GOVERNMENT CENTER—Keith Christenson, 54, Grantsburg plead no contest to one count of lewd and lascivious behavior in public, a misdemeanor, last week and avoided what could have been a traumatic jury trial.
The 12-person jury trial for the felony case of Christenson was cancelled last week as his attorney and District Attorney Bill Norine reached an agreement. That agreement amended the initial charges of two felony counts of exposing genitals, pubic area or intimate parts to a child to the misdemeanor charge of lewd and lascivious behavior.
“After going over the facts of the case this is more lewd and lascivious behavior than it is the original felony charge,” Norine said.
As part of the deferred prosecution agreement Judge Melissia Mogen told Christenson he must not commit any further crimes, he must maintain absolute sobriety and is to have no contact with the victims for a year from the plea date. He must also have a mental health evaluation done and an alcohol and other drug assessment (AODA) and follow-up on recommendations from both.
The deferred prosecution agreement includes a misdemeanor case of possession of drug paraphernalia. If he follows the guidelines set in the agreement, the charges will be dismissed in one year.
After Mogen explained all the stipulations of the agreement to Christenson, she asked how he pleads and he said, “guilty.” At that point his attorney, Nathan M. Cockerham, stopped the proceedings to explain that he actually wishes to enter a no-contest plea. Mogen understood after Christenson explained his confusion and then officially entered his plea of no-contest.
According to the criminal complaint, in March 2017 a Burnett County Social worker was conducting a forensic interview of a female, who was 16 at the time, about Christenson exposing his genitals in front of her.
The victim said the incident occurred on March 3 2017, and another female was in the house, age 8. The two were dancing in the living room of the residence.
At this point the 8-year-old told Christenson to put on some clothes, as he was allegedly walking around in a button-up shirt and boxers. He did not put more clothes on.
The 16-year-old then said that around 5 a.m., Christenson came into the living room and sat in a rocking chair near the 8-year-old. The older girl said that when Christenson got up from the chair, she saw that he was naked.
She continued to explain that Christenson was masturbating in the hallway of the residence. Christenson allegedly asked if she “wanted to rub him.” After that the 16-year-old pretended to fall back to sleep.
She added that Christenson asked her if she was going to get him into trouble.
The plea hearing took place in the court chambers on July 26, there Norine said this case involved a lot of work between both sides. This included extensive interviews with the victims.
“In this case we had extensive contact with the victims and they were the ones that did not want this go to trial,” Norine said. “So we avoided the trauma of going to trial. I’m very pleased with this result.”
Norine continued to explain he does not believe Christenson is a pedophile and that during this incident he was very intoxicated.
Judge Mogen said Cockerham and Norine both told her that this is not something Christenson is regularly engaged in and that he was most likely “extremely intoxicated” when this occurred.
While Mogen explained the conditions to Christenson he began to get emotional and she took note of that when accepting the agreement.
“I can see you getting emotional about this,” Mogen said as Christenson wiped the tears from his eyes. “You are tearing up. That shows you’re taking this seriously.”
That moment was part of the reason Mogen accepted the deferred judgement of conviction in this case. If he does not follow the terms of the agreement the charges will be revisited by the Court.