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Published April 05, 2013, 08:24 PM

Jury: Grand Forks man guilty of continuous sexual abuse of stepdaughter

The jury began deliberating the case against Justin Yarbro of Grand Forks just before noon today. Yarbro, 32, is charged with the continuous sexual abuse of his stepdaughter from April 2010 to October 2011, a Class AA felony with a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole if he’s convicted.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald

A Grand Forks jury has found Justin Yarbro guilty of continuous sexual abusing his step-daughter after about six hours of deliberation today.

Yarbro, 32, of Grand Forks faces a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole.

The abuse took place from April 2010 to October 2011 when the stepdaughter was 6 and 7 years old.

Yarbro testified Thursday for two hours, denying the charges and saying the girl’s mother, Nickole, his wife at the time, framed him because he was going to divorce her and not share a financial settlement due him from a car accident.

Yarbro’s attorney, Kerry Rosenquist, recalled Nickole to the stand this morning briefly, to ask her if she had talked previously about wanting to damage Yarbro if they ever divorced. She denied any such statements.

In her closing statement, prosecutor Meredith Larson told the jury that the alleged victim consistently used language appropriate for her age, to describe multiple sexual assaults by Yarbro over six months or more.

As Larson reviewed the trial’s testimony of the several explicit sexual acts the girl said Yarbro had committed on her, Nickole quickly got up from the spectators’ area left the courtroom, obviously upset.

On the other side of the courtroom, a dozen family members and friends of Yarbro filled the benches.

Credibility of girl

The defense argued that Nickole, the girl’s mother, in a few days, was able to have the girl give detailed descriptions of sexual acts that children would not understand, to several professionals and experts who found her account credible, Larson said.

“If you believe the defendant’s theory, you have to believe she is an amazing actress and has an incredible memory,” Larson told the jury.

“If you believe the defendant’s theory, you have to believe that (the girl) believes she has something personal to gain or that (her mother) has some amazing power over her... to describe... all these awful things that you have listened to.”

Rosenquist walked the jury through the timeline of the first accounts the girl gave to police, social workers and a child abuse pediatrician, and how the girl told a social worker in a second interview “I lied,” and “I must have imagined,” marks or scars on Yarbro’s penis.

That happened a day after Nickole met with Yarbro in a rural area a few miles from Grand Forks to inspect and take photographs of his penis, apparently seeing none, Rosenquist said.

“She’s coached, she’s definitely coached,” he said.

The couple had two other children together who “already had been adopted out,” and there was “some animosity, an acrimonious relationship at best,” Rosenquist said. “She’s yelling at him all the time, telling him if things get bad... things are going to get ugly and you will never see your daughter again.”

Just days before Nickole first reported the alleged sexual abuse, she had told Yarbro she had cheated on him, Yarbro testified, and he then told her they would get divorced.

Rosenquist told the jury that child abuse expert, Dr. Arne Graff, was a “professional child advocate,” and that statistics he provided that 95 percent of all child victims of sexual abuse show no medical or physical signs of injury or trauma, seem “dubious.”

Jackie Poitra, a forensic interviewer with the Children’s Advocacy Center, gave leading questions to the girl, and “offered her choices” in interviews that resulted in the girl supposedly making allegations, Rosenquist told the jury.

The jury of six men and six women, if still deliberating at 5 p.m., will decide if they want to work into the evening, and whether they deliberate Saturday or,rather, return on Monday if necessary, state District Judge Debbie Kleven told them.