Suspects in May 25 Bemidji burning cross incident appear in court; charged with felonies
BEMIDJI - A defense attorney on Friday called the recent cross-burning incident an offensive "juvenile prank" while the prosecuting attorney called it a "crime of hatred and intolerance."
Two Bemidji men were arraigned Friday in Beltrami County District Court for their alleged roles in the May 25 cross-burning in Northern Township.
Derek Daniel Barnes, 20, was charged with felony stalking/harassment while Ryan Fairbanks Andree, 19, was charged with felony aiding and abetting stalking/harassment.
If convicted, Barnes faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison with a $10,000 fine. It wasn't immediately clear what the maximum penalty is for the charge Andree faces.
Both appeared separately in court before Beltrami County District Judge John Melbye.
According to the criminal complaints:
Barnes constructed the 8-foot-tall cross while Andree was present. Barnes told Andree that he intended to use the cross to scare a black woman at a residence on the 15200 block of Bug Turtle Drive in Northern Township.
Barnes then drew swastikas on the cross and wrote racial epithets and threats on it, according to the complaints.
Barnes, with assistance from Andree and another person, placed the cross in Barnes' vehicle and then Barnes and Andree drove to the residence, where Barnes removed the cross and propped it against a tree in the yard.
Barnes placed accelerants on the cross while Andree attempted to videotape it on his cell phone.
Barnes then lit the cross, got back in the car and he and Andree fled the scene, according to the complaint.
The intended target was not home, but a woman who was home ran out and doused the flames with water from a garden hose.
The woman is white. Her two adult daughters are mixed-race with a black father.
Beltrami County assistant attorney Dave Frank told the court Friday that it frequently has dealt with crimes committed in anger but Barnes was accused of committing a crime "based on hatred and intolerance."
"We're obviously concerned about public safety," Frank said, calling the cross-burning a "particularly disturbing act."
Barnes currently is on supervised probation for convictions of indecent exposure and third-degree burglary. He also is on unsupervised probation for a fourth-degree driving under the influence conviction. Barnes is accused of violating the conditions of his probation in those cases.
"We request, based on his history, that Mr. Barnes be held without bail," he said.
Representing Barnes is Bemidji attorney Jay Pederson with Fullner, Wallner, Cayko & Pederson.
Pederson said Barnes "certainly understand(s) the significance of the charge," but said Barnes was not a flight risk.
"We ask that he be released on his promise to appear" to all future court dates, Pederson said.
Pederson agreed with a suggested condition that Barnes not contact the family targeted in the alleged crime.
"We're not opposed to no contact between Mr. Barnes and the complainant and the complainant's family," Pederson said. "I think it's significant that the court know there was a previous relationship between Mr. Barnes and one of the complainants."
The Pioneer could not corroborate details or nature of how Barnes knew any members of the family.
Melbye set bail on the felony stalking/harassment charge at $150,000 without conditions and $50,000 with conditions.
However, Barnes will be held without bail for the alleged probation violations.
His next court date was set for June 18 before Judge Paul Benshoof.
During Andree's arraignment, Frank acknowledged that the defendant was cooperative with law enforcement during the investigation after he was arrested. But, Frank said Andree still is accused of a felony-level crime and requested bail set at $10,000.
"We're very concerned about the nature of this case and Mr. Andree appeared willing to provide assistance to the co-defendant," Frank said.
Bemidji defense attorney Tom Kuesel, representing Andree, said that while the cross-burning has become a "high-profile case," all the factors in Andree's case point to his being allowed to be released on his own recognizance.
Andree was cooperative with law enforcement, Kuesel noted.
Further, he said, the defense characterizes the incident differently than the prosecution.
"I know initially there was shock," he said, but the defense views the incident as a troubling and offensive "juvenile prank."
"My client was present during the act, saw it and witnessed it, but he was essentially along for the ride," Kuesel said.
Further, he said Andree, who is about to mark his first anniversary of employment at a local business, has been a classmate and friend to one of the women who were believed to live in the home.
"It's an ugly situation; it's an ugly offense," Kuesel said, continuing to state that, despite that, all the facts of the case point to releasing Andree on his own recognizance.
Frank disagreed, stating that Andree is accused of a felony-level crime.
"This is pretty far from a juvenile frank," Frank said. "This is a crime of hatred and intolerance."
Frank said Andree cooperated with law enforcement once he was in custody, "but he did not voluntarily come forward with information."
Kuesel argued media coverage of the case has made public the names of those accused of having a role in it, so the "eyes of the community" will remain on Andree once he leaves police custody.
Melbye set unconditional bail at $100,000 and conditional bail at $10,000 with a $1,000 cash alternative.
His next court date was set for July 2.
"Certainly, there's a big eye watching," Melbye said.