Plum City woman on trial in Goodhue County for sexual conduct chargesArea News
-- A jury made up of seven women and seven men heard opening statements Monday morning in the trial of a former Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing guard Suzanne Marie Walstrom.
By: Sarah Gorvin , Pierce County Herald
RED WING, Minn. -- A jury made up of seven women and seven men heard opening statements Monday morning in the trial of a former Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing guard Suzanne Marie Walstrom.
The 39-year-old Plum City woman is accused of having sexual relationships, including fondling, with three boys who were inmates at MCF-RW at the time. She is facing two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.
With Judge Thomas Bibus presiding, Assistant Goodhue County Attorney Erin Kuester asked the jury Monday to find Walstrom guilty of all charges.
“Walstrom was employed to keep the inmates and employees safe,” she said. “She repeatedly crossed that line.”
Kuester mentioned several times that Walstrom had to be reprimanded for minor behavior fractions and at least three times for having “inappropriate boundaries” with the inmates.
“Walstrom was repeatedly warned not to be in areas not covered by surveillance,” Kuester said. However, she said that Walstrom was caught in an unmonitored office space with one of her 17-year-old accusers.
Kuester also told jurors about letters, signed with the name “Peaches,” and found in one accuser’s room. Walstrom allegedly wrote them.
“The letters show that there was quite an emotional relationship,” Kuester said.
Defense attorney Ryan Pacyga countered that evidence will show that inmates were targeting Walstrom and that Walstrom’s superiors knew that offenders were trying to manipulate her.
“Despite that they assigned her to the sex offender cottage,” Pacyga said, adding that the inmates convicted of criminal sexual conduct are the most manipulative.
Pacyga continued that two of Walstrom’s accusers knew each other before they were sent to the correctional facility, and that the pair teamed up against Walstrom. “If (the first accuser) tells (the second) to do something, he’ll do it,” Pacyga said.
“This is a case where (the accusers) are people that the state doesn’t trust,” he told the jury. “But the government now wants you to trust them.”
Pacyga asked the jurors to keep open minds and to listen carefully to what the three former inmates say during their testimonies, adding that they have been able to “pull one over” on investigators and prosecutors and are trying to do the same to the jurors.
Both attorneys also used their opening statements to address how MCF-RW operates, the severity of serving a term at the facility and the type of inmates that serve time there.
“MCF-RW, as far as prisons go, is very different from adult prisons,” she said. Kuester went on to describe how inmates are housed not in cells, but in cottages, that they are allowed recreation time and must attend school.
“(They) learn trades to help them become productive members of society,” she said, adding that the mission of MCF-RW is rehabilitation, not punishment.
Pacyga argued that the state was trying to “minimize” the severity of being sentenced to serve time at MCF-RW.
“Make no mistake,” he said. “It’s the end of the road for juveniles. … (MCF) Red Wing isn’t some camp where kids that get into a little trouble on probation go.”
The state is expected to call 19 witnesses to the stand during the trial, including Walstrom’s three alleged victims, other MCF-RW employees and police investigators. Current MCF-RW Warden Kathy Halvorson, who began working at the facility after the alleged incidents occurred, will also testify.
Charges were originally filed against Walstrom in April and August 2010. The case was first scheduled to go to trial in January 2012. However, attorney conflicts caused it to be delayed. Jury selection began April 9, with interviews lasting all last week.
The trial is expected to last at least through Friday.
Sarah Gorvin is a reporter for the Red Wing Republican-Eagle.