BRAINERD, Minn. — The case against a former Minnesota youth pastor accused of sexually assaulting a student at Lake Region Christian School in Baxter, Minn., more than 30 years ago has been dismissed.
Todd Travis Hogue, 60, was charged almost a year ago on Jan. 27, 2020, in Crow Wing County District Court on two felony counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.
The state prosecutor — Crow Wing County Assistant Attorney Janine Lepage, who represented the accuser — dismissed both charges Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, stating the defense gathered enough evidence to create reasonable doubt in regard to the timing of the sexual assault.
“It was unfortunate,” Lepage said in a telephone interview about having to dismiss the case. “There is no doubt in my mind that the assault occurred. ... The victim has a compelling story, and I don’t mean story as in a fabrication. I mean her memory of it is really compelling. The details she was able to remember — the smells, the feelings — all the things she could remember were compelling.”
Brainerd Defense Attorney Dennis Lothspeich, who represented Hogue, argued the timeline of when the alleged sexual assault occurred as it relates to the statute of limitations. According to the charges filed against his client, the accuser told an investigator she was a senior at Lake Region Christian School in 1987-88 when she was allegedly assaulted by Hogue, who was a youth pastor at First Baptist Church at the time.
The accuser, who is now 51 and lives in Texas, was 17 when she started her senior year in the fall. She turned 18 shortly afterward on Nov. 7, 1987.
According to Minnesota state law during the timeframe of when the sexual assault was reported, the victim must take action within three years of the assault if the victim is an adult. Otherwise the statute of limitations runs out and the victim can no longer press charges. If the victim was under age 18, they had seven years to press charges. The statute of limitations has since changed for sexual assault victims under the age of 18, who may press charges now at any time.
The defense attorney filed documents Dec. 14 and 15, 2020, that said the accuser claimed the offenses were committed on or about Aug. 1 to Nov. 6, 1987. The document went on to state the accuser claims she was raped by Hogue her senior year in high school. At the time, Hogue was the basketball coach at the school and a youth pastor at the church. In the court document, Hogue denies any sexual assault took place before or after Nov. 7, 1987.
Relevant to the statute of limitations in question, Lothspeich said the school year started Sept. 8, 1987, and the accuser turned 18 eight weeks later.
Lothspeich wrote that if the state cannot prove the alleged assault happened before Nov. 7, 1987, this prosecution is barred and dismissal would be required.
“The evidence strongly suggests that the state will not be able to prove the assaults happened before Nov. 6, 1987,” the defense wrote.
Lepage said the defense’s argument for dismissal was detailed and created reasonable doubt to when the sexual assault happened. The accuser believed the assault happened before she turned 18, but she could not recall the exact dates and didn’t have any definitive evidence on the assault occurring before her birthday.
The accuser, Nikki Wolvert-Feller, who agreed to be named for this story, said in a telephone interview Wednesday, Jan. 27, that even though the case is dismissed, she feels some closure. Wolvert-Feller said her attorney told her she believes Hogue sexually assaulted her and that is “enough closure” for her.
“He refused to go to court. He had every opportunity to take this to court and prove his innocence. He chose not to. He chose to go this route,” she said. "I don't know if they look at this as a win for themselves, simply because it got dismissed. But for me, this was him saying, I'm not guilty because it happened when you were 18, which is still guilty. That does not change the fact of what he did.”
Wolvert-Feller said if she had a chance to speak to Hogue, she would share this Bible verse: “Be sure your sins will find you out,” (Numbers 32:22).
Wolvert-Feller said the church and the school went above and beyond with assisting with the investigation.
“They did everything they were asked, they asked how they could help, how they could make it easier,” Wolvert-Feller said. “I do not in any way, shape or form hold that place responsible.”