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As Trial Opens, Jury Told Teacher Faked Hate Crime

Woman tried to collect insurance on damaged car, prosecution says. Case roiled campuses.

August 14, 2004|Arlene Martinez | Times Staff Writer

A former visiting Claremont McKenna College professor whose car was vandalized in an apparent hate crime caused the damage herself, then attempted to collect insurance on it, prosecutors told jurors Friday.

Kerri Dunn, charged with insurance fraud and filing a false police report, faces up to three years in prison if convicted. Her trial opened Friday in Pomona Superior Court.

Dunn told police she was returning from a forum on racial intolerance March 9 when she saw that her 1990 Honda Civic had been vandalized. The car was spray-painted with racial and anti-Semitic epithets, and the tires were slashed.

The former psychology professor told police that more than $1,300 in items, including a $500 Coach briefcase and a $600 Palm Pilot, were stolen from the car, Claremont Police Officer Daniel Hardcastle testified Friday.

After two eyewitnesses came forward saying they thought they had seen Dunn vandalize her own car, police noticed inconsistencies in her statements and focused their investigation on her, according to prosecutors.

Defense attorney Gary Lincenberg told jurors that Dunn never demanded payment from her insurer. She inquired whether the missing items and the damage to the car would be covered under her policy, he said, but did not file a claim.

Prosecutor Marty Bean told jurors that a 12-minute phone conversation between Dunn and an agent, who will testify Monday, would prove otherwise.

Dunn's report of a hate crime triggered anti-racism protests and a one-day shutdown of the five undergraduate Claremont colleges the day after the vandalism.

Dunn had spoken publicly about how she was considering converting from Catholicism to Judaism. She was vocal in urging her students to fight intolerance after a series of racially charged episodes occurred on the campuses.

Michael Martinez and Dominique Zepeda testified Friday that they saw Dunn pull her car into the campus parking lot about 8 the night of the incident. But under cross-examination, both conceded that they did not actually see her cause any of the damage.

Dunn, 39, continues to deny she was involved in the vandalism.

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