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Prosecution dismisses all charges of criminal sexual conduct against Granite Falls, Minnesota, physician

Yellow Medicine County Attorney Mark Gruenes asked that criminal sexual conduct charges be dismissed against a Granite Falls doctor following testimony by the first of five alleged victims on the second day of the jury trial.

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GRANITE FALLS — The prosecution asked the court on Thursday to dismiss all of the felony criminal sexual conduct charges against family practice physician Mark Eakes on the second day of his jury trial in District Court in Yellow Medicine County.

Yellow Medicine County Attorney Mark Gruenes sought the dismissal after the first witness had been cross-examined by defense attorney Ryan Garry of Minneapolis on Thursday morning. The trial had gotten underway the previous day with opening statements.

Mark Eakes mug .jpg
Mark Eakes
Contributed / Yellow Medicine County

Eakes, 58, had been charged with four counts of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree and five counts of criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree, all of them charging false representation of a medical purpose.

The charges alleged that he had sexually abused four female patients over a five-year span by performing unnecessary and inappropriate examinations while employed as a family practice physician with what is now Avera Medical Group Granite Falls.

The court had dismissed two other sexual conduct charges involving an alleged fifth victim prior to the trial.

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Dr. Mark Eakes, of Granite Falls, now faces a total of seven felony charges of criminal sexual conduct related to pelvic, rectal or breast exams on four patients from 2019 to 2021. He made his first court appearance March 21 on three felony charges against one alleged victim, and the criminal complaint against him has been amended four times since then. He was in court again June 13 to appear on the seven total charges. In an agreement with the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, he is not practicing medicine while the charges are being resolved.

All five of the alleged victims were scheduled to testify. Each had met separately prior to the trial with prosecutor Tara Ulmaniec, assistant county attorney for Yellow Medicine County.

“The judge did not think our office had provided adequate disclosures in advance of the trial,” Gruenes told the West Central Tribune on Thursday afternoon. He said the judge thought that the prosecution should have disclosed the meetings to the defense prior to the trial.

After cross-examining the first witness, the defense asked that her testimony be basically stricken because of it, Gruenes said.

District Judge Thomas Van Hon said he was going to withhold a ruling on the request, but Gruenes said he believed the judge was likely to strike the testimony of all five witnesses as a result.

He said it is common practice for his office to meet with witnesses or alleged victims prior to trial to answer any questions they may have and to provide information on the trial process.

He was not present at the one-on-one meetings, but said it is his understanding that nothing of substance pertinent to their upcoming testimony was discussed.

Related:
The Tribune publishes Records as part of its obligation to inform readers about the business of public institutions and to serve as a keeper of the local historical record. All items are written by Tribune staff members based on information contained in public documents from the state court system and from law enforcement agencies. It is the Tribune’s policy that this column contain a complete record. Requests for items to be withheld will not be granted.
The Tribune publishes Records as part of its obligation to inform readers about the business of public institutions and to serve as a keeper of the local historical record. All items are written by Tribune staff members based on information contained in public documents from the state court system and from law enforcement agencies. It is the Tribune’s policy that this column contain a complete record. Requests for items to be withheld will not be granted.
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The county attorney said he felt that the judge seemed to think that the meetings with the women involved discussion more on the substantive end of the spectrum than administrative.

“In my mind the writing was on the wall that the case was in trouble,” said Gruenes.

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It was to the point where he said he had to ask himself if it was right to put the women on the stand if the case was going nowhere.

Gruenes said the decision to dismiss the charges was his. “I feel terrible for the victims, for Tara Ulmaniec,” he said. He described the attorney as a hard-working, straight shooter who acted in good faith.

“The interests of justice were served by the dismissal of every single criminal count,” said defense attorney Ryan Garry, of Minneapolis. “He is an innocent doctor accused of crimes he didn’t commit. The case should never have gone to trial in the first place.”

Garry said he and co-counsel Andy Birrell aggressively litigated the case. He said Dr. Eakes is a married father of seven children, and retired as a commander after 20 years of service in the U.S. Navy.

The defense attorneys said they estimate Eakes has treated more than 40,000 patients. Garry said four of them complained, and that they hired a personal injury lawyer.

“The charges were completely bogus,” said Garry.

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He said Eakes is looking forward to putting his life back together. He especially enjoys rural practice, added the attorney.

Eakes' medical license is currently active, according to the online license verification tool provided by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice .

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While the case was pending, he and the board had entered into a stipulation agreement that he would cease practicing medicine until the allegations against him were resolved.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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