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Jury finds Hanska man guilty of one charge

After river tubing trip

May 12, 2012
By Fritz Busch - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - After just more than two hours of deliberation Friday, a six-man, six-woman Brown County District Court jury found 29-year-old James D. Sowers of Hanska guilty of gross misdemeanor for furnishing alcohol to a minor, but not guilty of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, a felony charge.

The girl's mother was displeased with the verdict.

"The jury didn't deliberate very long," she said. "I think it was very unfair the judge wouldn't allow (Sowers') past to be brought up."

Charges stemmed from a tubing trip on the Cottonwood River on June 6, 2011, involving Sowers, an 18-year-old female, several friends, alcohol, "spice" synthetic marijuana and an incident at Sowers' apartment, according to the complaint.

Two days after the excursion, New Ulm Police met with the girl and her mother regarding an alleged sexual assault against the girl.

The girl told police she remembered arriving at Sowers' apartment on the 200 block of South Minnesota Street in New Ulm and later waking up in a children's bedroom in the apartment, after she "blacked out" during the alleged assault.

The girl recalled Sowers telling her not to tell his girlfriend at some point during or after the alleged assault, according to the complaint.

According to a lab report by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, semen samples collected as a result of the girl's sexual assault examination were run through the Minnesota convicted offender DNA database and matched Sowers' DNA profile.

Defense attorney Tom Van Hon of Fairfax said the jury was clearly very attentive during the three-day jury trial and weighed evidence carefully.

In his final argument, Prosecuting Attorney Josh Steinbrecher of New Ulm said one of the most important rights we have is who or what comes into contact with our bodies.

"Everyone has a right to decide who they let into the sphere of their body," he added.

"Sowers, 28 (at the time), knew everyone else on the river excursion was 18 or 19... Other students said (the girl) was 'ridiculously drunk' and passed out. Is anybody in that state able to consent to sex? It's not feasible in this case."

Steinbrecher said Sowers took no responsibility for his actions that day, instead blaming the girls and everybody else.

In his final argument, Van Hon said people make bad decisions when they drink too much, and that is what happened.

"There's no way to tell who's telling the truth, unless you were there," Van Hon said. "Sort it out by looking at other evidence. (The girl) said she had four or five drinks, a beer or two and shots, and called it 'drinking for fun.'

"Clearly, she is troubled with alcohol and drama. Set sympathy aside and use your head. If you have any doubt, bring a verdict of not guilty."

In rebuttal, Steinbecher said Van Hon left out some things in his final argument and urged to jury to consider what the girl said, not what Van Hon said.

Sowers is scheduled to be sentenced at 3:30 p.m. Friday, June 15, in Brown County District Court.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at



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