Jurors failed to reach a verdict in the second sexual assault trial of a former Burnsville swim coach, prompting the prosecution to dismiss the case Tuesday.
The hung jury in the case against Alfred John “Rocky” O’Neill led the Dakota County Attorney’s Office to inform the court that “after consultation with the victim, and after two hung jury trials, the state is now dismissing these charges in the interest of justice.”
O’Neill has now had two criminal sexual conduct cases dismissed related to separate allegations that he coerced underage swimmers into performing sex acts for him in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Another sex case against O’Neill, 63, of Savage, that did not go to trial was dismissed in January. The County Attorney’s Office said that decision was made because “based upon evidentiary issues that arose … following the initial filing of these charges, we determined that we could no longer prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In a statement Tuesday, County Attorney James Backstrom said hung juries are rare.
“I want to commend the woman for her courage in talking about these extremely difficult circumstances after so many years and assisting us in two separate criminal trials, which is never easy in cases of this nature,” Backstrom said.
The allegations in the case that went to trial were first reported anonymously in June 2018 to SafeSport, a nonprofit tasked with investigating and responding to reports of sexual misconduct within the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movements.
The alleged victim later told investigators that she met O’Neill at age 14 when she joined the Burnsville Swim Club. As she got older, she said O’Neill treated her as a favorite and increasingly found ways to spend time alone with her. By the time she turned 17, he had initiated sexual contact, the charges said. She alleges the abuse occurred from 1988 to 1989.
O’Neill denied having sexual contact with her before she turned 18. Jurors during deliberations sent a series of notes to Judge Tim Wermager, the first late Thursday morning asking to listen again to a recorded statement from the accuser to police.
A little more than three hours later, a second note from the jury foreman said that “after thorough deliberation and the relistening [of the recorded statement], we nave not been able to come [to a] unanimous verdict of the five charges. Please advise on how we need to proceed.”
Within a few more hours, a third note from the jury foreman said that “intense deliberation” failed to yield any verdicts and “parties within the jury have made statements to the entire group that their decision will not change regardless of what occurs during any further deliberation.”
Defense attorney Ryan Pacyga said the jury was deadlocked 11 for acquittal and one for conviction. Pacyga said the first jury was split nine to three for conviction, when O’Neill had a different attorney.
In the case that was dismissed before going to trial, a woman accused O’Neill of sexually abusing her as a teenager between 1997 and 1999.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482