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Dave Olson, Published December 16 2010

Evidence in Moorhead fire chief's case lacked corroboration

When Becker County Attorney Michael Fritz disclosed this week that charges would not be filed against Moorhead Fire Chief Joel Hewitt, he made it clear he believed the state lacked sufficient evidence to make a case.

In a letter to Moorhead police, who conducted an investigation that included interviews with two women who said Hewitt paid them for sex, Fritz provided a brief explanation for why he wasn’t filing charges.

“I am of the opinion that the allegations of the co-conspirators lack sufficient corroboration. As a result, we would not be able to sustain our burden of proof at trial or survive a probable cause determination. Therefore, I am declining prosecution,” Fritz wrote.

The investigative reports, which Moorhead police released after a charging decision was made, included interviews with three women who told detectives Hewitt solicited them for sex.

Two women said they performed sexual acts for Hewitt for money.

By phone from his office in Detroit Lakes, Minn., Fritz said that in cases of prostitution, both the person performing the sex act and the person paying for it are committing a crime, making them “co-conspirators” in the eyes of the law.

He said a prosecutor approaches such cases much as they would a robbery case in which a defendant makes a claim that another person – a co-conspirator – helped them commit a crime.

To achieve convictions, Fritz said prosecutors need corroborating evidence, which strengthens or confirms other evidence, to support claims a co-conspirator might make. An example of corroborating evidence could be paperwork or documents, computer data, video or audio recordings and forensic evidence.

When police conduct sting operations, they rely on things like video and audio recordings to bolster their case, Fritz said.

According to the Moorhead police reports into the Hewitt investigation, officers asked one woman in September to take part in an undercover operation.

The woman’s lawyer later called police to say the woman would not be helping them.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555