A Rosemount man whose battle over whether he got a fair trial in Dakota County had gone all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court has died while awaiting a ruling.

Paul R. Hakala, 70, died Friday at home.

Last May, when his cancer was deemed terminal, a Dakota County judge released Hakala from prison while his sex-abuse case was on appeal.

Hakala maintained his innocence until the end of his life, said his wife, Marie Hakala.

"What he really wanted was whatever it would take to clear his name," she said.

Hakala was convicted in 2007 of sexually abusing three girls.

The alleged victims were ages 13, 15 and 17 when they testified before Dakota County District Judge Thomas Poch in 2007. The abuse began, they had testified, three or four years before.

Hakala's attorney contended that the girls' statements and testimony contained many inconsistencies, including what happened and how often, and that the girls' testimony about their recollections had varied widely. Hakala said the girls made up the allegations.

Still, a jury convicted him of one count of first-degree and two counts of second-degree sexual abuse.

The Hakalas appealed, and a Court of Appeals panel, in a 2-1 decision, found that Hakala didn't get a fair trial. The panel ruled that Hakala's attorney should have been allowed to present testimony from an expert witness.

That witness was prepared to testify about concerns she had with the interviewing techniques used by a social worker who had questioned the girls. But the state objected, and Poch did not let the defense witness testify before the jury.

The appeals panel threw out the convictions and ordered a new trial in Dakota County, but that would have required the victims to testify again. So prosecutors asked the Supreme Court to reverse the Court of Appeals decision and let stand Hakala's 165-month sentence.

Marie Hakala said her husband's condition began deteriorating fast early last week.

"He was very much at peace," she said, "and he had fought a courageous battle with cancer and congestive heart failure and diabetes."

Joy Powell • 952-882-9017