Prosecutors dismissed a three-year-old sexual molestation case against Wayzata businessman William Wanner on Monday, triggering scathing criticism from a defense attorney who accused Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman of political face-saving.
The county attorney's office contended the alleged victim would not cooperate days before Wanner's trial was set to begin, crippling their chances of obtaining a conviction and leaving them with no choice.
And in a move that an infuriated defense attorney Joe Friedberg called highly unusual, the document dropping the charges also repeated in detail the allegations against Wanner.
"He charged an innocent man," Friedberg said. "He's had his life ruined over this, and this is the most outrageous use of a county attorney's office that I've ever seen."
County Attorney spokesman Chuck Laszewski said Freeman would not comment. "Justice required us to dismiss this case and we did," Laszewski said.
Although Wanner's family, including his wife and adult children, stood by him and he said he's grateful it's over, he's angry. On Monday, he adamantly denied molesting the girl, calling the charges "stomach-wrenching."
Charges could be refiled against Wanner only if new evidence emerges before the statute of limitations expires.
Wanner, 69, CEO of Wanner Engineering Inc., was charged in January 2010 with two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly molesting the 10-year-old girl in a pool at the Minneapolis Club when the two were playing "hide the goggles." The case dragged on as Wanner's defense successfully challenged two interviews with the girl that were eventually thrown out, while a judge ruled that parts of the surveillance video from the pool could be used at trial.
Refusal to cooperate
In the six-page dismissal filed Monday morning, Assistant County Attorney Darren Borg wrote that the girl's attorney, Deborah Ellis, refused to allow her to meet with prosecutors, and that the girl's parents also would not cooperate.
According to the document, the girl submitted a sworn statement Friday saying that, if called to testify on Monday, she would deny that Wanner sexually abused her.
Without the girl's testimony, the remaining video evidence and testimony of other witnesses isn't sufficient to convict Wanner, Borg wrote.
Although prosecutors could still have called her to the stand, the questioning would have been aimed at getting her to refute her claims that she wasn't molested.
"The State does not believe it wise or prudent to subject a child victim to this experience as it is clearly not in the best interests of the child," Borg wrote.
"Did Mr. Friedberg really want to put this little girl through this?" Laszewski asked.
Ellis also criticized the written dismissal, which is unusual in its detail. Generally, written dismissals are only a few sentences long.
"It feels like they're blaming the child because they can't go forward, which is totally misplaced blame," said Ellis. "They should be looking at their own prosecution team and how they handled the case."
Friedberg said Borg did an exemplary job handling the case, reserving his scathing remarks for Freeman.
Friedberg and co-defense attorney Paul Engh on Monday planned to file a motion for a "Florence" hearing, in which they'd place Wanner; the girl, now 13; and her parents on the stand in order to prove Wanner's innocence. Friedberg claimed that the dismissal was filed to cut off opportunities for the hearing.
Laszewski said there was never notice of any hearing Monday. However, jury selection was scheduled to begin.
Wanner, who has been free on $500,000 bail since charges were filed, said the past three years have been terrible, and that he's discovered who his true friends are.
His business, an international company that creates high-pressure industrial pumps, was already struggling through difficult economic times, lost financing and almost went under.
"My life's really been ruined -- how do I get my reputation back? I don't really know how to do that," he said.
Abby Simons 612-673-4921