Jury convicts Rankin on two lesser charges

JOSEPH RANKIN, LEFT, listens with his defense attorney, Roy Polich, before the verdict was read Wednesday in Iron County Trial Court. (Nikki Younk/Daily News photo)

CRYSTAL FALLS — A jury Wednesday found a former Iron River massage therapist guilty on the two lesser charges of four he faced after being accused of touching a woman inappropriately during a massage in August 2016.

Joseph E. Rankin, 26, will be sentenced Jan. 22 in Iron County Trial Court for criminal sexual conduct-fourth degree, a two-year high court misdemeanor, and assault and battery, a 93-day misdemeanor.

He was acquitted of the two more severe charges — criminal sexual conduct-second degree, a 15-year felony, and health profession-unauthorized practice, a four-year felony.

To convict Rankin of criminal sexual conduct-second degree, the jury would have had to determine Rankin engaged in sexual contact while committing another felony — in this case, health profession-unauthorized practice. Since he was found not guilty of unauthorized practice, he couldn’t be guilty of the sex charge.

For criminal sexual conduct-fourth degree, the jury had to decide if Rankin engaged in sexual contact by using force or coercion, including the element of surprise.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours Wednesday afternoon before reaching the unanimous verdict.

Even though Rankin was convicted of assaultive crimes, Judge C. Joseph Schwedler allowed him to remain out of jail on bond pending sentencing. The judge cited defense attorney Roy Polich’s argument that Rankin has been on bond for the past year and a half with no problems.

Rankin chose not to take the witness stand in his own defense in the second day of his jury trial Wednesday. Iron County Prosecutor Melissa Powell presented 12 witnesses over the course of the trial, while Polich called two.

Powell had sought to prove Rankin touched a woman’s breast under her clothes and then straddled her back and rubbed his lower body against hers during a massage Aug. 22, 2016, at Rankin’s Full Circle Fitness and Massage business in Iron River. He was not licensed as a massage therapist at the time, Powell claimed, after permanently giving up his license in early 2016 as part of a settlement on criminal sexual conduct charges from 2015.

The woman testified about the sexual contact and said she told her husband and friends a few days later, and police one week later.

Powell argued the very name of Rankin’s business showed he continued to hold himself out as a massage therapist, and testimony showed he did not consistently tell people he no longer had a license.

Polich contended Rankin used other “body work” methods aside from massage therapy that don’t require a license. Even if Rankin used massage therapy on the woman, Polich said it fell under an exemption for uncompensated care to friends and family members. The woman in previous court hearings referred to Rankin as a “good friend” on seven separate occasions and admitted she did not pay for the massage, Polich pointed out.

Rankin still faces an unrelated misdemeanor obscenity charge from a separate incident in early 2016. No additional court dates have yet been set in that case.