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Forum News Service, Published April 03 2013

One of two peeping charges against Minnesota photographer dismissed

DULUTH, Minn. - One of two peeping charges brought against the owner of an Eveleth photography studio has been dismissed by a District Court judge in Hibbing, but the prosecution will be allowed to present evidence that the defendant was convicted of a similar crime in 1995.

Donald Louis Peterson, 55, of Gilbert is accused of looking through a hole in the wall of a dressing room where a girl was changing clothes accompanied by her younger sister. Peterson initially was charged with two counts of interference with privacy against a minor under 18 years old, a felony offense, but his attorney Bruce Williams asked the court to dismiss one count because the younger sister never took her clothes off and there was no expectation of privacy and not sufficient probable cause to support the charge.

Judge Mark Starr granted Williams’ motion. According to his order, Starr determined that there was no evidence presented that the younger sister was exposed or that she lacked the covering of clothing over her intimate parts.

According to court documents, an Eveleth police officer was flagged down Aug. 31 by a boy who reported that his girlfriend was getting her graduation photos taken at the Thomas Leonard Studio and he saw Peterson looking through a hole in the wall while she was in the dressing room.

Two Eveleth police officers went to the studio Sept. 4 and talked to Peterson, who showed them the dressing room and storage room. An officer spotted a piece of wood closing an approximate 2-inch gap in the wall, about seven feet off the ground. Photographs were taken of the room. One of the girls told officers she could hear Peterson moving things around behind the dressing room while she was changing clothes.

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Michelle Anderson filed a motion to admit evidence of a 1996 conviction against Peterson in Dakota County for interfering with privacy. Starr granted that request.

Under Minnesota Rules of Evidence, that conviction would not be admissible as evidence in this case because more than 10 years has elapsed since the date of conviction, unless the court decides in the interest of justice that the prior facts and circumstances substantially outweigh its prejudicial effect.

In a memorandum to his order, Starr wrote that the modus operandi of the Dakota County incident and “the alleged event supporting the (current) charge is very close. In fact, the modus operandi is almost identical.”

However, the court denied the prosecutor’s motion to include other alleged incidents at the Eveleth photo studio that were reported to Eveleth police between 2001 and 2002 because the court found that there wasn’t clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was spying on juvenile females as they were changing.

Peterson is to appear in State District Court in Hibbing today for a pre-trial hearing. If the case isn’t resolved, a trial date is expected to be set.