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Victim's family among supporters seeking new trial for Montevideo, Minn., man convicted of sex crime; they say girl is not credible witness

Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny Kandice Horton, left, and Bernadett Lavoie express support for Steve Horton as they gather Tuesday outside the Yellow Medicine County Courthouse in Granite Falls.

GRANITE FALLS -- Supporters of Steven Jon Lynn Horton, 22, of Montevideo, held picket signs Tuesday outside the Yellow Medicine County courthouse in Granite Falls to protest his recent convictions on first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges.

They came also to show their support for motions filed that morning by Horton's attorney, Aaron Walton of Olivia, asking for an acquittal or a new trial. The motions claim there was insufficient evidence for the convictions.

The supporters included close family members of the alleged victim.

A 12-member jury returned guilty verdicts Aug. 3 on two of three counts of criminal sexual conduct.

The jury found Horton guilty of first-degree and second-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegations related to a Jan. 11 incident.

The jury returned a not guilty verdict to a second-degree charge alleging previous, ongoing criminal sexual conduct.

The verdicts were returned at 10:30 p.m. after nearly eight hours of deliberations following a two-day trial before District Judge Dwayne Knutsen in Montevideo. The charges filed by Chippewa County allege that the defendant had sexual contact with a girl under age 13 in Clara City.

The grandmother of the alleged victim and the defendant's spouse, who is also the mother of the alleged victim, were among those speaking on Horton's behalf outside the Yellow Medicine County courthouse, where the motions were filed.

Gina Nemec said she and other family members do not believe her granddaughter is a credible witness. She said they also do not believe investigators did a thorough job.

"We just want him to get a new trial, a fair trial before an impartial jury,'' said Kandice Horton. She said she is the mother of the alleged victim and the spouse of the defendant.

Walton said he was shocked by the jury's verdicts against his client. He said his motion asking for a new trial challenges both the evidence presented at trial as well as the credibility of the witness. Her family had provided testimony during the trial that her testimony was not credible, he said.

Walton also said he raised questions about the investigation, asking why underwear allegedly worn by the victim was not turned over to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for laboratory testing.

Chippewa County Attorney David Gilbertson said the credibility of the alleged victim was a central part of the trial, but that scientific evidence was also submitted to corroborate her testimony.

The court on Tuesday took the motions for acquittal or a new trial under advisement.

Horton faces a presumptive sentence of 144 to 147 months in prison on the first-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction, but could receive up to 15 years. He is currently in custody. He was ordered held without bail following the jury's verdicts.

The court has ordered a pre-sentence investigation. A sentencing date has not yet been set. Both the prosecutor and defense attorney anticipate the court will rule prior to sentencing on the motions for acquittal or a new trial.

Horton is currently facing unrelated charges in Swift County for fifth-degree drug possession and motor vehicle theft filed in June.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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