Robert E. Kleasen, a self-described Quaker who could not kill, said today he was hounded by media and parole officers who mistakenly thought he was the infamous Texas chain saw massacre killer.
Kleasen, 56, is a former death-row inmate convicted of murdering a female missionary near Austin, Texas. He has filed a $2.5 million lawsuit against Erie County officials for ruining his chance to start a new life in Buffalo.
"They kept asking me about the Texas chain saw massacre stuff, and I told them that had nothing to do with my case," said Kleasen testifying today in U.S. District Court.
"They didn't seem to believe me."
Using a cane to walk to the witness stand, Kleasen said he was whisked from parole office to parole office one step ahead of reporters and cameramen following his release.
"It was like a procession," Kleasen said.
Kleasen said his murder conviction in Texas was appealed. He was released from death row after serving three years for "a crime that never happened," according to Kleasen.
Kleasen said county officials and the media made it impossible for him to start his life over when he was released on parole.
"They want to banish me from the city and county," Kleasen told his attorney, David G. Jay. "All the politicians were trying to make political hay out of my predicament.
"I was shocked. I thought my dilemma was over with, and here it started all over again," Kleasen said. "The poison is there no matter how many times they're told the chain saw massacre thing did not happen. It sticks in people's minds."
On Tuesday, Erie County Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins and County Executive Gorski offered Kleasen no apologies.
The two county officials testified Tuesday as defendants in the $2.5 million lawsuit.
Kleasen blames Higgins and Gorski for ruining his chance for a new lease on life in Buffalo when he was paroled here in May 1988.
Both men emerged from U.S. District Court with no regrets or apologies for the actions they took upon learning that Kleasen was headed for Buffalo.
"I have no regrets at all, no matter how this lawsuit ends up," Higgins said in an interview after his testimony.
"I have absolutely no apologies," Gorski added. "I would take the same action again."
Kleasen has a long criminal record in this state and was convicted in Texas of killing a Mormon missionary near Austin, using a power saw to dismember the body. That conviction was overturned in 1977 because of legal technicalities involving a search warrant.
He served a four-year, eight-month sentence for a shooting in the Town of Lyons in Wayne County and then was sent to Buffalo to serve his parole. The move upset many city residents and resulted in an unsuccessful lawsuit filed by Gorski and Higgins against parole officials.
Kleasen and Jay accuse the sheriff and the county executive of creating a "campaign of hate, disinformation and fear" designed to force him to leave Buffalo. The lawsuit claims the two county officials harassed Kleasen by appealing his transfer to Buffalo and demanding that he be examined by psychiatrists at Erie County Medical Center and Buffalo Psychiatric Center.
In their testimony Tuesday afternoon, both county officials admitted they were miffed over Kleasen's transfer to Buffalo. Both men also admitted initiating the unsuccessful court challenge to the transfer. Higgins also said he assigned detectives to assist Buffalo and state police in a one-week surveillance of Kleasen, who was staying temporarily in the City Mission.
But the two officials denied interceding with Kleasen's treatment at either psychiatric center and insisted that their actions were intended only to get answers from parole officials.
"We were seeking to have him paroled to the area where he was tried and convicted, and that was not Erie County," Higgins testified.