Off Beat

The Wheels of Justice

WHEN WE LAST checked in with Katie McNichols, the 23-year-old Minneapolis resident was a tad irked that the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office had reinstated misdemeanor charges against her for unlawful assembly in connection with protests at the July 2000 conference of the International Society for Animal Genetics. McNichols, who says she only attended a protest to snap a few photos, was one of a dozen people who had their cases thrown out in November, only to be subsequently recharged (see the January 10 City Beat story "Try, Try Again"). Nine months later McNichols's case, and 40 similar ones, still have not been resolved. In fact, McNichols complains, precious little has happened in the cases at all since January. In part the hang-up resulted from a dispute over whether the city is required to disclose the identities of undercover police officers who infiltrated the protest and provide photographs of those officers in action. Attorneys for the defendants contend that the evidence could prove their clients' innocence. Hennepin County District Court Judge Richard Hopper initially green-lighted the disclosure but earlier this month, after the city appealed and an appellate court sent him back to reconsider, Hopper did an about-face. The next step for the defendants is a November 19 court date, when a trial date will be set. McNichols says she just wants a resolution, regardless of the outcome. "They wanted to wear people down," she posits. "I didn't do anything wrong. I'm not going to give them any more of my time." Especially now, she says, when terrorism and war have increased the levels of both security and paranoia in the United States, she's worried that having an outstanding charge will cause her ever more grief: "I don't know if I'm going to have trouble getting on an airplane. Or getting a job." In light of current events, it might seem odd that the city is still pursuing what appear to be relatively minor offenses. But Michael Hess, the assistant city attorney who's prosecuting the cases, objects to the notion that this matter is unimportant. "Why is it important to prosecute a misdemeanor DUI or disorderly conduct? It's a violation of the law," he asserts. "I'm a strong proponent of the First Amendment, but you have to exercise those rights responsibly." Attorney Jordan Kushner, who represents four of the defendants (though not McNichols), believes these troubled times may actually give him an advantage. "I don't think that they really have a case against most of these people," Kushner says. "Now people understand what a real threat to people's safety is. I think this'll look all the more frivolous compared to what's going on. Around the country we've got suicide bombers, bioterrorism, people who fear for their lives. Here you've got this group of young people whose crime is marching through the streets to express a political expression."

Full Circle

THIS PAPER'S JULY 22, 1998 cover story "Playing With Fire" chronicled the investigation into a 1994 south Minneapolis apartment fire that nearly killed a five-year-old girl named Cissy Cannon and severely injured her eight-year-old friend. The probe, led by Minneapolis police arson investigator Sgt. Sean McKenna, resulted in the conviction of Douglas Hodgeman (
publicviewer/Inmate.asp?OID=199673), who was charged after his older brother Michael confessed he'd been involved in setting the blaze and fingered Douglas in exchange for immunity. Back in January of this year, Off Beat revisited the story after Douglas Hodgeman was charged with second-degree murder in connection with another south Minneapolis fire, a 1995 blaze that killed 59-year-old Donna Blanchard. Late last month Douglas Hodgeman pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree unintentional murder in that case. The plea calls for the 28-year-old Hodgeman to receive an additional 15-year sentence, with 10 of those years to be served concurrently with his existing prison term. In exchange, Hodgeman has agreed to testify against--yep, you guessed it--his big brother. Michael Hodgeman's trial is set to begin this Thursday, October 25.

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