Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 11, 2009

UN Representative comments on Jim Main Jr. trial

U. N. representative comments on Main trial
(Created: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 12:28 PM MST)
Jim Main Jr., was convicted of deliberate homicide in a rush trial. Longtime Gros Ventre activist Jim Main Sr. died just days before the trial.

Article by Tim Leeds Havre Daily News
(Photo: Vernie White Cow Main holds a photo of her son, Jim Main, Jr./Photo by Brenda Norrell)

The murder trial of James Main Jr. In Havre attracted the attention of representatives of the United Nations, with one saying it is a sad commentary on the state of justice for Native Americans. Paul Haible, a deputy delegate to the United Nations for Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum’s foundation, said the testimony at the trial made it apparent that the death of Lloyd “Lucky” Kvelstad in Havre on Nov. 25, 2006, was a “sorry, ugly incident. “But that doesn’t mean you rush to judgment and not give the opportunity for a fair trial,” he said. Haible — who said he knew the father of James Main Jr., James Main Sr., for some 20 years — said the family of the defendant had called to tell the United Nations the case might be of interest in seeing how indigenous people are treated in court.
“This is a call from the family to see if there was a rush to justice,” he said. Main was charged after the body of Kvelstad, beaten and with a drawstring from a hooded sweatshirt tied tightly around his neck, was found in the residence of Melissa “Missy” Snow. Snow pleaded guilty to tampering with physical evidence at the scene, and a jury in November convicted Kim A. Norquay Jr. Of charges of deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence stemming from the incident.
Following a six-day trial which Haible watched, and a fellow delegate for Menchu Tum, Ali El-Issa, watched through last Friday, a jury Monday evening disagreed with Haible’s assessment. It convicted Main of deliberate homicide for committing or aiding or abetting the commission of an aggravated assault that resulted in Kvelstad’s death. Norquay was convicted of the same charge. Haible said during an interview while the jury deliberated that he was concerned the investigation had been slanted to convict Main, as the defense contended.
“I felt it was pretty well-structured in support of early judgment,” Haible said. Haible cited some specifics, such as a piece of evidence — apparently a piece of bloody tissue found outside of Snow’s residence the night of the incident — that was never tested at the state Crime Lab. “Why wasn’t the tissue tested?” Haible asked. “That was an incredible oversight. … “Nobody is owning up to why that happened,” he added.
Haible said that he did believe the defense, presented by Great Falls attorney Kenneth Olson, did a good job in arguing Main’s innocence and in pointing out problems in the investigation and prosecution of the case. The defense contended that the investigators and prosecutors had looked for evidence proving Main’s guilt from the start. It claimed that items were not tested at the state Crime Lab which should have been tested, and that investigation of statements from witnesses that could have absolved Main were not followed up. The prosecution replied that testing of evidence at the Crime Lab was prioritized to test evidence with the most value in the case. The defense also had the opportunity to have evidence tested, it said. The prosecution also said that witnesses were interviewed, and although it did not use the testimony, it provided the defense with information it used for its investigation while claiming the prosecution had not investigated the witnesses.
Haible said that problems inherent in the system — and not just in Montana but throughout the country — lead to problems for Native Americans. “Everybody knows an Indian could have difficulties in the court system in Montana,” he said. One he pointed out was that the system used in Montana to seat the jury led to only one Native American on the jury, rather than selecting more Native Americans who were present in the jury pool.
“It set up a situation where it was not a jury of his peers,” Haible said. Haible said he got the perception that there, indeed, was a rush to judgment on the case of the prosecution. That comes at a time when the issue of rights of indigenous people around the world, like Native Americans in the United States, is at a forefront. On Sept. 13, 2007, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted The Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, drafting of which began in 1985.
Ali El-Issa said Friday that only four nations have not signed that declaration — Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. Haible said he believes he saw issues raised around the world concerning the rights of indigenous people at the trial. “Issues that have been raised the last several years dovetail into issues we see here,” he said. ———
On the Net: U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:

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