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Music professorʼs case handed to jury

April 13, 2012

UW-River Falls music professor Thomas W. Barnett’s case is now in the hands of a St. Croix County jury.

Barnett, a 42-year-old from Baldwin who has taught at UWRF for 10 years, is facing charges of second-degree sexual assault of a minor and false imprisonment stemming from an alleged incident Aug. 16 at the Hudson Theatre. Barnett has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

After closing arguments Friday morning in St. Croix County Circuit Court in Hudson, the jury left the courtroom to begin its deliberations.

The trial began Wednesday after two and a half hours of jury selection.

In his opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Francis Collins, who is representing the state of Wisconsin in the case, said that Barnett approached a now 14-year-old girl and identified himself as theater security and then told her boyfriend to leave the auditorium while he spoke with the girl. Collins said that Barnett stopped the girl from leaving the theater and then proceeded to touch her inappropriately.

Collins also acknowledged that the teenagers initially lied about their own sexual activity. DNA collected and examined at the Wisconsin Crime Lab in Madison tested positive for the young boy’s DNA and did not include Barnett’s, Collins told the jury.

Defense Attorney Timothy O’Brien countered by saying that Barnett had gone into the theater with his son and son’s friend after a long road-trip. O’Brien said that during the movie, Barnett had fallen asleep and woke up and noticed a young couple making out and engaging in sexual activity in the row behind them. When the movie was over, Barnett said he confronted them about what they were doing and asked what their parents would think.

O’Brien also emphasized that the teenagers had lied to law enforcement officials about what they were doing, and only later changed their minds once it was known that the boy’s DNA would be tested.

Witnesses, who included three theater employees and an employee’s daughter, testified that they saw Barnett talking to the girl but did not see any physical contact between them. The witnesses were able to identify Barnett through their connections with UWRF or as a citizen from Baldwin.

One employee noted that she had talked to the boy about a security guard and video surveillance. On the first day of the trial, the accuser took the stand and said that Barnett had gestured for her and her then boyfriend to come over after the movie ended. She said that Barnett had asked to talk to the girl alone, and that the boyfriend said it was OK because he was with security.

It was then, the girl said, that Barnett began to touch her. O’Brien then questioned the girl by seeking several inconsistencies in the girl’s account of what happened. The inconsistencies included whether she had performed oral sex on her boyfriend, the timing of text messages, how the man entered her shorts, and when the theater employees were told to contact authorities.

There was also the concern about why Barnett had run out of the theater. Video surveillance had showed him slightly jogging as he left the theater. However, one witness testified that it was not uncommon for customers to run out of the theater when it was raining.

Other potential witnesses include the boy who was with the alleged victim, the alleged victim’s father, members of the Hudson Police Department, Barnett’s wife and son, and Barnett himself.

The trial is scheduled to go throughout Friday.

The jury is composed of 13 individuals, eight males and five females. One member will be excused before jury deliberations.

Updates on the trial will be posted to the Student Voice website, www.uwrfvoice.com, as information becomes available. Barnett is still on paid administrative leave from the University.