DULUTH, Minnesota — A jury on Friday convicted a northern Minnesota county attorney of sexual misconduct involving a 17-year-old girl after the prosecution argued the man was in a position of authority over the teenager.
The jury found Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell, 48, guilty on both counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct after deliberating about nine hours over two days, WDIO-TV (http://bit.ly/UrbZb9) reported.
Scannell testified in his weeklong trial in St. Louis County that he developed feelings for the girl in 2012. Now a 19-year-old woman, she also took the witness stand and described Scannell as a "father-figure" and a "mentor."
The age of consent in Minnesota is 16. But prosecuting attorney Tom Heffelfinger argued that Scannell abused a position of authority when he kissed and allegedly touched the girl during drives they took in 2012. Heffelfinger said fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct happens when an offender is in a position of authority over the victim.
Scannell testified his mentorship roles had ended by the time of the alleged acts and he had no sexual intent in their meetings.
The verdict will help not only the girl and her family move forward, but the community as well, Heffelfinger said.
"I've always thought in sexual assault cases it's extremely important for the victim to be able to stand up in court and tell the offender that what you did to me was wrong," said Heffelfinger, a former U.S. Attorney in Minnesota.
While Scannell used to coach the teenager and helped her with some academic work, defense attorney Joe Tamburino argued all those roles were over by August 2012.
Tamburino said the definition of position of authority is "very broad," which makes defending this type of charge "very difficult."
The girl's family sought a restraining order against Scannell in 2012. The parents said in their petition that Scannell was a longtime family friend.
Scannell became a public figure after he was shot multiple times at the Grand Marais courthouse in December 2011 by a man he'd successfully prosecuted. Scannell has been on medical leave.
Tamburino said the verdict also will help Scannell move forward.
"This man in December 2011 was shot four times, thought he was going to die, wound up being physically OK, went through a tremendous amount of depression, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), treatment centers and within one year of that, he's accused of a sex crime. You couldn't write this," Tamburino said. "It's just very, very tragic."
Scannell remains free pending sentencing Sept. 26. Attorneys for both sides expect Scannell will get probation and that he also will have to register as a sex offender. An appeal is expected, Tamburino said.
Information from: WDIO-TV, http://www.wdio.com