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Jury acquits Briard on sex charges

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FOLEY -- Frazee hog farmer Robert Briard was found innocent of second degree criminal sexual conduct today in Benton County District Court.

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A 12-person jury deliberated for roughly an hour following the conclusion of closing statements early this afternoon.

"Justice was done for the second time," said Briard's attorney, Earl Grey, as he left the courthouse.

After the prosecution rested its case this morning, Grey called four witnesses in quick succession -- all of them teenage relatives of Briard, and cousins of the victim.

A key element in the defense's case was the fact that the cousin whom the victim claimed she had told about the summer 2005 incident shortly after it occurred failed to corroborate her story.

The girl, now a 14-year-old student at Battle Lake High School, said that she never discussed the alleged incident with the victim, whom she admitted that, at one time, had been a close friend.

She and two of the other four witnesses were girls, who all said they had been on rides with their grandpa on the 4-wheeler. They also each said that they had ridden in front of their grandfather on the vehicle, with him holding them tight -- in a similar fashion to an incident described by the victim as having made her feel "uncomfortable."

Also casting doubt upon the victim's testimony was her 14-year-old male cousin, who had injured his nose on the day of the alleged incident four years ago.

During his testimony, the young man said emphatically that the victim had been wearing her swimsuit that day -- not the jeans that she had described.

In her testimony, the victim said Briard had run his hand up the seam of her jeans as she was sitting "Indian style" on the dock next to him. He had, she testified, kept moving his hand closer and closer to, and eventually over, her "bottom" -- a term which she indicated she used to refer to her vagina.

But her cousin, who was badly injured that day and was rushed to the hospital for stitches to close the wound on his nose, said he didn't recall her having worn anything other than her swimsuit that day.

Also, he said that he didn't remember having seen her and her grandfather leave the lake cabin together and head down towards the dock.

In his closing arguments, Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz asked simply, "What possible motive would she have (for lying)? Does it appear she was having fun? That she was being rewarded?

"Children lie to get out of trouble, not get into it."

But Grey said the inconsistencies in both the victim's testimony, and her mother's, were "key inconsistencies -- not trivial."

He further noted that there was no believable evidence that Briard had touched the victim inappropriately.

"We have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that it just didn't happen," Grey said.

The jury was apparently in agreement with that statement, as the jurors took very little time to reach agreement on their "not guilty" verdict.

Briard was also acquitted by a Becker County jury on Dec. 17, 2008 on first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges involving a girl under the age of 13. Those incidents allegedly occurred in the 1980s.

His wife Virginia Briard faces six felony counts of contempt of court for allegedly disobeying a subpoena to testify in the 2008 proceedings. Her trial date has not yet been set.

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