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Pippi Mayfield, Published December 18 2008

Frazee, Minn., man found not guilty of sex charges

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – After some nine hours of deliberation, a jury here found a rural Frazee, Minn., man not guilty of a half-dozen criminal sexual conduct charges.

Robert Briard, 62, a well-known hog farmer in rural Frazee, had been charged with first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The case gained notoriety last week when Becker County officials issued an arrest warrant for Briard’s wife – Virginia Briard – for not responding to a subpoena to testify against her husband. During the investigation, she allegedly had made statements to a sheriff’s investigator that her husband had admitted to some of the allegations against him.

However, instead of appearing for the trial last week, she went underground and couldn’t be located.

Attorneys in the case made their closing arguments Tuesday afternoon and the case was handed over to the jury. They deliberated for more than four hours Tuesday night, before returning Wednesday morning. They issued their verdict about 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Before the verdict was read, Becker County District Judge Peter Irvine instructed the courtroom audience that the case had been “an emotional case for everyone but behave yourselves when the verdict is read. I expect you to act like adults.”

The courtroom was split with prosecution supporters on one side and the Briard family on the other. After the verdict was read, there were tears and hugging on both sides of the aisle.

Irvine read the jury’s findings of not guilty on Count 1 first degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor under age 13, a lesser charge of second degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor under age 13, and Count 2, second degree criminal sexual conduct for contact with a minor under 16 years of age.

Briard, 38501 County Road 56, Frazee, was charged as the result of an investigation that started after a woman contacted the Becker County Sheriff’s Department to report that Briard had allegedly had sexual contact with her in 1983 when she was under the age of 10, touching her under her clothing.

Briard also was accused of alleged contact with another girl under the age of 10 in 2004.

Briard also was accused of engaging in nonconsensual sexual contact with a woman over a four- to five-year period in various places in Becker County, according to court records.

The Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.