Archie Ingersoll, Forum Communications Co., Published August 27 2010
Prosecutors: Teen made up threats for sexGRAND FORKS – Prosecutors have charged a Grand Forks teen with sexual assault, alleging that he concocted a story to coerce a teenage girl to have sex with him – telling her that if she didn’t, “drug dealers” would hurt or possibly kill her, her family and him.
At his initial court appearance Thursday, Ryne Anderson, 18, was scheduled for a preliminary hearing and arraignment in several weeks.
Anderson’s attorney, DeWayne Johnston, says the alleged threats, which reportedly involved drug dealers who were after Anderson and would hurt the girl and her family, were not plausible and therefore did not constitute real threats.
Anderson is scheduled for a preliminary hearing, where probable cause for the charges must be shown by prosecutors, in state District Court in Grand Forks on Sept. 27 and for an arraignment on the charges Oct. 2.
The charges Anderson could face include maximum sentences of 10 years, or alternatively, life in prison.
Anderson and the girl are roughly the same age, having both graduated from high school in the spring, said Johnston.
Court documents say the two teens began dating in November 2008, but then split up in August 2009. In early February, Anderson started conveying to the girl – through Facebook, text messages and in person – “that he was in trouble,” “that his life was in danger and that he needed help,” a police affidavit says.
He reportedly told the girl not to tell anyone about this because “they,” the “drug dealers,” were watching them. Johnston and the authorities say these drug dealers did not exist.
The affidavit says Anderson continued the story for some time, and eventually the story’s plot got heavier. “The messages progressively got worse, threatening Ryne’s and (the girl’s) life if certain demands weren’t met within a specific timeframe,” the affidavit says.
It’s also alleged he told the girl that her family was at risk of being hurt or killed if she did not comply with the demands, some of which turned out to be sexual.
As a result of this, court documents say, the girl had sexual contact with Anderson on Feb. 23 and 28. Authorities do not accuse Anderson of using physical force during these encounters.
Prosecutor Nancy Yon, who is handling the case, said the girl and her parents filed a report with the Grand Forks Police Department, which investigated the matter. Anderson was 17 years old when the alleged crimes were committed, so he was charged in juvenile court on March 5. But a judicial referee eventually ordered the case be transferred to state district court, where he is now charged as an adult.
In North Dakota, if a juvenile defendant is 14 or older when an offense is committed and probable cause exists that it was a serious offense such as sexual assault or murder, state law requires that the defendant be tried as an adult.
Johnston, Anderson’s attorney, believes the case should never have been transferred out of juvenile court. He argues that the evidence does not support the judicial referee’s finding that there is probable cause to believe Anderson may have committed sexual assault which, under state law, is called gross sexual imposition.
For a sexual act to be considered gross sexual imposition, the perpetrator must make a victim “submit by force or by threat of imminent death, serious bodily injury or kidnapping, to be inflicted on any human being,” the law reads.
In the absence of an allegation that force was used, Anderson is accused of threatening the girl, her family and himself with “imminent death” or “serious bodily injury.” Johnston disputes this, saying the story his client told the girl had no basis in truth and was not believable.
“It’s preposterous that this is a crime,” Johnston said.
Yon, the prosecutor, declined to comment on the facts of the case. “It’s a delicate case, and there’s a lot of different issues going on with it,” she said.
One of those issues is Johnston’s request to put the case on hold while a district judge reviews the decision to transfer the case out of juvenile court.
Anderson, who is not in custody, is charged as an adult with gross sexual imposition or, in the alternative, a lesser charge of sexual imposition. Gross sexual imposition carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, while the maximum for sexual imposition is 10 years behind bars.
He also faces a charge of terrorizing, which has a maximum of five years in prison.
Ingersoll writes for the Grand Forks Herald. Stephen J. Lee contributed to this story