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Emily Gurnon, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Published February 11 2014

American Indian poet’s soliciting conviction reversed

ST. PAUL - The state appeals court has overturned the 2012 conviction of a Dakota poet on a charge of soliciting a child to engage in sexually explicit communication.

The court said that the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Thomas Francis LaBlanc knew the Missouri boy was only 15 when the two exchanged sexual messages via the Internet.

Ramsey County District Judge Leonardo Castro found LaBlanc, now 67, guilty of the felony charge based on facts agreed upon by both sides.

A Court of Appeals panel made up of judges Larry Stauber and Heidi Schellhas and retired judge David Minge, ruled that “the record does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that (LaBlanc) knew that (the boy) was younger than 16 years old.”

The teen listed his age on his MySpace account as 16. Messages between the two showed that LaBlanc would have known the boy was not yet 17 but that his exact age was never discussed, the appellate court concluded.

The boy told investigators that he met LaBlanc when the American Indian poet — whom he knew as “Tatonka” — performed a dance at his Kansas City school. After the two communicated for about a year online, LaBlanc told the boy he was “special” to him and that he loved him.

LaBlanc, of St. Paul, did not dispute that he and the high school sophomore exchanged sexually explicit messages and nude photos between January and August of 2009.

LaBlanc told police when they executed a search warrant at his home that the boy was “just a big chubby kid who needed a friend… It’s my right to communicate as I want; I’m not doing pedophile stuff.”

Neither LaBlanc nor his attorney, Jeffrey Dean, immediately returned calls seeking comment.

Dennis Gerhardstein, spokesman for the Ramsey County attorney’s office, said it respects the Court of Appeals’ ruling. It has not yet decided whether to petition the Minnesota Supreme Court for review of the case, Gerhardstein said.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.