Ben Sheffler and Jonathan Schwartz report on Day 6 of the trial. Perhaps the high point as Doctor Dino takes the stand. This is the first installment of their report.
On Monday, towards the very end of the day, after U.S. Assistant Attorney Eggers had appeared to shred Paul John Hansen that afternoon, Kent Hovind aka Dr Dino began his testimony. Defense Attorney Keith asked Hovind if he was ready, and apparently that was the understatement of the year. He had not testified at his first trial minus a one hour rant, his counsel considered it unwise, so finally he was relishing a chance to have some control in Judge Casey and Agent Scott Schneiders court. “That’s why I’m here today, I’m going to testify this time.” As soon as he could get his age in, sixty two, he was asked to please slow down so the stenographer could keep up.
That would set the squabbling tone for the rest of his testimony. Whenever there was an issue, he quipped, look, acquit me and we can all go home for lunch. Ever the comic, ever delivering his shtick. And today he had a full house. There were six Ukrainians that had come down from Virginia, a couple more families with lots of kids, a few earnest preachers from out of town, and ever the sovereign citizen experts. It had the feel of a reunion.
Hovind explained that he came to Pensacola so his wife could finish getting her college degree in music, she is now a concert grade pianist, that his kids were 9, 10, and 11, and that after renting on Burgess Street he bought his first house on time at $475 a month, 4 baths and 5 bedrooms. He actually went on about more than that. One got the feeling that he was starting to write War and Peace unabridged and he made no apologies for that, In fact, he repeatedly leveraged the notion that he would filibuster for 10 days or a month if he wanted to. Be patient he said, and from then on he was fond of asking Attorney Eggers with aplomb when he was being crossed. Other times, he was fetchingly self deprecating, “my kids beg me, Dad, drink the Koolaid” but I won’t give in.
It was always someone else pulling the strings on his financial and property affairs, but if the question of underhanded and sneaky communications by email or phone came up, it was always, yes, I yelled and interfered with them even when they were trying to keep me insulated. I was radioactive. By practicing risk communications and admitting to flaws, as someone used to shutting out hostile and incredulous comments for years, it was easy to follow his own logic and state that he was without blame even when he was instructing a family member to remain silent or potentially perjure themselves.
Persistent even though he knew he would lose, righteous and honest even when reading his own communiques that made him the liar, and you know, you wanted to believe him. Shameless, a Dino Don Quixote, with his endless parables and folk humor. The kind of person you hate to love and love to hate.
So after more biopic stuff he got down to talking properties and acquisitions. He wanted to acquire more properties to expand his ministry and have access to frontage on Palafox Street, the same street on the north side of town that the Federal Courthouse is on. Hovind chose to fold his operations under the umbrella of ministry of Faith Baptist Fellowship in 1999. Its Pastor, according to Hovind, insisted, “We’ll handle all the legal stuff,” and that a 501(c)(3) is “a trap for churches to be forced to be kept quiet...can’t get involved in politics.”
That was the first of a couple dozen times that he insisted he was a preacher and a scientist and knew nothing of the world of law and legalese, that it was the other guy who told him what to do until he fired that other guy and retained another guy. Through his rapid fire performance in court, his deep command of detail and overall intelligence, his performance proved that he was quite the jailhouse lawyer, a seeming contradiction. Hovind was also exceptionally adept at crying on cue when talking about his family, and stifling the sobs again seemingly on cue.
“I have nothing to hide in anything I’ve done,” insisted Hovind again and again. “I don’t remember whose name all the properties are in.” Glen Stoll, the head of the CSE Trust, said Hovind was manager, and “Glen was very hands-on for several years.” “I was thrilled just to give everything to the Trust. I just wanted to go do what I was good at (evangelism).” “I did not have any access to the bank accounts.”
He was busy purchasing lots, remodeling his homes with the money raised from video sales and speaking tours, and the Faith Baptist Fellowship’s Pastor Mooneyham said he mustn’t make his workers, who grew to forty in number plus volunteers, employees, rather missionaries, and keep withdrawals under $10,000 if you can. Later on Stoll suggested he use credit cards, and Hovind, ever the obedient one when it came to fiduciary matters it seems from his telling, guilelessly took their advice. He said he had stopped the practice of withdrawing, or his wife and daughter-in-laws practice we should say, three years before he was arrested, but not before they went over $10,000 several times which he indicated somehow proves his innocence. Again, he often returned to the theme, he didn’t own anything because he’d put it all into the Trust. That was his warmup act on Monday.
