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U professor pleads guilty in case of sexually explicit Facebook messages

  • August 29, 2014 - 9:58 AM

Woody Dale Branton, an associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, has pleaded guilty to trying to lure a 15-year-old Louisiana girl into a sexual relationship.

Branton, 63, was arrested at his Minneapolis home in March after an FBI investigation found that he had exchanged thousands of Facebook messages with the girl, many of them sexual in nature, and asked her to send him nude photos of herself. Officials said that Branton tried to set up a meeting with the girl in Louisiana. When the girl’s mother discovered the messages, she notified authorities.

On Wednesday, Branton entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of enticing a minor into criminal sexual activity, according to a news release by U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley in Monroe, La. He faces 10 years to life in prison and will be required to register as a sexual offender, according to Finley. His sentencing is scheduled for January.

Steve Henneberry, a university spokesman, said that Branton was suspended without pay on Thursday, pending the outcome of formal disciplinary action. He said he could not comment further under rules of the tenure code, until the disciplinary process is complete. Branton has worked at the university since 1988.

Maura Lerner

© 2014 Star Tribune