The rape charge against a man who had been accused of attacking a Valleyfair worker in 2018 was dismissed Tuesday after his attorney discovered that DNA tests had been mixed up.
Austin J. Jones, 27, was scheduled to stand trial next week in Carver County District Court on two counts each of first-degree criminal sexual assault and second-degree criminal sexual assault until his attorney, Robert Sicoli, and a forensic anthropologist raised concerns about DNA results.
Sicoli hired Dr. Krista Latham to review DNA test results from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Test results indicated that the alleged victim’s belt buckle had Jones’ DNA on it but not her own DNA, and that the fly area of Jones’ underwear had DNA from the alleged victim but none of his own.
“To not have your own DNA on your underwear is impossible,” Sicoli said.
According to Sicoli, Latham reported that the BCA could have mixed up the test results.
Sicoli said he alerted Debra Lund, the criminal division head at the Scott County Attorney’s Office. Lund agreed to retest the evidence and found that the DNA results did not support the charges, Sicoli said.
Lund filed a dismissal, citing “the interests of justice.”
Sicoli said investigators and a different prosecutor ignored discrepancies between the suspect description and Jones, and surveillance video showing Jones at a gas station located far from the alleged crime scene.
Police found Jones, who was homeless at the time, sleeping in his car parked about a mile from where the Valleyfair employee said a man assaulted her.
Jones was convicted in 2010 of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old and is a registered sex offender.
In a prepared statement, the BCA said, in part, “During a standard review of this case, the BCA determined an error had occurred that resulted in the reporting of inaccurate DNA results to the investigating agency. Two evidentiary samples were inadvertently switched during the DNA testing process. The BCA immediately notified the prosecutor who then notified the other parties in this case. The BCA began a corrective action review process immediately once the error was discovered. The scientist involved has been reassigned until the review is completed. We will continue to work on this case with the sheriff’s office to analyze evidence so that justice is served both for the victim and her assailant.”