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Update: Jury acquits UWRF prof Barnett in sex assault case

Thomas Barnett

In a verdict reached Saturday morning, a St. Croix County jury acquitted UW-River Falls professor Thomas William Barnett of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl last summer in a Hudson movie theater.

Jurors were unable to reach a verdict Friday afternoon and evening and were excused at about 8 p.m. Friday, said St. Croix County Clerk of Court Lori Meyer. The seven-man, five-woman panel reconvened Saturday at 9 a.m. and just after 11 a.m. announced an acquittal on both counts.

Barnett, 42, Baldwin, was charged with felony counts of sex assault of a child under 16-years-old and false imprisonment following an Aug. 16 incident at the Cinema Twelve Theater.

The jury started deliberations at 11:15 a.m. Friday.

The criminal complaint alleged Barnett inappropriately touched the 13-year-old girl after the end of a movie she was watching with her boyfriend.

According to the complaint, Barnett claimed to be theater security and accused the young woman of engaging in sexual activity during the show.

The girl told investigators and later testified in a preliminary hearing that she and her 14-year-old boyfriend had not had sex that night. During his opening statements Wednesday, April 11, prosecutor Frank Collins admitted the two teens had lied at first.

Collins said the two started kissing and eventually the girl performed oral sex on her boyfriend.

Surveillance cameras in the hall and lobby of the theater could not clearly show what happened that night and there was no DNA imprint from Barnett on the girl or her clothing, Collins said.

Defense attorney Tim O'Brien said during his opening statements the boyfriend could not testify that Barnett touched the girl and a theatre manager never saw physical contact between the two of them.

O'Brien said the prosecution would not be able to meet its burden of proof.

Barnett, a music professor at UWRF for 10 years, had been on administrative leave with pay while the case proceeded.