Charges that a former Shattuck-St. Mary’s teacher sexually abused a teenage student in 1980 have been dropped because too much time has passed since the alleged acts, attorneys on both sides of the case said Thursday.
Joseph Machlitt, 63, of St. Paul, was charged in November with third-degree criminal sexual conduct and fourth-degree attempted criminal sexual conduct for allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old male student at the private prep school in Faribault, Minn., more than 32 years ago. The complaint even noted that Machlitt admitted the sexual abuse to police under questioning in October 2012.
However, the Rice County attorney’s office filed a motion for dismissal Wednesday, the same day that the former dorm parent and art teacher was to appear in district court for a hearing. The motion said prosecutors were “time-barred” from pursuing the case further.
Prosecutors filed the motion after defense attorney Anthony Torres provided information showing that the statute of limitations in place at the time prevented charging Machlitt now. The law has since been changed to broaden the ability of prosecutors to charge cases based on acts alleged to have happened many years ago. According to a motion filed by Torres:
In 1980, the state’s statute of limitations provided a three-year period for the state to bring charges in criminal sexual conduct cases. However, the clock stops if an individual moves out of the state. If they return, the clock starts up again. In 1984, the time limit was extended to seven years for cases involving victims under 18.
Machlitt’s alleged offenses took place in the summer of 1980, when the three-year limit was in effect. He left the state that year to work in New Hampshire but returned to Minnesota in 1984. Although the law changed that year, it does not apply retroactively to alleged offenses before 1984. Therefore, the state would have been unable to prosecute Machlitt after 1987. Even if the 1984 law allowing seven years would have applied, it still would have been too late for the state to prosecute, Torres said.
Machlitt, who declined to comment Thursday about his case, was the third former teacher at Shattuck-St. Mary’s to have been accused of sexual misconduct with a student. In one case, the accused committed suicide. The other prosecution continues.
County Attorney G. Brian Beaumaster said Thursday that he’s certain that his office would have won a conviction against Machlitt.
The dismissal “has nothing to do with the merits of the case,” Beaumaster said, pointing to Machlitt’s confession.
Beaumaster described the accuser as “disappointed that Mr. Machlitt won’t be held accountable.”
The county attorney wants others who might have been abused to not be dissuaded by how this case turned out.
“Victims should always come forward and report,” even if they have doubts about whether too much time has passed.
Addressing his client’s confession to police, Torres said that there are “cases all the time where people make so-called admissions” that fail to hold up in court.
“That’s why we let a jury decide,” he said. “The issue of [Machlitt’s] so-called admission would have been challenged at trial.”
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report.