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Probation case of man charged with assault hits a roadblock

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- A legal challenge will need to be resolved before a district judge can rule whether or not Edward Alan Ruchti, 29, of Watkins, violated terms of his probation and can be ordered to serve a stayed, 18-year prison sentence.

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Ruchti, formerly of Willmar, appeared Thursday before District Judge Donald Spilseth for what originally had been scheduled to be a probation revocation hearing. Instead, the judge agreed to consider written arguments on a legal challenge raised by defense attorney John Mack. The judge said he would rule in early April on how to proceed in the case.

Kandiyohi County has charged Ruchti with felony domestic assault by strangulation and terroristic threats, and misdemeanor domestic assault.

He allegedly choked his girlfriend and threatened her life while she drove a vehicle on Feb. 4. near the Eagle Lake 'Y' on Highways 23 and 71 north of Willmar.

He also allegedly abandoned her there after the incident.

By allegedly committing those actions, Kandiyohi County is also charging that Ruchti violated terms of his probation for a May 2002 conviction of first-degree assault against his wife at the time.

Mack told the court that proceeding with two separate court actions against his client over the same alleged incident raised constitutional issues. The court might find his client had violated probation and send him to prison. Later, he could be acquitted by a jury of the domestic assault charges. If that were to happen, the judge's finding of a probation violation would be vacated, Mack told the court.

Speaking after the court proceeding, Mack told reporters that his client faces something similar to double jeopardy if he is forced to answer to separate criminal assault and probation violation charges over the same alleged incident.

During the court proceedings, the judge and attorneys on both sides also made reference to the strain on court resources that separate proceedings presented.

Despite the burden to both her office and the court, prosecutor Connie Crowell with the Kandiyohi County Attorney's office told the judge that she was prepared to move forward on both the probation violation and the domestic assault charges.

Ruchti, who was wearing Kandiyohi County jail clothing, responded only to procedural questions during the hearing.

He had appeared before Judge Spilseth in May 2002 when he was convicted of first-degree assault. The judge had termed the crime "horrific'' for its brutality, but stayed a 91-month prison sentence and ordered Ruchti to serve one year in jail and 18 years of probation.

Charges of kidnapping and first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges were dismissed in the 2002 case after the victim signed an affidavit essentially exonerating the defendant. She had suffered internal injuries and the court had told Ruchti at the time that she had survived only thanks to heroic actions by law enforcement officer who had responded to the scene.

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