A former youth pastor at First Baptist Church in Baxter who faces criminal charges from an alleged sexual assault of a student at Lake Region Christian School more than 30 years ago made his first appearance Wednesday, Feb. 26, in Crow Wing County District Court in Brainerd.
The defendant, Todd Travis Hogue, 59, appeared in a navy suit jacket and tie alongside his attorney, Dennis Lothspeich, in front of Judge Erik J. Askegaard.
Hogue was charged Jan. 27 with two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. The felony charges filed state he used force and his position of authority to commit the offenses.
Askegaard asked Hogue if he understood the charges filed against him. Lothspeich, a Brainerd criminal defense attorney, replied Hogue understood. Lothspeich said he wanted to note the criminal complaint stated Hogue did not admit or deny the allegations, but this was not correct.
“He denied the allegations and he continues to deny the allegations,” Lothspeich said.
Allegations in the complaint include sexual assault of a student committed by Hogue on more than one occasion before and after her 18th birthday, including sexual intercourse.
Lothspeich said Hogue has no criminal history, has never had any other allegations or complaints filed against him and has worked as a pastor all of his adult life. Hogue currently serves as a pastor at Community Baptist Church in Curwensville, Pennsylvania. He has been a pastor at the church since May 2003, according to the church website.
During the court hearing, attorneys discussed setting conditional release with no bond/bail, or requiring a cash bond of $50,000 with no conditions. Conditions were to include no contact with the victim, making all future court appearances, maintaining contact with his attorney and remaining law-abiding.
Crow Wing County Assistant Attorney Janine LePage, who is prosecuting the case, initially wanted to include a condition requiring Hogue not possess firearms. Lothspeich argued there was no need to include this condition as Hogue is not a threat to society and the case originates from the late 1980s. LePage agreed to drop this condition. However, if the defendant is convicted of the felony charges, she said she wanted the condition back on the table.
LePage also asked the court to look at what the sentencing guidelines were at the time of the offense in 1987-88 when evaluating sentencing in this case. Hogue was 27 years old at the time of the offense.
Askegaard scheduled Hogue’s next court appearance for 1:30 p.m. April 27. The appearance will be for an omnibus hearing, which is to determine the evidence of the case, including testimony, and to discuss any issues relating to a fair and expeditious trial, as stated under Minnesota Court Rules.
Typically omnibus hearings are set within 28 days of the previous hearing, but Lothspeich asked for more days as he said the discovery materials for the case are extensive. The prosecution had no objections.
Before the close of the court hearing, Askegaard told the defense to make sure Hogue goes through the official jail booking and fingerprints before he posts bail and leaves the Crow Wing County Judicial Center. Lothspeich agreed.
The victim, who now lives in Texas and whose family continues to live in the Brainerd lakes area, contacted Lt. Chad Kleffman of the Brainerd Police Department Dec. 3, 2018, to file a complaint against Hogue.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Hogue, the victim told Kleffman she was a senior at Lake Region Christian School in 1987-88 and Hogue was a youth pastor. During her senior year, she was 17 when Hogue sexually assaulted her by first touching her and groping her sexually. She reported the assault to First Baptist Church but, according to the victim, the church did not believe her. The victim said once Hogue realized no one believed her, he continued the sexual assaults, including sexual intercourse. She said the sexual assaults were never reported to law enforcement or social services.
The victim specifically recalled to police an incident she said occurred in a sound room overlooking the school auditorium. Hogue cornered her in the closet in the sound room and raped her. That assault took place during the fall of her senior year in high school, prior to her 18th birthday.
The victim was one of the school basketball team statisticians and Hogue was the basketball coach. On several other occasions while she was at basketball events at night, Hogue sexually assaulted her, the victim said. These incidents took place after she turned 18.
During the course of the investigation, Kleffman conducted numerous interviews of people who attended and worked at the church and school during the time in question. Many of those interviewed remembered Hogue frequently engaging in flirtatious and inappropriate behavior with some of the female students and he was known to snap their bra straps, the complaint stated.
Also reported by more than one witness was a meeting by the Board of Deacons regarding allegations made by the victim that Hogue sexually assaulted her. Additionally, another former student reported Hogue sexually abused her, specifically that he touched her over the clothing and got her blouse off, but did not rape her.
Kleffman spoke with Hogue by telephone on a number of occasions, according to the complaint. Hogue said he worked at First Baptist Church during the time in question and he remembered the victim. Hogue stated he did remember appearing before the Deacon Board regarding an allegation that he “hugged” the victim.