The case against a former youth pastor at First Baptist Church accused of sexually assaulting a student at Lake Region Christian School in Baxter more than 30 years ago was dismissed.

The former youth pastor — Todd Travis Hogue, 60 — was charged almost a year ago on Jan. 27, 2020, in Crow Wing County District Court on two felony counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The state prosecutor — Crow Wing County Assistant Attorney Janine Lepage, who represented the alleged victim — dismissed both charges Thursday, Jan. 21, stating the defense gathered enough evidence to create reasonable doubt in regard to the timing of the sexual assault.

“It was unfortunate,” Lepage said in a telephone interview about having to dismiss the case. “There is no doubt in my mind that the assault occurred. ... The victim has a compelling story, and I don’t mean story as in a fabrication. I mean her memory of it is really compelling. The details she was able to remember — the smells, the feelings — all the things she could remember were compelling.”

Brainerd Defense Attorney Dennis Lothspeich, who represented Hogue, argued the timeline of when the alleged sexual assault occurred as it relates to the statute of limitations. According to the charges filed against his client, the victim told an investigator she was a senior at Lake Region Christian School in 1987-88 when she was allegedly assaulted by Hogue, who was a youth pastor at the time.

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The alleged victim, who is now a 51-year-old and lives in Texas, was 17 when she started her senior year in the fall. She turned 18 shortly afterwards on Nov. 7, 1987.

According to Minnesota state law during the timeframe of when the sexual assault was reported, the victim must take action within three years of the alleged assault if the victim is an adult. Otherwise the statute of limitations runs out and the victim can no longer press charges. If the victim was under age 18, they had seven years to press charges. The statute of limitations has since changed for sexual assault victims under the age of 18, who may press charges now at any time.

Before the dismissal

The defense attorney filed documents Dec. 14 and 15, 2020, asking the court for a motion to subpoena the alleged victim to appear in court. The attorney also submitted supplemental police reports from when the alleged victim spoke with a Brainerd police investigator Dec. 4, 2018, and the Findlay Ohio Police Department June 4, 2019, confidential reports and other court documents including the findings by a private investigator.

Lothspeich wrote in his documents that the alleged victim claimed the offenses were committed on or about Aug. 1 to Nov. 6, 1987. The document went on to state the victim claims she was raped by Hogue her senior year in high school. At the time, Hogue was the basketball coach at the school and a youth pastor at the church. In the court document, Hogue denies any sexual assault took place before or after Nov. 7, 1987.

Relevant to the statute of limitations in question, Lothspeich said the school year started Sept. 8, 1987, and the victim turned 18 eight weeks later.


“There is no doubt in my mind that the assault occurred. ... I mean her memory of it is really compelling. The details she was able to remember — the smells, the feelings — all the things she could remember were compelling.”

— Crow Wing County Assistant Attorney Janine Lepage


A transcript of a formal statement the victim alleges two specific incidents where she was forcibly raped. The first incident took place in what she called a “sound room” and the second was a classroom, which happened “a little bit later.” Lothspeich wrote, “There was little or no discussion of exactly when the events happened. She stated very clearly that it happened her senior year.”

Lothspeich wrote the victim never told anyone of the rapes at the time, but did tell one of her classmates, who was described as her best friend and was the pastor’s daughter. The daughter was interviewed by law enforcement and the defense’s private investigator and she remembers the victim telling her about a hug incident, which she described as a “bear hug.”

The daughter remembers telling her father what the victim told her and there was a meeting of the church deacons or some other school board members to address the report. Lothspeich wrote Hogue acknowledges that a meeting took place but cannot pinpoint when it took place, and thought it was closer to spring. No record of the meeting was found to clarify the date of the meeting.

The victim was not able to attend the meeting, as it was a closed meeting. After this meeting, the victim learned authorities at the school didn’t believe her and were not taking any action, the court document stated.

RELATED: Former Baxter youth pastor faces sexual assault charges

The defense argued the victim told authorities the assault occurred at a youth activity or something at the school and took place in the sound room. She did not give any details as to when it happened. Lothspeich wrote, “But in talking with the investigator about the time between the first and second assault she makes a telling comment. She told the investigator she went about her life as is nothing had happened, but added:

‘He was still my teacher, he was still the basketball coach. And my friend ... and we were the statisticians on the basketball team, so if the basketball team went someplace we would go with them. And a lot of times it was just, him, the basketball team. And us and it was like nothing happened.’”


"I don't know if they look at this as a win for themselves, simply because it got dismissed. But for me, this was him saying, I'm not guilty because it happened when you were 18, which is still guilty. That does not change the fact of what he did.”

