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Defense and prosecution rest Thursday in trial against Kasson LDS church leader accused of sexual assault

Closing arguments are expected to be given tomorrow and then the case is given to the jury to issue the verdict of Michael Davis, 37, who is accused of sexually assaulting a juvenile under his care.

Michael-Davis.png
Michael Adam Davis.
Contributed / Dodge County Sheriff's Office
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MANTORVILLE — The defense and prosecution rested today in the trial of a Church of Latter-Day Saints leader accused of sexually assaulting a juvenile under his care. Closing arguments are expected to be delivered tomorrow.

Michael Davis, 37, is facing two charges of felony first-degree criminal sexual conduct, two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct and one charge of indecent exposure in the presence of a minor with a previous conviction.

Over the course of the trial, jurors heard testimony from the alleged victim, their family members, multiple law enforcement personnel, and social and medical workers who interacted with the alleged victim.

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Davis was the elders quorum president at LDS church in Kasson where the alleged victim and his mother attended. Davis has since been removed from any position in the congregation, according to Randal Thomas, president of the Rochester Minnesota Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He is accused of sexually assaulting a then-13-year-old boy under his care multiple times over Christmas break in December 2018 in Davis’ home.

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One prosecution witness, Carrie Miller-Scow, was excluded from testifying after another witness, Michael Benjamin, talked to her during the court’s afternoon break Thursday.

“There has been a clear violation of the sequestration order,” Davis’ defense counsel Thomas Braun, of Rochester told presiding Judge Jodi Williamson.

Olmsted Assistant County Attorney Geoffrey Hjerleid argued that her testimony had nothing to do with what the pair talked about during the break and that she should have been allowed to testify.

“It doesn’t matter,” Williamson said, later adding, “That is completely unacceptable.”

Hjerleid, of Olmsted County, is prosecuting the Dodge County case due to a previous staffing shortage in the Dodge County Attorney’s Office.

Benjamin testified earlier Thursday to the hierarchy of the LDS church and the general responsibilities of Davis’ position within the church. Whether or not Davis was in a position of power is a key factor in many of his charges.

Benjamin is a current Rochester LDS member who has held the same position in the church as Davis in the past as well as other various leadership and assistance roles.

Benjamin testified that the elders quorum president was second only to the branch president as far as individual positions go within a smaller LDS church like the one in Kasson.

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A branch president in the LDS faith would be the spiritual leader of a congregation of 125 or less.

An elders quorum president would have direct contact with youth within the congregation, often directing trips or assigning duties, as well as providing guidance to other members of the congregation, according to Benjamin’s testimony.

“There’s a lot of respect and prestige with the elders quorum title,” Benjamin testified. If they asked to see family, “there would be no questions asked,” he added.

Under cross examination from Braun, Benjamin testified that he did not have any direct knowledge of the specifics of Davis’ role in the Kasson church.

Braun also questioned Benjamin about his motives in testifying, saying he had a stake in the case as evidenced by Benjamin contacting multiple news outlets about the case, being involved in a lawsuit with the LDS church and offering his services to testify to the prosecution.

“I want the truth to be known, so if that’s a stake, yes,” Benjamin testified.

Kasson Branch President Brent Larson was listed on the defense’s witness list and it was expected he would testify to Davis’ role within the Kasson LDS church.

A motion to allow Larson to testify via video teleconference was denied by Williamson last week and he was not called to testify during the trial.

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The defense's sole witness, Erin Olsen, a child protection social worker with the Minnesota Prairie County Alliance, disputed earlier testimony by Dr. Shennin Hudoba.

Hudoba, a family medicine doctor in Rochester, is a doctor to whom the alleged victim and his mother reported the sexual assault.

Hudoba testified that she was not told details of the abuse, only that there was an incident of rape by a church leader. She testified that she reported the alleged abuse to social services.

Olsen was the one who received that report and testified that she wrote in her report that the alleged victim had taken a car ride with Davis, whom the alleged victim claimed had hurt him, and that the alleged victim and the mother were going to report it to police. Olsen testified she was unsure where she would get that information if not from Hudoba.

Jurors also watched video of Minnesota Prairie County Alliance Child Protection Investigator Brittany Mayer interview the alleged victim about the alleged sexual assault.

The alleged victim detailed the claims of abuse in the video and named Davis as the perpetrator.

The video seemingly cuts out before the interview concludes and Mayer testified that she was unsure why.

Braun has repeatedly questioned the amount of times the alleged victim was interviewed and the manner he was interviewed in.

Dodge County Sheriff’s Captain Jeff Brumfield also testified Thursday that he began his investigation into Davis in April 2019 with concerns over Davis’ relationship with a juvenile which eventually led to the charges Davis faces today.

Brumfield, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office since 2005, testified that Davis and the alleged victim appeared once before in his agency’s database, in a January 2019 incident in which the alleged victim was allegedly driving Davis’s car recklessly through the Kasson LDS church’s grass.

Brumfield testified that he had concerns about potential criminal behavior due to the amount of time the duo spent together, gifts that were given and the alleged victim sneaking out of the house to see Davis.

While Brumfield testified he was concerned about “possible sexual abuse”, he had closed the case following a March 2019 interview with Kasson-Mantorville School Resource Officer Jesse Kasel and the alleged victim in which no abuse was disclosed.

The case was reopened following an April 2019 report by the alleged victim's mother alleging sexual abuse by Davis.

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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