Blog post by Jens Krogstad • Des Moines Register
1:49 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — After the judge exits, Sholom Rubashkin leads about two dozen supporters — mostly young men studying at the yeshiva in Postville — in afternoon prayers.
Rubashkin, standing behind the defense table, and the young men in gallery face the wall and bow slightly in a continuous rocking motion as Rubashkin recites prayers rapid-fire in Hebrew.
They all join in a chorus for what sounds like the end of certain verses. After several minutes of this, everyone jumps in for a chorus to finish the prayers.
Afterward, one of his sons pointed me to a wikipedia page that explains them in more detail.
1:25 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Sholom Rubashkin’s wife took the stand as the defense’s last witness Tuesday before it rested its case in the former Agriprocessors Inc executive’s child labor trial.
The jury has been sent home for the day and will return tomorrow for closing arguments. The judge is anticipating a full day of closing arguments because of the sheer volume of evidence. Both sides said they plant to split the closing arguments among several attorneys.
“We will take breaks. I don’t want the jury falling asleep,” Black Hawk County District Associate Judge Nathan Callahan said.
The defense renewed its motion to dismiss the case for a lack of evidence.
Callahan said he will dismiss charges attached to five alleged minors listed in the complaint who who did not testify. He said he will issue a ruling on the rest of the counts after the jury reaches a verdict. Rubashkin now faces 67 misdemeanor child labor charges.
Leah Rubashkin peppered her testimony with jokes and smiles as she told the jury about their religious beliefs, large family, long marriage and Sholom’s dedication to their 16-year-old autistic son.
She spoke of his frequent business trips in the two years leading up to a May 2008 immigration raid. The couple traveled to Israel and Ukraine in 2007, in which they reassessed their life paths and service to their God.
“We wouldn’t let him just leave for business,” she said with a grin.
Sholom leaned back in his chair and stared at the table, and sometimes smiled at what his wife said.
At one point, Heshy Rubashkin, Sholom’s brother, walked into the courtroom and faced the judge. Leah noted the family resemblance and said people confused the brothers frequently.
The state alleges Sholom Rubashkin allowed children to work long hours and around dangerous machinery and chemicals.
Several witnesses for the prosecution have said they saw Rubashkin walking around the plant, and anyone who did so could have easily identified the alleged minors.
The Rubashkins have been married for 28 years. They have 10 children, ranging in ages from 6 to 28, including their 16-year-old autistic son, Moshe.
For about two years prior the immigration raid, he came home from work early to assist in Moshe’s development, Leah Rubashkin said.
“We have 10 universes, actually. But he’s a pretty big one in the orbit,” she said. “After the raid, everything was shattered.”
She explained her husband follows scripture when he grows his beard, and wears a black skull cap because it reminds him that God is always above him. He continually wears his black coat because it is the attire of men dedicated to their religious studies, she said.
Two earlier witnesses who now work with Agriprocessors Inc’s successor, Agristar, said they never saw minors working at the kosher slaughterhouse in Postville.
Wayne Hecker, a former Agriprocessors manager, said sometime in 2007 he escorted the child of another plant employee after the human resources manager discovered the person was a minor.
Other than that incident, he said he never saw any minors at the plant. Hecker said his workers always wore required safety equipment.
William Heston, an industrial refrigeration contractor who has worked with Agriprocessors for 16 years.
He said the workers he saw always wore the required safety equipment. The plant itself was comparable to other meat plants he has visited in its workforce – largely short Latinos – and in its equipment, he said.
In the last five years he worked at Agriprocessors, he said it became more difficult to talk with Rubashkin because he was so busy in his office.
“Sometimes I had to wait an hour or two to talk to him,” he said.
He said the anhydrous ammonia used as a coolant in his refrigeration systems never leaked around workers. Some small leaks on the roof occasionally happened, he said.
On cross-examination, prosecutors said the plant was cited in 2008 for not posting evacuation routes.
Anhydrous ammonia can cause a slow death by strangulation, and meatpacking workers in Iowa have died from exposure to the chemical, said Deputy Iowa Attorney General Thomas H. Miller.
The Courier's report:
UPDATE: Testimony ends in Sholom Rubashkin trial
By JEFF REINITZ • Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
WATERLOO --- Testimony has ended in the child labor trial of Sholom Rubashkin.
After a lunch break, the defense indicated it didn't have any more witnesses, and the state didn't call any rebuttal witnesses.
Judge Nathan Callahan excused the jury at 1:20 p.m., reminding them to not view or read any news accounts of the trial. He asked them to return Thursday at 10 a.m. for closing arguments.
The court still has to finalize the jury instructions with the prosecution and defense.
Callahan also said he will dismiss some of the charges against Rubashkin. The defense had asked the court to throw out charges that listed as victims minors who didn't testify.
Of the 31 minors named in the charges, five didn't take the stand. That translated into 16 counts, according to a tally in the defense's motion.
WATERLOO --- Sholom Rubashkin was busy in his job at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville and traveled a lot for work, according to his wife.
Rubashkin, former Agriprocessors executive, is on trial for 83 counts of misdemeanor child labor violations, and his trial resumed Tuesday morning in Black Hawk County District Court with his wife, Leah Rubashkin, taking the stand.
She recounted a list of business and family trips to California, Florida, New York, South Dakota, Canada and Israel her husband took in 2007 through 2008.
Leah Rubashkin, who appears to be one of the defense's last witnesses, also talked about sneaking in to bring her husband lunch at his office when he was at the Postville plant. She said there were usually three or four people waiting to have meetings with him, and although she could get in, it usually took him 15 to 20 minutes before he could acknowledge her.
Earlier in the trial, former underage workers testifying for the prosecution said they occasionally saw Sholom Rubashkin on the plant floor.
During Tuesday's testimony, Leah Rubashkin said her husband was sometimes mistaken for his younger brother, Heshy, who also worked at the plant.
Leah Rubashkin told jurors her husband came from a very observant Jewish family and described how her own family started the transition to become more observant when she was around 11 years old.
Asked about her husband's appearance, Leah Rubashkin said he wears the yarmulke cap to remind him that God is always above him. She said he dons his long black coat daily --- an item some Jewish men only wear on the Sabbath --- because of his dedication. She said the religion forbids him from shaving off his beard.
She said Sholom Rubashkin finished the process of becoming a Rabbi about the time they were married 28 years ago. He worked in his father's New York butcher shop after they were wed, and the couple did outreach work in Atlanta, Ga., for about year.
They later moved to Minnesota, and for three years Sholom Rubashkin commuted to Postville when his father bought the meatpacking plant there. They then moved to Postville about 17 years ago, she said.
Another defense witness called Tuesday, Rodney Heston, whose company redesigned the industrial refrigeration system at Agriprocessors, also said Sholom Rubashkin was "extremely busy" at his job.
He said it usually took an appointment and an hour of waiting to see the executive when he went to the plant.
Wayne Hecker, who had worked at Agriprocessors, said there was never a formal chain of command at the plant. He said Sholom Rubashkin was in charge of the business side of the operation, and Rubashkin's brother oversaw sales and production.
Hecker told jurors about an incident where a son or daughter of a supervisor was fired because he or she wasn't old enough to work in meatpacking operations.