Charged wife remains silent in Gerdes abuse trial

AUBURN – An Auburn woman claimed her right to remain silent granted by the U.S. Constitution dozens of times at a Nemaha County court Monday where her husband, Phillip Gerdes, is on trial on child pornography and abuse charges.

Deputy Nemaha County Attorney Angelo Ligouri called Chrystal Gerdes to testify, but her lawyer Allen Fankhauser intervened to tell the judge that Gerdes will exercise the Fifth Amendment for every question except her name.

Ligouri asked Gerdes about a statement he says she voluntarily gave to law enforcement, but Gerdes did not answer his questions and her husband’s trial lawyer, Keith Kollasch, objected to the statement being entered as evidence due to hearsay.

Judge Julie Smith ruled that Gerdes is an unavailable witness and said her written statement could not be used at the bench trial as “substantive” evidence.

When Fankhauser asked the judge to discontinue the questioning of Gerdes after she claimed the Fifth Amendment over a dozen times, Ligouri said he was not aware that she would be remaining silent. He said Fankhauser had opportunity to tell him her intention, but did not.

Ligouri: “I agree that he can give me false information. I just didn’t know that he would.”

Fankhauser told the judge he objects to the spurious comment and told Ligouri “If you call me a liar again, I’ll turn you into the bar again.”

Fankhauser later told Ligouri he said he was there to hear testimony and do his due diligence.

Judge Smith said if there had been a jury, the episode would be problematic.

Ligouri recalled investigator Brian Adams to try and get Gerdes’ statement in as evidence, but the judge sustained objections of hearsay.

Ligouri said when someone gives a voluntary statement to police they are waiving their right to remain silent.

Fankhauser, who was not an attorney of record at the trial, said Gerdes had no reason to claim her Fifth Amendment right at that time because she had not been charged.

She is scheduled for a Sept. 8 court appearance before Judge Smith on allegations of child abuse in 2019.

The judge would not allow the written statement, a video recording pertaining to the statement or copies of what Officer Adams described as Facebook Messenger posts.

The trial of Phillip Gerdes is expected to continue Tuesday.

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