ST. PETER — A psychologist treating the 9-year-old boy who was permanently removed from the rural North Mankato home of Russell and Mona Hauer, said that having the boy testify in court with the Hauers present would be damaging to the boy and he would likely be so agitated he'd be unable to provide testimony.
"I don't believe he would be able to function (as a witness)," said Twin Cities child psychologist Shawn Bulgatz during a hearing Friday.
The Hauers lost their parental rights for the boy during a civil trial, but both are facing felony charges of child neglect, child endangerment and malicious punishment of a child for allegedly physically abusing and nearly starving the boy. They will have separate trials in late October.
Nicollet County Attorney Michelle Zehnder Fischer is asking District Court Judge Allison Krehbiel to allow the boy to testify via video camera during the felony trials so he does not have to face the Hauers. During a hearing on that topic Friday, Fischer said the boy should be allowed to testify from another room in the courthouse with the judge and attorneys with him, while the jury and the Hauers watched from the courtroom. Or, Fischer said, the boy could testify before the jury with the Hauers observing from another room.
But Chris Rosengren, attorney for the Hauers, argued that the boy should testify in court with the Hauers present "based on my clients' rights to confront their accuser."
Rosengren said it's critical for the jury to hear directly from him because he never testified during the civil trial with testimony instead coming from social workers and others "who had an agenda."
Rosengren said that while it might be difficult, the boy should be able to handle testifying in court before the Hauers. "He's 9. He's not 5, he's not 3. He's not describing some horrific sexual acts."
But Bulgatz, who's been treating the boy for several months, said the boy would be psychologically damaged and set back in his recovery if he had to face the Hauers.
Bulgatz said that during a session, Bulgatz told the boy he may have to testify at the trial in front of the Hauers. His reaction was severe, Bulgatz said, with the boy "shutting down" and pulling his feet to his chest in the fetal position and crawling behind his foster and pre-adoptive mom. He said the reaction was similar when he brought it up at another session.
Bulgatz said the boy often recounts fears of the Hauers and abuse he suffered from them, including being paddled with a board while naked and being forced to bend over and hold his ankles. He also told Bulgatz that he was often locked out of the house in the cold for long periods of time as punishment and forced to sleep in a sled in the basement.
The judge will make a ruling soon on whether the boy must testify before the Hauers or through a video camera setup.
While a judge in April permanently removed the boy from the Hauer home, three other children remain in their care — one their biological child and two who are siblings to the boy who was removed and who were all adopted by the Hauers. In proceedings separate from the criminal case, Fischer is seeking to have all the children removed from the home.
The Hauers denied abusing the child during testimony at the parental rights trial. They said he had mental and physical problems because his real mother was using drugs while pregnant with him. That is what caused the problems with feeding him and that also made him difficult to discipline, they said. Several people who knew the family from their Mankato church testified on their behalf.