— Nikki Wolvert-Feller


She made this statement while describing the period of time between the assaults, Lothspeich wrote. Immediately after making the statement she went on to state, “But then, a little while later ... I think there might have been a basketball game at the school after church, or after school. And it was dark outside.” She then went on to describe the second assault.

The details Lothspeich wrote are significant for several reasons, he said.

“It is clear that she is placing both of the assaults in the same time frame as the basketball season. She made numerous references to basketball and basketball coaches, she never mentions any other sports. The basketball season at LRCS did not start until well after the first week of November. The first boys game was Jan. 5, 1988.

RELATED: Former Baxter youth pastor denies sexual assault allegations from the late '80s

“The second assault she states it was dark outside and the significance of this is that in September and October it does not get dark outside until very late at night. This further states that the incident could not have happened before she turned 18.”

Lothspeich went on to write that if the state cannot prove the alleged assault happened before Nov. 7, 1987, this prosecution is barred and dismissal would be required.

“The evidence strongly suggests that the state will not be able to prove the assaults happened before Nov. 6, 1987,” the defense wrote.


“The second assault she states it was dark outside and the significance of this is that in September and October it does not get dark outside until very late at night. This further states that the incident could not have happened before she turned 18.”

— Brainerd Defense Attorney Dennis Lothspeich


Lepage said the defense’s argument for dismissal was detailed and created reasonable doubt to when the sexual assault happened. The victim believed the assault happened before she turned 18, but she could not recall the exact dates and didn’t have any definitive evidence on the assault occurring before her birthday.

“It was not an issue of did it happen, it was an issue of did it happen before she turned 18,” Lepage said. And the state wasn’t able to move forward with the case, as the statute of limitations have since expired if she was 18 at the time of the assault.

The victim speaks out

The victim, who agreed to be named for this story, Nikki Wolvert-Feller, said Wednesday in a telephone interview that even though the case is dismissed, she feels some closure. Wolvert-Feller said her attorney told her she believes Hogue sexually assaulted her and that is “enough closure” for her.

“He refused to go to court. He had every opportunity to take this to court and prove his innocence. He chose not to. He chose to go this route,” she said. “ ... I don't know if they look at this as a win for themselves, simply because it got dismissed. But for me, this was him saying, I'm not guilty because it happened when you were 18, which is still guilty. That does not change the fact of what he did.”

Wolvert-Feller said if she had a chance to speak to Hogue, she would share this Bible verse: “Be sure your sins will find you out,” (Numbers 32:22).

“It may not be immediately, but evil can only hide in the shadows until someone is brave enough to turn on the light,” Wolvert-Feller said. “It took me a lot of years, but the light is shining and the sins of the past are no longer in the past.”

Wolvert-Feller hopes coming forward with her story will help at least one person who was sexually assaulted. She said for any sexual assault victims she encourages them to speak out because someone will believe them.

“If he did something that made you feel uncomfortable or that made you stop and think, I don't know what just happened. Or that made you feel dirty or shameful. Someone will believe you, you will be believed,” Wolvert-Feller said. “And for a long time that's why I didn't come forward because who was going to believe me? Nobody would believe me and the whole justice system believed me. And, this outcome might not be what we had wanted, but just having (the detective) sit down and tell me, I believe this happened to you, and I'm going to do everything I can to bring him to justice. That in and of itself, probably healed me more than anything yet to this day. And the guilt and the shame that I carry that were not mine, almost destroyed me. This process was brutal; this was not a cakewalk. This was not something that I would ever want to have to do again. But if doing it means someone else can find peace and healing and hope, then I would do it in a heartbeat ... It's crushing.

“For so long these were our society’s dirty little secrets. And we're not staying in the shadows anymore. And people are listening to us. And if they don't listen then we just yell louder because these men need to be exposed. These institutions that protect these men and just move them to a different church simply to protect their own organization, they need to be called out and they need to be held responsible. And while it may not have happened in this case. Maybe this is a case that somebody else can look at and say, it can be done. We can at least try, we can at least expose the sin. They can stop hiding behind their God and their pulpit and be held accountable for what they have done, and the lives that they have destroyed.”

Wolvert-Feller said the church and the school went above and beyond with assisting with the investigation.

“They did everything they were asked, they asked how they could help, how they could make it easier,” Wolvert-Feller said. “I do not in any way, shape or form hold that place responsible.”

Lothspeich and Hogue declined to comment on the dismissal of the case.

Last year at the time when Hogue was summoned to appear in a Brainerd courtroom on the charges he was serving 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.

It is not known if Hogue is still the pastor at the church.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.



CORRECTION UPDATE: This story was updated to make a correction that the victim’s classmate did remember the victim telling her about a hug incident, which she described as a “bear hug.” The Dispatch regrets the error.