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Jury: Grand Forks man guilty of sexually abusing step-daughter

A Grand Forks jury on Friday found Justin Yarbro guilty of sexually abusing his step-daughter when she was 6 and 7. Yarbro, 32, of Grand Forks showed no obvious reaction to the verdict, maintaining the quiet demeanor he has had throughout the fou...

Justin Yarbro

A Grand Forks jury on Friday found Justin Yarbro guilty of sexually abusing his step-daughter when she was 6 and 7.

Yarbro, 32, of Grand Forks showed no obvious reaction to the verdict, maintaining the quiet demeanor he has had throughout the four-day trial.

The crime carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole. State District Judge Debbie Kleven scheduled sentencing for July 17.

Yarbro's father and mother and other family members waited to visit with him briefly after the verdict.

The victim's mother, Nickole, sat with family members on the other side of the court room. After the jury left, she hugged her grandfather. Now using another last name after divorcing Yarbro last year, Nickole declined to comment.

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The girl's biological father also listened to the verdict, but declined comment.

The victim, now 8, testified, as did her mother and Yarbro.

Young jury

After three days of testimony and closing arguments Friday, the jury began deliberating just after 11:30 a.m. and told court officials about 5:30 p.m. they had reached a unanimous verdict.

Several experienced court-watchers and court officers agreed the jury of six men and six women was relatively young, with nearly all of them appearing to be 30 to 50.

One court official said one-third of the original panel of 64 juror candidates indicated they had a personal connection of some kind to child sexual abuse, which made jury selection more complicated.

Yarbro's attorney, Kerry Rosenquist, said he will review the trial transcripts and consult with Yarbro and his family about a possible appeal.

"It was a tough case," Rosenquist said. "When it takes the jury this long, I'm satisfied this jury considered all the evidence."

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Meredith Larson and Jason McCarthy, assistant state's attorneys for Grand Forks County, prosecuted Yarbro.

Larson said the important issue was resolved: a child victim of sexual assault got justice.

Closing arguments

The girl testified earlier this week that Yarbro, who she still called "Dad," had sexually abused her in several ways from April 2010, when she was 6, until Oct. 12, 2011. That's when her mother first confronted Yarbro, the mother testified.

Yarbro testified Thursday, denying the charges and saying Nickole framed him because he was going to divorce her and not share a financial settlement due him from a car accident.

During her closing statement Friday, Larson argued that the defense's theory was that the mother somehow got a 7-year-old girl to give detailed and consistent accounts of explicit sexual acts in language that a child, not an adult, would use, accounts that several experts testified were credible.

"If you believe the defendant's theory, you have to believe she is an amazing actress and has an incredible memory," Larson told the jury. "She should get an Academy Award."

Rosenquist, in his closing, argued that the girl's mother, herself a victim of sexual abuse as a child "at the hands of her step-father," fed her daughter stories to tell.

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"She's coached, she's definitely coached," he said of the girl.

Rosenquist told the jury that the girl, in a second interview with a social worker, that "I lied," and "I must have imagined," details about marks or scars on Yarbro's penis.

More litigation

Kleven, after releasing the jury and setting a sentencing date, pointed out to the attorneys for each side that Yarbro faces other charges and litigation.

He was charged late last year with theft while in jail; prosecutors say he lied on his application for a court-appointed attorney about how much unemployment insurance he was collecting.

Yarbro testified he and Nickole were locked out from their jobs at the American Crystal Sugar plant in East Grand Forks starting Aug. 1, 2011. Yarbro wrote he was collecting $281 per month, when he was collecting that much each week, prosecutors said.

McCarthy said he and Larson will decide next week whether to pursue that felony charge of theft of services.

Yarbro also faces a string of felony burglary charges in Polk County, Minn.; he allegedly broke into several ice fishing houses on Maple Lake in late 2011.

Nickole, also lodged a civil lawsuit against him in Grand Forks court a year ago seeking personal injury damages on behalf of her daughter over the sexual abuse. That suit is due to go to trial in May.

Kleven told him she would not extradite him to Polk County until the Grand Forks legal issues are resolved.

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

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