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Grand jury returns without indictments

Following deliberations Thursday, the grand jury in Crow Wing County came in with a no bill meaning no indictments were handed down.

The grand jury’s decision came after hearing two-and-a-half days of testimony from 18 witnesses and roughly 60-plus exhibits. Deliberations, which began about 3 p.m., lasted about two hours. Grand jury members — between 16 and 23 are called — convened on Tuesday at the Crow Wing County Judicial Center in Brainerd.

Testimony and evidence presented involved the allegations of inappropriate voter assistance in the 2010 election and other voting law violations and allegations of exploitation of vulnerable adults. The investigation did find four people from Clark Lake Home voted in the 2010 election although their right to vote had been taken away through the court as they were placed in a guardianship.

“We conducted what I thought was a thorough and complete investigation,” said Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan Thursday, adding that information was presented to the grand jury, which can ask for more information or additional evidence before making a decision. “I will let their decision speak for itself.”

Al Stene, whose vulnerable adult son Jim, then a Clark Lake Home resident, was one of the residents taken to vote in the 2010 general election, has spoken out previously on what he considered the exploitation of vulnerable adults. Jim Stene’s voting rights were not revoked in his guardianship but his father said as parents and legal guardians they were not consulted as to whether he should vote or not.

“The system has opened the season on vulnerable adults in Crow Wing County,” Stene said. He declined to answer any questions or talk about next steps.

Under Minnesota law, people in guardianships have the right to vote unless it is specifically revoked. Ryan said the issues in election law and who should or should not vote should be a legislative and civil decision.

“They are not Crow Wing County criminal justice issues,” Ryan said. “Obviously I don’t have a crystal ball but I consider the matter concluded with the grand jury’s decision.”

Critics pointed to the length of time it took for investigators to find the four people who voted but had previously had their voting rights revoked. They pointed to the fact that court orders regarding the restrictions through the guardianship are public documents and readily found with court administration.

No matter how the investigation was conducted or decision rendered, people will stand and second guess, Ryan said.

“We made our decisions based on facts and proof when that is applied to the law,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the grand jury’s decision will no doubt be debated and lead to speculation and supposition. But he said he’ll leave that to the future to decide.

“I believe it’s time for our community to come back together now,” Ryan said. “It’s an electoral law issue.”

Through the grand jury process, a judge convenes the grand jury, provides instructions and then leaves until the jury deliberations are concluded. When all the evidence is presented, the grand jury may ask a prosecutor for additional evidence or to look at other areas of law.