Assistant Attorney General Amber Hahn looks on as Brandon Darnick begins to cry after a guilty verdict is announced in his trial on a charge of first degree child sexual assault Wednesday afternoon Dec. 5, 2019 in Oneida County Circuit Court.
12/7/2019 7:26:00 AM Former Arbor Vitae man convicted of child sexual assault
An Oneida County jury deliberated for approximately 2 1/2 hours Wednesday afternoon before convicting Brandon A. Darnick, 27, formally of Arbor Vitae, of first degree child sexual assault (sexual contact with a person under age 13) in connection with an incident involving a 2-year-old child nearly six years ago.
Assistant attorneys general Amber Hahn and Noel Lawrence spent 2 1/2 days building their case against Darnick. Among the witnesses called to the stand were the mother of the child and the analysts who studied swabs taken from the child's body.
According to the complaint and trial testimony, the child's mother heard signs of distress coming from the child while the child was using the restroom on Dec. 13, 2013. When she questioned the child, seeking an explanation for the distress, the child stated that his/her bottom hurt and "the doctor put his belly up my butt."
The child's mother was confused as the child had not been to see a doctor recently, however the child continued to repeat the same phrase, according to court testimony. It was also noted that the day before the incident in the restroom, the child had spent the night in the same residence as the defendant.
This led the mother to rush the child to the hospital for a forensic medical examination. While additional interviews were conducted by the Minocqua Police Department, no charges were immediately filed and the results of the forensic medical examination, referred to as a rape kit, sat untested until the attorney general's office began a concerted effort to clear untested kits.
According to the complaint, the kit was sent to Sorenson Forensics in Salt Lake City for initial tests. Those results were then sent to the Wisconsin State Crime Lab. Further testing done on the samples yielded a single sperm cell that matched Darnick's DNA.
The criminal charge was filed in November 2018, following the DNA match.
Defense attorney Brent Debord called only one witness and that was the defendant.
On the stand Wednesday, Darnick said the DNA found on the sample got there when he wiped the child's bottom following a bowel movement.
He testified that he had sexual contact with his girlfriend the day before and did not wash his hands between the time of the sexual encounter and when he helped the child in the bathroom.
He further testified that he slept in the clothes he was wearing the previous evening and had them on the next day.
"My mother left and (the child) made a bowel movement, I wiped (child's) butt," Darnick said.
"You wiped (child's) butt?" Debord asked.
"Yes," Darnick replied.
"Were you wearing gloves or anything?" his lawyer asked.
"No," Darnick replied. "It was by accident from me wiping (child's) butt."
He maintained this was the only time he was alone with the child.
"Did you molest (the child)," Debord asked.
"No," Darnick replied.
Under cross-examination by Lawrence, Darnick admitted he didn't tell police in 2013 that he had sex with his girlfriend on the evening of Dec. 12, nor did he mention it when he was reinterviewed in 2018.
Lawrence pressed him on the issue of hand washing.
"How many times had you gone to the bathroom between 5 p.m. (Dec. 12) and 8 a.m. the next day?" Lawrence asked.
"Maybe once or twice," Darnick replied.
"And you wouldn't wash your hands?" Lawrence asked.
"No," he replied.
After Oneida County Circuit Court Judge Patrick O'Melia relayed jury instructions, Hahn gave the state's closing remarks.
She focused heavily on the DNA evidence.
"The only DNA on those swabs that contained semen was the defendant's and (the child's)," Hahn said, adding there were other people at the apartment whose DNA was tested and were eliminated as a match.
"From the DNA evidence alone, even if you ignore all the other evidence in this case, you should find the defendant guilty," she said.
She then listed all of the evidence offered by the state and asked the jury to compare that to the reason Darnick gave for the DNA being there.
"That is just far too many coincidences (in Darnick's theory) than is reasonable," Hahn said.
In his closing argument, Debord noted the state does not have to prove motive for the jury to return a guilty verdict for most charges. However, in the case of the charge his client faced, which involves sexual gratification or to humiliate the victim, motive is important.
Debord repeated Darnick's claim that the semen was left over from the night before and was not a result of any sexual gratification related to a child.
He also questioned why the child's clothing was not sent for forensic testing and noted that the case was closed without the kit being sent in for testing.
"The state has a burden; it's their job to accuse, and we do not blame them for that," Debord said. "They are to take a look at things, determine if there is a possibility of crime, point the finger and say who did it. That's why we have jury trials, they have to prove it."
After receiving final instructions from O'Melia, the jury began deliberations at about 2:40 p.m. At approximately 5:15 p.m. it was announced that the panel had reached a verdict.
As the guilt verdict was read, Darnick put his head to his chest and began to cry, shaking his head slightly and saying "no" softly.
O'Melia released the jury and revoked Darnick's bond. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered and sentencing has been set for March 23.
The maximum sentence Darnick faces is 40 years in prison followed by 20 years extended supervision.
After the verdict, Debord indicated an appeal is possible.
"We'll consider our options from here," he said.
On Thursday, Attorney General Josh Kaul issued a press release lauding the work of those involved in securing the conviction.
"Because of the commitment to justice of many public servants and a brave survivor, a child sex offender had been convicted," Kaul said in the release. "This case demonstrates yet again why a backlog of untested sexual assault kits is totally unacceptable."
The release also noted the contributions of civilian witnesses, the Minocqua Police Department, Oneida County Sheriff's Office, Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory, Sorenson Forensics, St. Clare's Hospital, Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the Wisconsin Sexual Assault Kit Initiative team at the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ), and DOJ Division of Criminal Investigation.
Victim services were provided by the DOJ Office of Crime Victim Services, with Hahn and Lawrence receiving assistance from legal associate Tiffany Briggs, paralegals Jackie Righter and Rachael Sweet, and support staff Nikole Kane and Julia Patz, in a partnership with the Oneida County District Attorney's Office.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.
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