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Local rape trial verdict: not guilty

A former Dakota Wesleyan University student-athlete was found not guilty Friday of third-degree rape.

Kristopher Wilson, 24, of Lawrence, Kan., was accused of having sex with a woman who was unable to give consent.

“I’m not surprised,” said Phil Carlson, Wilson’s attorney, after the trial concluded. “I’ve known since the start my client was innocent. Justice has been done today. The not guilty verdict was the only one. We’re thrilled my client’s name has been cleared.”

When the verdict was read, the accuser, Katherine Varnado, 19, and Wilson both broke down in tears separately, as did each of their families.

“Thank the Lord. Thank you,” said one member of Wilson’s family as she cried and hugged another family member.

Varnado clung to a family member, crying. The Daily Republic had withheld her name during the trial, pursuant to its policy on alleged victims of sex crimes, even though she was identified in court and testified. With the trial over, the newspaper is publishing her name for the first time today.

“This was a case where both the state and defense were allowed to have their day in court,” said Davison County State’s Attorney Jim Miskimins after the trial concluded. “We appreciate the efforts of the jury of Davison County residents who fulfilled their civic duty under the law. I’m sure they reached the best verdict they could in this case.”

The jury deliberated the case for about an hour and a half Friday afternoon at the courthouse in Mitchell. The trial began Wednesday and lasted three days.

Wilson told the jury Friday that the night of the alleged rape last year, he and Varnado — a DWU student-athlete — had consensual sex and that she was awake through the encounter and never asked him to stop or tried to push him away. He said it happened on the couch in his dorm room.

Wilson told the jury he and Varnado slept on his couch until it was light out and then went to her dorm room around 10 a.m. on Jan. 20, 2013.

“Did she suggest in any way anything improper had happened the night before?” Carlson asked.

“No,” Wilson said.

Wilson also said he and Varnado got into her bed and took a nap until early afternoon. When they woke up, he said Varnado walked him downstairs, hugged him, said they could hang out later and he left the building.

Varnado left the courtroom in distress, upset and crying after Wilson’s testimony.

During cross-examination, State’s Attorney Miskimins questioned Wilson about the final text message Wilson sent Varnado the late afternoon of Jan. 20, 2013.

“What was the next message you sent to her?” Miskimins asked.

“ ‘We do anything last night?’ ” Wilson said.

“You just told the jury, like you did with Investigator (Joel) Reinesch, that you knew exactly what happened that night, isn’t that true?” Miskimins said, raising his voice. “You sent that text message to see whether you got away with it, didn’t you?”

“No,” Wilson answered.

Carlson called two other witnesses Friday afternoon who saw Wilson and Varnado together at a house party. The witnesses both said Varnado sat on Wilson’s lap during part of the house party, kissed him and was laughing and smiling.

Earlier in the morning, a juror left the courtroom unexpectedly without permission or escort to use the restroom. Judge Tim Bjorkman called it an innocent mistake, but decided to dismiss that juror to be replaced by the alternate juror.

In closing arguments, Carlson said the prosecution’s case was full of holes. The biggest hole was, he said, why Varnado allowed Wilson to accompany her back to her dorm room and take a nap for three hours if he had raped her that morning.

“Where does that fit into the state’s puzzle?” Carlson asked the jury. “How does that piece clarify what happened in this case?”

He said there were inconsistencies in Varnado’s story, including placing people in wrong scenarios, saying she couldn’t sit up without support at the house party when others said she could, and that she either passed out or was sleeping on Wilson’s couch.

Carlson told the jury he felt sorry for Varnado, but surmised she told the story of rape to assure her dad wasn’t disappointed in her poor choice of actions.

“The big piece of this puzzle has another name — reasonable doubt,” Carlson said.

Miskimins said in his closing argument that Wilson’s story “is full of minimizations and outright lies.”

He said Wilson started out his evening with a plan to prey on Varnado.

Miskimins said Wilson found Varnado at the school dance, danced with her, got her phone number and started texting her that evening. He could obviously see Varnado was “hammered” as he had to help her up two sets of stairs, Miskimins said.

“Wilson’s plan was coming to fruition,” he said.

He got Varnado alone in his dorm room but needed to find his phone, Miskimins said, and when Wilson got back to the room, he found Varnado passed out and had sex with her. Miskimins said despite Varnado saying no and being passed out during sex, Wilson didn’t think to stop or ask, “Are you with me?”

“The version you heard on the stand is complete bunk,” Miskimins said.