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Forum News Service, Published August 05 2013

Sex charges dropped because victim 'too traumatized' for trial

GRAND FORKS - Days before the trial was to begin, a Grand Forks prosecutor on Monday dropped charges against a man accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl, saying “she was too traumatized” to testify.

But Justin Breitweiser, an assistant state’s attorney for Grand Forks County, said he has four more years to re-file the same felony charges against Norman Kuehnel, which could put Kuehnel in prison for life.

Kuehnel’s attorney, Blake Hankey, meanwhile, protested the judge’s approval of the prosecutor’s motion, saying it unfairly kept the specter of the charges hanging over his innocent client’s head. He asked state District Judge Sonja Clapp to dismiss the charges “with prejudice,” which would preclude prosecutors from charging Kuehnel again in connection with the girl’s allegations.

Kuehnel, 51, was charged a year ago with three felony counts of gross sexual imposition, alleging he sexually assaulted his then-girlfriend’s 13-year-old daughter three times in summer 2010.

Judge Clapp had told Kuehnel earlier he faced up to life in prison without parole if convicted as well as a possible mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years.

He pleaded not guilty and has been free on $10,000 bond awaiting trial.