Ham Lake church youth leader acquitted of all sex charges

  • Updated: June 14, 2012 - 8:55 PM

A former Ham Lake church youth director was acquitted Thursday on all charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl.

An Anoka County jury spent more than a day deliberating before acquitting Damian Burkhalter, 47, of Blaine, of six counts of criminal sexual conduct.

The charges, filed last June, alleged that he abused the girl at his home and at youth camps, saying the first incident occurred about two years ago. Authorities were notified when a child protection worker in Kandiyohi County learned of the allegations from the girl.

Jill Brisbois, Burkhalter's attorney, said her client is pleased and relieved, but that since he was charged last year, he has lost his job and house, spent eight months in jail and was divorced.

"It's also been hard on his children," Brisbois said.

The case was handled by the Washington County attorney's office to avoid a potential conflict. Burkhalter's ex-wife worked for Anoka County court administration and he served on the county's community correction board.

The trial took nine days, and the girl was in court when the verdict was read.

"While we, of course, are disappointed with the verdict, we do accept the jury's decision," said First Assistant County Attorney Steve Povolny.

Burkhalter was a youth director at Glen Cary Lutheran Church in Ham Lake.

According to the charges, Burkhalter had "accepted" the girl into his family and wanted to adopt her. They developed a relationship, and the girl saw Burkhalter as a father figure, the charge said.

Brisbois said the girl's allegations "changed in significant ways" during testimony.

DAVID CHANEN

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