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Jurors cite sexual messages in convicting woman

It took a jury only a few minutes Thursday morning to arrive at a guilty verdict for Cynthia Kusy, a Tennessee woman accused of luring a 16-year-old Grand Forks boy over the Internet and having sex with him early last year.

Cynthia Kusy
Cynthia Kusy

It took a jury only a few minutes Thursday morning to arrive at a guilty verdict for Cynthia Kusy, a Tennessee woman accused of luring a 16-year-old Grand Forks boy over the Internet and having sex with him early last year.

Jurors reached by the Herald said the trail of often racy Internet messages between Kusy and the boy convinced them of her guilt, especially because the messages indicated she was aware of his age.

North Dakota District Judge Debbie Kleven ordered Kusy jailed here until she posted $50,000 bond, higher than the amount requested by her court-appointed defense attorney David Ogren.

The jury convicted Kusy of two counts of sexual assault of a minor and one count of luring a minor sexually over the Internet. All are class C felonies that each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Kleven scheduled sentencing for Oct. 3.


Kusy and Ogren had no comment after the verdict. She immediately began calling to find someone to retrieve her personal property from the Fargo motel where she had been staying this week.

"I'm up here by myself," she told the court, adding that her husband and son, who was 13 in early 2011, remain in Tennessee.

Because the victim's psychiatrist testified he was immature with psychological problems, the Herald has not identified him though he recently turned 18.

'Writing on wall'

The jury of five men and seven women retreated to their deliberation room a few minutes after 10 a.m. By about 10:20 a.m., the verdict had been reached.

It was clear there was unanimous agreement among jurors within about 15 minutes, said juror David Frisch.

"In the court room, the writing was on the wall," he said, referring to Internet messages between Kusy and the boy. "It was all written out step-by-step."

Peter Gesellchen was the alternate juror dismissed before the short deliberation began.


An engineer for the city of Grand Forks, he said he was unsure about the sexual assault charges because the boy was not the most credible witness. But on the luring charge, "there was a paper trail," Gesellchen said.

Prosecution witnesses corroborated what the young man has said despite his eccentric way of communicating, Frisch said. "He was pretty well read by the psychiatrist and I have no reason to doubt him."

Dr. Steven Hill, who has treated the victim for three years, had testified that although his patient is unsophisticated and immature, he gave consistent and credible accounts of the sexual activity with Kusy.

Judge Joel Medd, presiding judicial officer over the state's Northeast Central district which includes Nelson and Grand Forks counties, said Thursday in his 37 years experience of jury deliberations, "I have seen all lengths, to going into a second day, into the night or right away like this."

Frisch, a civilian social worker at the Grand Forks Air Force Base who works in drug prevention and testing, said despite the short deliberation, there was no rush to judgment. "I thought about it for a long time. It wasn't taken lightly."

'Bad judgment' not crime

Prosecutor Carmell Mattison spent much of her closing argument reading sexually-explicit Internet messages sent from Kusy to the boy.

The chats showed clearly that Kusy knew the boy was not yet 18 and that she invited and induced the boy to have sex with her, Mattison said.


The defense didn't call any witnesses, and conceded Kusy had exchanged the messages with the boy, and met him at a Grand Forks motel in April 2011 for three nights. Kusy also admitted that a week later she drove to Grand Forks and took him to Knoxville, Tenn., without telling his mother.

But there was reason to believe Kusy didn't really know how old the boy was, because he initially told her he was "18 or 20," Ogren told the jury in his closing argument.

The two first met online at Thanksgiving time in 2010 playing Wizards101, an online role-playing game. Within a few months, they were exchanging hundreds of messages a week, and talking by phone when the boy's mother was not home, according to testimony.

But once she met the boy in person in Grand Forks, there is no record of any more sexually-explicit Internet messages, Ogren told the jury.

Kusy denies any sexual contact happened between the two, Ogren said, and there was no forensic evidence, such as DNA, indicating it.

The sexually-explicit chats between the two were not illegal if Kusy had good reason to believe the boy actually was 18 or older, Ogren said.

"Did Ms. Kusy use some bad judgment? Yes, she did," Ogren told the jury. "But bad judgment doesn't necessarily equate with criminal responsibility."

Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1237; or send email to slee@gfherald.com .

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