By NIKKI YOUNK
CRYSTAL FALLS - A jury trial for an Iron River man accused of criminal sexual conduct with three underage girls has been pushed back two months in order to allow both the prosecution and the defense time to prepare their cases.
Nikki Younk/Daily News Photo
Dennis Johnson, left, appears for a motion hearing in Iron County Trial Court with his attorney Geoffrey Lawrence. Johnson’s trial on criminal sexual conduct charges is scheduled for December.
Dennis Alan Johnson, 54, will go to trial from Dec. 17 through 20. Jury selection will take place on Dec. 12.
The original trial dates in the matter were Oct. 22 through 25.
Johnson is currently free on bond.
He faces three felony counts of criminal sexual conduct-first degree and two felony counts of criminal sexual conduct-second degree.
If convicted on the first degree charges, Johnson must spend between 25 years to life in prison. The second degree charges carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
According to the criminal complaint and victim testimony, Johnson is accused of having sexual contact with a six-year-old girl, an eight-year-old girl, and a 10-year-old girl at his home in Iron River between 2002 and 2010.
In addition to moving the trial date, Iron County Trial Court Judge C. Joseph Schwedler heard several different motions filed by Iron County Prosecutor Melissa Powell and defense attorney Geoffrey Lawrence during a court hearing on Tuesday.
- A motion by the defense for separate trials for each victim.
Lawrence felt that each case, and especially the first case, should be kept to its own trial.
He pointed out that when the alleged offenses occurred with the first victim, the alleged offenses with the other two victims had not occurred yet. It would be unfair for the jury the consider the subsequent cases, he added.
Powell had filed a companion motion for joinder of trials. In case the court granted Lawrence's motion for separate trials, she had also filed a motion to allow each of the cases to be admissible evidence in each of the trials.
Powell argued that there is often not much evidence in sexual assault crimes. She said that the similarity of the multiple cases against Johnson, the relatively short period of time in which the alleged offenses occurred, and the fact that the victims were minors should be considered.
Judge Schwedler decided that it would ultimately be beneficial to both the prosecution and the defense to combine all three cases into one trial. He denied Lawrence's motion.
- A motion by the defense to use an expert to access the private social media accounts of the victims.
Lawrence claimed that there is no expectation of privacy when posting information or photographs on social media websites like Facebook or Twitter. He believed that the victims could possibly have posted information relevant to the case on these sites.
Powell noted that password-protected online information is privileged and can only be accessed if there is probable cause, a court order, and a search warrant.
Judge Schwedler agreed with Powell and denied the motion.
- A motion by the defense to release Department of Human Services records about one of the victims.
Judge Schwedler determined that he will need to review the records before he can make a decision on whether or not they are relevant. Several other motions were contingent upon this motion, and will be decided at a later date.
- A motion by the prosecution to use an expert witness on sexual assault victims.
Since Lawrence did not have time to review the motion before the hearing, Judge Schwedler scheduled another motion hearing on Monday to discuss the matter.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.