UPDATE: Sanborn found innocent
A Becker County jury has acquitted a former Lake Park-Audubon teacher accused of felony third-degree criminal sexual conduct
Jared Lee Sanborn, 26, of P.O. Box 122, Lake Park, was on trial for allegedly having sexual intercourse with 15-year-old girl 4-6 times over the course of a four-month period in 2005, when he was 21-22.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated about 2½ hours after the three-day trial.
Testimony on Thursday started with the alleged victim's mother and ended with Sanborn taking the stand in his own defense.
The mother said her daughter had spent a lot of time with the Sanborn family since she was 9, and that her and Jared were friends.
"I knew they were rollerblading, watching movies at his home ... it wasn't a secret there was a relationship there," she said. "I thought it was a brotherly relationship. I trusted him completely."
There were virtually no signs that her daughter was in a sexual relationship with Sanborn, but the mother thought it odd once when she and her daughter drove by Jared's house and saw him in the yard with a girl.
"That liar -- he said he broke up with her," the daughter said. The mother wondered why she cared who Jared dated.
First to testify for the defense was Jared's father, Jeff Sanborn, 52, of Lake Park. An affable man, he owns an accounting business in Fargo, spent nine years on the school board and is treasurer of his church.
His house is within two blocks of the house his son owned in 2005, and he could see some of the comings and going there, Jeff Sanborn testified. If it looked like a poker game was going on, he'd often go over and join in.
He testified that Jared was working 10-11 hour days during the four-month period in question in 2005 (February-May), at several enterprises, including a DJ business and prep work for opening a new retail store in Fargo.
He and Jared have always been extremely close, from sports to business to travel, and the two saw each other on a near-daily basis during that time period, he said.
"I could see his house from my house," Jeff Sanborn said, "I would stop in just to see how things were going." He never saw the alleged victim there, though she was at many family events, he said.
Ruth Lerud, Jared's aunt, testified that he and his friends often spent time at her lake home, which had a pool table and hot tub.
She also knew the alleged victim, whom she said was "excellent with kids -- just kind of a lost little soul and spent a lot of time with us ... my girls kind of took her in like a daughter. She'd talk my ear off at nights."
She noticed nothing unusual in the interaction between Jared and the girl. "I think we would have noticed with her," she said. She also did not notice the girl not attending family gatherings to avoid Jared following the four-month interval.
Dustin Larson, 27, of West Fargo testified that he was a "really close friend" of Jared's in 2005, and that he was at Jared's house about four to five times a week. He never saw the girl there and Jared never mentioned her to him. He always stopped by unannounced, he said. "Normally, if the light was on, I stopped by."
Troy Mattson, 27, of Moorhead testified that he was good friends with Jared and saw him several times a week during the period in question. He usually called first before going over to Jared's house, but never saw the girl there or talked about her with him.
Brandon Larson, 23 of Lake Park -- now a Mahnomen County deputy -- testified he was a close friend of Jared's and dropped in on him unannounced on many weekends during the time in question. The girl was never there and Jared never talked about her, he said.
Justin Qualley, 27, of Lake Park said he was best friends with Jared and saw him a lot in 2005, mainly on weekends when they would drink (since they were now of age) and play poker at Jared's house or his parents house. He never called before dropping by and said he never saw the girl there and Jared never talked about her.
Sanborn himself then took the stand. He said he had been friends with the girl through his family and they in-line skated together in the summertime, but she had only been to his house to watch a movie once, and his girlfriend at the time was also there.
He never at any time kissed her or had any sort of sexual contact with her, he said repeatedly throughout his testimony.
She had a crush on him and kept stopping by his Thrivent office in Lake Park, near the public swimming pool where she worked, he said.
"She kept calling and kept calling. I got to the point where I quit calling her back that summer," he said.
Under cross-examination by the prosecution, he admitted he talked to the girl on a daily basis by phone and that "it's possible," he called her late at night or early in the morning.
The prosecution opted not to try to enter a thick stack of cell phone records into evidence, after the defense objected for lack of foundation. A cell phone company employee, for example, would have had to establish foundation by testifying about how the records were obtained and processed.
During closing arguments, assistant Becker County Attorney Tammy Merkins urged the jury to believe the girl's testimony.
The girl kept her secret until Jared's presence as a teacher in her senior year uncorked her emotions, Merkins said.
She became very upset and finally talked to a teacher about what had happened. The girl never went to the police, but school officials did, as required by law.
"She really didn't have anything to gain," Merkins told the jury. "Didn't she have a whole lot more to lose by coming forward?"
In his closing statement, defense attorney Kenneth J. Kohler pointed to the shortage of corroborating evidence and inconsistencies in the girl's story as told to various investigators and officials.
Just because the girl was emotional when she first approached school officials doesn't mean she was telling the truth, he said
"She was visibly upset, she was shaking -- we all have emotional things we go through, we all cry -- it doesn't mean we're telling the truth."
The whole thing started, he theorized, when the girl made up a story to shock her boyfriend. "That's the snowball. He tells her 'you gotta tell someone about this.' She goes and tells a teacher. She doesn't know she's a mandated reporter ... and the lie continues to roll. A 15-year-old girl is not going to say 'I lied' to everyone."
Kohler also criticized what he called a "defective" investigation by the sheriff's department.
"Folks, this case has more reasonable doubt than most," he told the jury.