By JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD • Des Moines RegisterWaterloo, Ia. — For nearly 45 minutes Thursday, Sholom Rubashkin's defense attorney showed picture after picture of fresh-faced Latino workers to a state criminal investigator and asked him to guess their ages.
Jon Turbett, an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent assigned to the case, often estimated they were 17 or 18. He said he couldn't be certain relying on only one photograph.
"These are hard to pick out, aren't they?" defense attorney Mark Weinhardt said.
All the photos were of adult workers taken the day of a May 12, 2008, immigration raid on Agriprocessors Inc., a slaughterhouse in Postville, Weinhardt said.
Weinhardt suggested Rubashkin is on trial for his inability to tell the ages of underage workers often masked by protective frocks and hard hats. The former plant executive faces 83 misdemeanor child-labor charges.
Turbett responded that Rubashkin faces prosecution for knowingly allowing minors to work at the plant, and said he believes "that's the truth."
Witnesses ranging from a former Agriprocessors security guard to a mother who tried to get her 17-year-old son a job at the plant took the stand Thursday. They said Rubashkin refused to hire minors, and they never saw children working at the plant.
Rubashkin's defense team for a second day tried to discredit the only witness who has said Rubashkin knew minors worked at the slaughterhouse.
Former plant supervisor Matthew Derrick told the jury on the trial's first day that he warned Rubashkin about minors at the plant sometime in 2006 and 2007. In response, Rubashkin just smiled and said nothing, Derrick testified.
Derrick said he cared deeply for his workers, and had tried to warn other managers about underage workers at the plant. He told the jury at least half of his employees were minors.
Rabbi Tzvi Bass, who supervised the slaughter of animals, painted a different picture of the man.
Derrick never talked to him about children at the kosher slaughterhouse or unsafe working conditions, Bass said.
He also said he didn't see any workers who appeared to be under 18 in Derrick's department.
Bass told the jury he once heard Derrick disparage Guatemalans working under him. Derrick said they needed to pack "these Mexicanos like sardines and send them back to Mexico," Bass said.
When Bass pointed out they were Guatemalans, Derrick waved his hand dismissively, he said.
The defense began the day by asking the judge to allow the jury to hear evidence that Derrick first revealed the conversation he said he had with Rubashkin on the witness stand.
"If he never revealed it (to the state), it would certainly undermine the credibility of the statement," Weinhardt said.
Black Hawk County District Associate Judge Nathan Callahan denied the request. But he that said he doubted Derrick's story and that his statement seemed to catch state prosecutors by surprise.
"I don't find his statement in regards to his conversation with Sholom Rubashkin all that credible. It's a tough thing for the defense to deal with," he said.
The defense later asked Turbett, the state criminal investigator, to review the notes from his first interview with Derrick.
Derrick never mentioned the conversation with Rubashkin, even though he was a suspect in the child labor case, Turbett testified.
Testimony will resume on Tuesday. The courthouse is closed today because courthouse workers are on furlough.
The defense has said that it expects to call its final witness on Wednesday morning.