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Jatten Heinen found not guilty in YMCA molestation case

FARGO - A jury has cleared former YMCA day care worker Jatten Heinen of all five felony charges against him, returning with a verdict just after 9 a.m. today.

They deliberated for five hours after receiving the case at noon Thursday. Closing arguments took about three hours Thursday morning in front of a packed Cass County courtroom.

As the charges were read, Heinen, 21, looked down at the ground. His mother, who has attended every hearing in the case since charges were filed last October, shook her head in relief as the first verdict was read. She began crying as the third not guilty verdict was read and smiled and said "Oh my God" as the final not guilty verdict was read.

Heinen's suppporters patted her on the back. As the room began to clear, the entire group shouted "yes" and clapped one time.

On the opposite side of the room family members of the accusers in the case looked shocked. Some shook their heads as the charges were read, others held hands tightly and pointed their heads down. The social worker who interviewed the four girls Heinen was accused of molesting leaned back against the back wall of the courtroom as the verdicts were read, tears appearing to form in her eyes.

Cass County prosecutors Ryan Younggren and Leah Viste met with the families following the verdict for about an hour before speaking to reporters. Younggren said they are proud of the case they put on and felt it was strong, but said the criminal burden is very high and cases of sexual molestation often have no physical evidence or witnesses to corroborate testimony.

At an 11 a.m. news conference, defense attorney Bruce Quick said the verdicts were a huge relief, saying he had believed in Heinen's innocence from the start, which added tremendous pressure to the case. The first thing Heinen said to him after hearing the verdict was "Thanks," Quick said.

Defense attorney Mark Friese said Heinen is exhausted, emotional and relieved by the verdicts. Heinen was devastated by the allegations against him, Quick said.

"He didn't see this coming," Quick said.

Heinen and his family declined to comment as they left the courthouse. Several jurors and family members of the girls also declined to comment.

Heinen still faces a separate felony gross sexual imposition charge amid allegations that he molested a young girl at a separate day care between September 2005 and December 2006. A preliminary hearing in that case is set for Sept. 11.

Heinen is currently out on bail.