By NIKKI YOUNK
CRYSTAL FALLS - A four-day jury trial for an Iron River man accused of having sexual contact with three underage girls began in Iron County Trial Court Tuesday.
Nikki Younk/Daily News Photo
Dennis Johnson, left, appears in Iron County Trial Court Tuesday for the first day of his scheduled four-day jury trial on criminal sexual conduct charges. Also pictured is defense attorney Geoffrey Lawrence.
Dennis Alan Johnson, 55, 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, he must spend between 25 years to life in prison. The second degree charges carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
During opening arguments Tuesday, Iron County Prosecutor Melissa Powell told the jury that the three victims, who are now 20, 13, and 11 years old, were molested by Johnson when they were under the age of 13.
Powell said that Johnson is related to the victims' families through marriage and spent time with each of them while they were growing up.
"He was in the circle of trust," she said.
All of the victims reported that Johnson had taken them on trips and given them gifts, Powell added.
The alleged incidents of sexual contact occurred at Johnson's home or his rental properties in Iron River over a period of eight years between 2002 and 2010.
Powell said that none of the victims immediately told anyone about the alleged incidents. The allegations came out after the youngest victim talked to a Department of Human Services (DHS) worker in 2012.
Over the course of the trial, Powell will call the victims, their mothers, DHS representatives, and police to testify.
"At the end of this trial, the People will ask you to put Dennis Johnson outside the circle of trust and convict him on all counts," Powell told the jury.
Defense attorney Geoffrey Lawrence pointed out that the prosecution has testimony, but no physical evidence to back up the allegations.
"These kids have their story down," said Lawrence. "The story starts to fall apart when you start asking questions."
Lawrence asked the jurors to question whether the victims and other witnesses are credible and if there is anything to corroborate their stories. He claimed that there will be inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and impossibilities in their testimony.
For example, Lawrence argued that one victim is a habitual liar and another victim was not even in the state of Michigan when Johnson was alleged to have committed the criminal sexual conduct charge against her.
"It leads to reasonable doubt," said Lawrence.
A jury of seven men and six women are hearing the case. There is one extra juror just in case a juror falls ill or is otherwise unable to serve.
Powell said that testimony will continue today with an expert witness, some defense witnesses, and possibly Johnson himself.
Closing arguments could begin as soon as Thursday morning, she said.
The trial is scheduled to run through Friday.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.