Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
A jury in state District Court in Havre Tuesday found a Whitefish man not guilty of a charge that he stole a vintage hot rod from a farm near Inverness. After deliberating just less than an hour-and-ahalf, after a two-day trial, the jury found Thomas J. Eisinger of Whitefish, born in 1951, not guilty of stealing a 1966 Pontiac GTO belonging to Len Schweitzer of Helena. In his opening statement during the trial, Jeremy Yellin, Eisinger's attorney, told the jury that his client was not at fault in the taking of the vehicle he had simply been tricked. “Tom Eisinger is not a thief,” Yellin said. “As the trial progresses the notion that truth is stranger than fiction will become apparent to you “You'll see that Tom had no clue that he'd been duped,” Yellin said. Eisinger was charged in March with felony theft for taking the vehicle, which was discovered on Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway property on First Street and First Avenue on Nov. 7, 2007. Eisinger maintained that he had purchased the vehicle the night before, and left it on the railway's parking lot he is an engineer for BNSF when an axle broke on the trailer he was using to haul the car. According to the information filed in support of charging Eisinger, a man noticed the GTO parked at BNSF on Nov. 7 instead of on land belonging to his brother near Inverness, where it was usually parked. After Schweitzer was contacted, he called the Hill County Sheriff's Office to report his car had been stolen. When Eisinger and another railroad employee arrived at the parking lot to finish repairing the trailer, Havre police officers were waiting and interviewed the two. Eisinger was taken to the Hill County Detention Center and, after an interview with him was taped, was released. During the trial, Schweitzer testified that he had Owned the car his sister had owned it before he did since the mid-1970s. “It was my high school car,” he said. Schweitzer said he had not driven it since the mid-1990s. He was storing it until he had a space for it in Helena where he planned to restore the vehicle, he testified. He testified that he was not aware that he had ever spoken to Eisinger, and that he had not sold him the car. He did not intend to ever sell the car, Schweitzer added, and has declined numerous offers for the vehicle. Eisinger never claimed that he had talked to the real Schweitzer. He maintained that he had seen the car while scouting areas to go hunting along the Hi-Line and had started asking around about who the owner was and if the owner would want to sell it. He said that he was contacted the evening of Nov. 6 by a man in a bar in Conrad, near where Eisinger was hunting from a hunting camp, who said he knew the owner who wanted to sell the car. Yellin said in his argument that Eisinger had no idea the deal wasn't on the up-and-up. Eisinger was simply in a bar in Conrad when a man approached, and “the fellow says Lenny's ready to sell the car,' Yellin said. Eisinger then met a man who said he was Schweitzer, and the two negotiated Eisenger buying the car for $2,500, which he had in cash to cover his month-long hunting vacation, he said. He did not have a title or sales receipt for the sale.