Rubashkin defense continues questioning
BY JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD • Des Moines Register blog post
Elizandro Ismael Gomez Lopez, 17, recounted getting lost and wandering the desert for a week at the Mexico-U.S. border.
He said he survived by drinking “the water that the animals drank.”
When he arrived in Postville, he said he paid $500 a month to live in a house owned by a rabbi. He said his biggest check was for $495, when for a short time he worked from 6 a.m. to midnight for a short time.
On cross-examination, he said he was happy at Agriprocessors, and came to Iowa because his brother said he was happy there.
An early witness said he had trouble understanding all the questions through an interpreter, and Gomez Lopez appeared to have similar problems.
Deputy Iowa Attorney General Thomas H. Miller asked if he left a city in Guatemala to go to the United States, and Gomez Lopez said he didn’t understand the question.
Miller then asked if he left Guatemala for the United States. The witness said he didn’t understand.
Miller then asked where he grew up, and said, “Did there come a time when you left Guatemala to come to the United States.”
Gomez Lopez said there was.
He said he received a U-visa to stay in the United States, but didn’t appear to understand what one was or why it was issued.
He said it’s a permanent visa, but it is valid for only four years. He also said he didn’t know under what conditions the government would issue one.
The defense has been arguing all week that some of the witnesses testified in exchange for the visa.
Gomez Lopez said he received a subpoena to testify today.
11:14 a.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Sevlin Godinez took the stand and described the days following the May 12, 2008 immigration raid on Agriprocessors.
He told the state prosecutor he worked on an assembly line at the plant. He was arrested during the raid and brought before a judge with 9 other immigrants to plead guilty to working with false documents. The immigrants were sentenced 10 at a time to five months in prison, he said.
Defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown recounted the conditions and events surrounding raid before asking Selvin Godinez if he remembered giving an interview with a state investigator.
Brown described helicopters circling overhead, guns and federal agents in black clothing yelling at him.
“They put human beings in a string of long chains,” he said. “Basically you were treated like animals. You were degraded by the government for the only reason was you wanted to work and make a living here.”
Brown then asked him he remembered telling a federal agent immediately after the raid that he didn’t think minors were working at the plant.
Godinez said with everything going on, he didn’t remember. He said the federal agents told him “the faster we signed the papers, within 15 days we could be back in the country.”
Brown pressed further, and Godinez gave a rambling answer about being worried about his family.
“I was afraid, I don’t know, I don’t remember. The only thing I could think of in the moment is what would happen to my family in Guatemala.”
“I have a big debt to pay in Guatemala. And with all this, everything just came down. In that moment, I wasn’t paying attention to what they were asking me or what papers I was signing.”
Upon finishing, Brown said, “Are you done?”
10:00 a.m., Waterloo, Ia. — The defense continued its line of questioning Friday morning regarding interviews by state investigators with the witnesses at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville.
State prosecutors and defense attorneys presented documents that showed the witness gave contradictory statements in an interview with an immigrant advocate in Florida in October 2008, and with a state criminal investigator at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in December 2008.
“Do you remember in a law enforcement interview, telling an agent that you were never injured while working?” Weinhardt said.
“I don’t remember. Every time I’ve been interviewed I’ve said what I said today,” said Yukary Hernandez Gonzalez, through an interpreter.
Weinhardt then asked her the same questions several times, pursuing a direct answer.
“If an interview report said you were never injured while working, are you telling us today that the interview report was wrong? And I think that’s a yes or no question,” he said.
“I can’t say yes, because I don’t’ remember. I can’t say no, because I don’t want to say it’s wrong,” she responded.
Weinhardt then asked if she remembered telling the state investigator in the same interview that she did not think it was obvious minors worked at the plant.
“That I had said that? I don’t remember,” she said.
“That’s not exactly my question,” Weinhardt said. He then repeated the question several more times.
“I don’t know,” she said, shaking her head. Hernandez Gonzalez said she could see the minors because their faces were “like children.”
Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan then asked her if she remembered giving an interview to a Florida immigrant advocacy center in October 2008.
Hernandez Gonzalez said she never gave an interview in Tallahassee while in federal prison.
She served five months in prison after her arrest in the May 12, 2008 immigration raid on Agriprocessors.
Roan then showed her signature on a copy of her interview with an immigrant center in Tallahassee. She said it was hers.
The document said she told an immigrant advocate, “There were many other minors in the area. The supervisors could tell they were minors because they looked young. And the workers talked openly about how old everyone else was.”
Hernandez Gonzalez said the statement was accurate because that’s what she has always told people in interviews.
9:11 a.m., Waterloo, Ia. — The jury is seated. Cross-examination of yesterday’s last witness, Yukary Hernandez Gonzalez, now 20.
When she worked as a minor at the plant, she said her protective frock once caught on a conveyor belt, which then dragged her hand down the line.
“My hand started turning purple. I started yelling,” she said.
A co-worker eventually cut the sleeve off the frock to free her. She suffered bruises on her hand and continued working without medical care, she said.
Defense attorney Mark Weinhardt is doing the cross.