Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rio resident found not guilty in nursing home sexual assault case - PORTAGE DAILY REGISTER


By Shannon Green, Daily Register | Posted: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Three not-guilty verdicts produced tears and hugs of relief on the part of defense attorneys and supporters of a Rio man accused of sexual assault in 2007 of three patients in a nursing home.

After deliberating for an hour and 15 minutes, a jury of seven men and five women Wednesday unanimously found Kurt Johnson, 51, who faced 75 years in prison on three felony sexual assault charges, not guilty on all counts.

Defense attorney Erik Guenther of Madison reacted visibly and emotionally as Judge James O. Miller read the verdicts at the end of the three-day trial.

Guenther reacted, he said, "because an obviously innocent man waited way too long to hear those two words (not guilty)."

It was a case that should never have been prosecuted, Guenther said.

Defense attorney Stephen Hurley of Madison characterized Johnson as "a sweet man" who was targeted by co-workers wanting to get him fired because Johnson, a nursing assistant, was slow-working due to a medical condition.

"What you have are three people who wanted him fired, wanted him out of there," Hurley said during the hearing.

Bonnie Priebbenow, a friend of Johnson's, said his friends and family members could not be happier with the verdicts.

"Anyone that knows him knows he was innocent," she said.

The verdict came at the end of a three-day trial in Columbia County Circuit Court.

Johnson was charged in November 2008 with three counts of felony second-degree sexual assault of a patient in a treatment facility after three co-workers at the Golden Living Center in Wisconsin Dells reported they saw him fondle three patients' breasts in late 2007.

The incidents were reported to the Wisconsin Department of Justice after an investigation by the Department of Health and Family Services, which received a report from the facility in December 2007, said prosecutor Eric Defort, assistant attorney general, in December 2008. The department handles cases involving facilities receiving Medicaid funds.

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