At the start of Day Two on Tuesday he started with a lob to the court, today with the pews full with observers, his fan base. “I’ve tried desperately to obey the law.“ After getting all choked up--he put on his stern angry face and insisted forcefully that he wants to go through every document, every filing he ever did, and if the jury decides to send him to prison so be it. He often throughout the day referenced the 2255 Motion appeals that he was making, to get it on record, to have his former case legitimately heard on its merits and not on technicalities, that his original defense team put out a product that was “constitutionally defective, missing dozens of essential factual points” as well as important case law and that the Court “didn’t have essential elements of charge” which lead to “the court lacking jurisdiction” and thus an appropriate venue which is precisely why he challenged.
The basis of his new great hopeful remedy included the fact that there are three elements of structuring and he is only charged with one, that the withdrawals were on average 12 days apart, and that is was the banks job to record, and several other principles that seem to hold little relevance to today’s case.
Judge Rodgers gave him, and his defense attorney, lots of latitude to what was tantamount to fighting his old trial in court, but she counseled the Jury that document after document of previous challenges admitted to give the jury an idea of the impact of the proceedings on his life and his state of mind was otherwise hearsay.
Now it was suddenly a Carl from Texas that helped him with all his challenges, prior to Stoll and Hansen, and told him what to write. Never Hovind, always the “ other.” His challenges were in part because his lawyer didn’t object to the missing elements, again, he filed 2255 motions, and was time-barred and otherwise shunned. His whole rationale was that the lis pendens was legitimate as the case was still being appealed, even though it had gone to Appellate Court in Atlanta and even to the Supreme Court which refused to hear it. Fighting hard since 2009, being a good neighbor in warning interested parties of the potential liens on the property, all legitimate despite court orders, either because it was the trust that owned the property, or it was an active and viable case that he still had going even after almost a decade and in 2009 the Court had ruled that the Trusts were phony. The same Trust with the phantom Board of Directors who Hansen could not name.
Hovind and his counsel were pretty clever. Spend the day re-trying his other case, and run the clock out and the jury’s level of interest in trying the current case.
The Judge said, “I’m trying very hard to give you your day in court....letting you go way beyond the boundary of relevance,” but soon, she said, the jury will begin to get “frustrated and weary.”
Hovind drilled down on his talking points: “I’ve only used what I feel are legal challenges,”
that are always rejected by the government, often based on being filed late or untimely, all hinging on his Biven’s South Carolina law suit against a whole fleet of prison guards for $150,000 dollars each. The government impeded him because it took 20 months to get his legal box back.
“I think if it was heard on its merits, the case would be overturned,” Hovind said. “I’ve never filed anything secretly, and I’ll fight it until I die.” He’s traveled the world, 36 countries and all 50 states, and he got all kinds of legal advice (along with every conspiracy theory ever conjured up).
Hansen, who had attended one of his talks in Lincoln, Nebraska, wrote to him, said “I think I can help you in this case.” Hovind mused, “I turned him loose on it, and to this day I still hope he fixes it.” Shifting to the more sentimental, once again, he slides into another routine, that he wears many hats: evangelist, dad, husband (teared-up) and was constantly fighting injustice. Numbers, always numbers. Writing 17 books in prison, getting two Master’s degrees and one doctorate, returning 17,000 emails and letters, while working in the kitchen at the Big House.
Being this busy in lock-up left him little time for details, and “I had no knowledge of what he was doing, I wasn’t connected to it,” but he just urged him, Glen Stoll, or a Carl, or Hansen, whoever was in favor that year, to do whatever you can. “I would trust him with anything, I would give him my wallet even,” and went on to again insist he never encouraged anyone to break any laws, but readily admits he asked Hansen to handle the defense fund in 2010. Hovind said that he, Hovind, was never a lawyer, it was God who would judge, he never won a single motion but he was ever the optimist despite getting “ everything denied.” I threw everything at it, gleefully admitting to the shotgun approach, including insisting he was not on government land and was unlawfully tried in a “Sovereign Nation of False Muster”, the reason for which the prosecution later asked if he was in military court with genuine exasperation.
Hovind was a religious man who, to many who were there, was great at math and science and spoke the absolute fundamentalist truth and perhaps was something of an articulate hero in a way that few of us can be. He explained that the Trusts were a church issue, that he knew nothing of Glenn or Hansen’s filings in Escambia County or elsewhere, and that is was sheer coincidence that that both lis pendens filed within a few days of each other. Although he spoke to Glenn Stoll, in the early days, for thousands of hours, he never encouraged him to do anything illegal whatsoever. Nor Hansen, despite urgent payments of thousands of dollars when charges and injunctions began to appear. During the course of the day it was brought up by Eggers that Hansen was called deceitful by the Federal Court in Nebraska and Stoll had an injunction against him in Western Washington State and that Alex, his cell mate, was incarcerated for wire and bank fraud. She questioned his judgement in allowing his case, to be choreographed by this fine bunch. But Hovind has the marks of someone that loves those that support him fully, and will in turn trust them and rewarded them by adopting their conspiracy theories or special axes to grind, no matter how fringe.
