard Raadt. They probably saw the Raadt identity papers in Kleasen’s trailer and started searching that name as well. After securing the forms the purchaser filled out, they had been able to verify through handwriting experts that it was Kleasen who went to Don’s Gun Sales at 3329 Fredrickson Road on August 25, 1973. He bought a Walther .22 Hornet rifle with a Texas driver’s license under the name Raadt. Littleton also related sketchy information about Kleasen’s 1971 run-in with the ATF in Buffalo.
The ATF officer then described the November 4, 1974, search of Kleasen’s trailer, and his arrest in Burnet with more guns within easy reach in his car, including the Hornet .22 he purchased as Richard Raadt.
[p.214] Teague vigorously cross-examined Littleton but could not budge him. Judge Roberts denied the Motion to Suppress with little comment. All the evidence collected in the trailer search could go to the jury.
At this point the jury was brought to the courtroom and the actual trial began. Prosecutors then methodically presented their case, leaving Kleasen and Teague no room to squirm. The government presented the records custodians from the three gun shops, introducing the falsified forms through them. None had an independent recollection of the sales, they merely recited what the paperwork showed. Another witness traced the guns from the manufacturers to Texas wholesalers, establishing that they had traveled through interstate commerce. Then came Ralph DeGelleke, clerk of the Wayne County, New York, Court where the assault charges were still pending. He testified that the 1971 charge was still outstanding.
New York State trooper Ernest Sanett testified next, reviewing his investigation of the case and arrest of Kleasen. He described the offense as a class D felony carrying a maximum sentence of seven years under New York law. Sanett made it clear to the jury that Kleasen had not surrendered himself as he would often claim—“It wasn’t a surrender situation, no sir”—and that he jumped bail.
On cross-examination Sanett verified that Texas governor Dolph Brisco had refused to extradite Kleasen to New York in 1973. He made it clear that New York still wanted to prosecute Kleasen and was again seeking to extradite him to Wayne County.
Then Agent Littleton returned to the stand to repeat a small part of his testimony from the suppression hearing. He explained the ATF Form 57-a, the personal history form he had Kleasen fill out a day or two after his arrest. He was followed by Phillip White, an ATF handwriting expert, who matched the known samples of Kleasen’s writing with that on the forms completed at the three firearms purchases, including those as Raadt. With that, the government rested.
The defense then rested without putting on any testimony. Kleasen’s Motion for a Directed Verdict of not guilty was denied. After a short break, both sides gave closing arguments.
[p.215] Teague told the jury that none of the circumstantial evidence had been proven. The forms were a mere formality, he argued, which sales people often filled out for the customers and which no one paid much attention to. There was no intent to deceive, he said, because Kleasen had a good faith belief that his New York charges were no longer outstanding after Texas refused to return him for trial. “Knowingly” was the key word, Teague emphasized.
Curiously, Teague never addressed the gun purchased as Raadt or Kleasen’s psychiatric hospitalization. There really wasn’t a defense that could be offered to explain away the fake driver’s license.
The jury was not taken in. After hearing instructions, the panel took about two hours to convict Kleasen of all six counts.
A disappointed Teague spoke with reporters after the verdict. “I sort of anticipated something along these lines,” he said. “There will be an appeal, hopefully on several points.”
Roberts pronounced his sentence on April 28, 1978. First, however, Kleasen read the court a lengthy written statement. His lawyer, no doubt mindful of Kleasen’s disastrous testimony in the capital murder trial, had insisted that he write out his remarks. Kleasen complained that he was “not permitted to speak during this trial.” “I want to say a word or two about my life,” he began. Kleasen then launched into a rambling recital of imaginary academic accomplishments, professed his complete innocence of the murders, and claimed he had never read the federal forms which had resulted in this prosecution. He denounced “the hoax of the capital murder case, which was unanimously overturned.” Darley and Fischer “are no doubt alive today,” he told Roberts. “I have no reason to believe that they are dead at all, and no one can prove they are dead.” He complained bitterly about the “sensationalism or the trash written in the press.”
Unconvinced, Roberts sentenced Kleasen to a total of nine years in prison without commenting on the defendant’s speech. He handed out two and three years on each count, some running consecutively, some concurrently. Kleasen did not get any credit for the time he had been in prison on the capital murder charges. Still, county prosecutors were disappointed in what they regarded as a light sentence. They [p.216] thought Kleasen should have received as much time as Roberts could throw at him. Outside the courthouse, Teague told reporters his client was “disappointed, but he’s in good spirits.”
Kleasen appealed his conviction to the federal Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, with Teague again at his side. This time the conviction was affirmed without an opinion on May 8, 1979. By not publishing anything, the Fifth Circuit avoided having to explain the conflict with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision on substantially the same facts.
Kleasen served some of his federal sentence at the same Springfield, Missouri, psychiatric facility which had evaluated him before the 1975 murder trial. He was moved to several federal institutions around the country before facing his New York charges.
In April 1979, Kleasen was forwarded to New York state where he was finally tried on his eight-year-old Wayne County assault charges. On April 16 he made an initial appearance before Judge Harold Stiles. Ron Valentine, the local public defender, was appointed; Kleasen objected. A prominent local criminal lawyer, Robert Zecher of Sodus, was later appointed as a special public defender. The case was prosecuted by district attorney Carmen Parenti.
Lawyers took four hours to pick a twelve-women jury in Lyons, New York, on June 4, 1979. During two days of testimony, jurors heard William DuBois again recount how Kleasen shot him in the foot eight years earlier. The jury convicted Kleasen of second-degree assault.
Kleasen’s old nemesis, probation officer David Williams, was there to update the 1972 presentence investigation. He interviewed Kleasen in the Wayne County Jail a week after the jury verdict. Williams heard the story about Kleasen’s travels in Europe, his academic accomplishments in Sweden and Denmark, and his teaching school for three months in Lebanon before being bombed out by Israelis. Kleasen neglected to mention his Danish assault conviction and expulsion from the country, but Williams was fully aware of those events. Kleasen also claimed his third wife, Irene Fredriksson, had been killed in a Swedish auto accident in 1977.
[p.217] In his report to Judge Stiles, Williams summarized the last few years of Kleasen’s extraordinary life. He noted that New York had tried to extradite Kleasen on the charges earlier. “However, on June 5, 1974, Governor of the State of Texas blatantly refused extradition on the spurious basis that Kleasen would not receive fair treatment in the State of New York.”
Williams concluded by setting out Kleasen’s future plans. “When he completes his sentences he plans to make his home in the Corpus Christi, Texas, area. Supposedly, he met a fellow on death row in Huntsville, Texas, and has corresponded with the man’s elderly mother, Juanita Bird. He claimed that he has shipped some of his belongings to her for safekeeping. He eventually hopes to be able to teach college level courses.” Kleasen was probably talking about Jerry Joe Bird, Texas death row inmate #512 who was executed on June 18, 1991.
Williams’s report closed by recommending a maximum sentence. “We again emphasize that Kleasen has continued to exhibit erratic and irrational behavior, which the Federal authorities are attempting to modify with drug therapy. However, we believe Kleasen to still be a very dangerous individual who has not as yet reached a criminal menopause.”
On June 29, 1979, Judge Stiles sentenced Kleasen to four to seven years in prison to run consecutively with what remained of his federal sentence. Kleasen appealed and again lost. At least now his prosecutions had come to an end.