The Judge, in the very zen kind way of her’s, explained that she was sequestering the jury for lunch because of Hovind supporters outside expressing their opinions, one courthouse employee was impeded entering the building when they thought she was a member of the Jury and they told her that one vote for Kent could tip the scales. Again, the Judge, ever disclosing, got the Jury dine-in “for the integrity of the process.” Super judge, wish she would drop by our house once in a while to smooth over a homework dispute, etc.
Hovind after recess explained his growing frustration with Hansen, as even after one and a half to two years he had yet to see paperwork from Dale, another fellow who remained without a known last name though Hansen found him to be one of the greatest legal minds. He then told Hansen to just focus on the trust, that he would look after his own defense, and please send Free Kent Hovind defense funds to Hovind. There was “quite a disagreement” over what funds were for, and if defense funds could or should be be used for the trust.
“I didn’t own a thing, didn’t want to,” he repeated, although Judge Rodgers in a past order said that Creation Science Evangelism was Hovind’s. Hovind claims he had taken a vow of poverty, did not want things in his personal name, not even the parsonage or the Church van.
Hovind had never seen the Quiet Title before his attorney Keith showed it to him in prison in while preparing the case. “I promise you I was not part of this,” I was just the “cattle prod” and wanting something, anything, to get done. Did you ever find the injunction order in my cell, proving that he had knowledge of the order, as he was not named? He was fond of taunting the prosecution, he would show them who was boss of the school yard.
Comparing himself repeatedly to Billy Graham by way of explaining his case, Hovind asked why is federal court ruling on a church that’s not on federal land. Hovind was not named defendant in the suit. “You never know what they took,” when they searched my prison cell, but “I do not recall seeing this order. Ever.”
Alexander Otis Matthew, his brilliant sometimes cell mate, a black muslim who had been housed with him as a punishment, had typed the lis pendens, which were totally legal because we have “an active lawsuit.” “We got along great; brilliant man,” super-knowledgeable of real estate law, a real estate developer, “I wish he would move down here to Florida.” Great man, that Alex, as Hovind continued to gush, he owns property in Morocco and the DC area. Alex was an answer to Hovind’s prayer. He felt defeated and thought his challenges were dead beforehand, but Alex said there were things Hovind could do.
Hovind was then asked about Anthony Jaworski, who had purchased one of Hovind’s properties at auction. He said he sent Jaworski “a polite, good neighbor letter” asking if he could use the electric hook up that originated from the trailer on the property and serviced the science center, and if Hansen could stay in the trailer if he came to visit. He said he didn’t file a lis pendens on Jaworski’s property, and he wasn't aware of Hansen’s demands of $100 a day from him to live there. “I offered to help him,” Hovind said.
Hovind explained his intent on what earlier had seemed like a damning piece of evidence of a possible attempt to duck tough questions he and his family might be asked in court. In a letter he sent shortly after being charged to his son-in-law and daughter, Paul and Marlissa Dublin, he explained that the best possible answer would be to say, “I don’t recall.” “Be careful what you say and admit,” he said in the letter. “If you don’t recall, oh well.” On Tuesday, Hovind said he was just trying to protect his daughter. Protecting his family from "constant IRS threats" was the reason he filed the lis pendens in the first place, he said.
Hovind said he "absolutely" filed his lis pendens in good faith and "absolutely (did) not" violate a court order.
“I’ve never defrauded anybody and had no intent to defraud anybody,” Hovind said. “Still today I don’t think I did anything wrong, and would not do anything wrong.”
Hovind is famous for winning debates on creationism with people who are, you know, actual scientists. Critics accuse him of a debating technique known as the Gish Gallop.
The Gish Gallop is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that their opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time. More often than not, these myriad arguments are full of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments — the only condition is that there be many of them, not that they be particularly compelling on their own.
Ben Sheffler is a freelance journalist living in Pensacola, Fla. He's studying psychology at the University of West Florida. You can follow him on Twitter @bensheffler.
Jonathan Schwartz is the executive director of Interlock Media, which focuses on environmental and human rights issues. Interlock production Faith In the Big House, on prison ministries recently aired on PBS.