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Trial avoided in jail fight incident

By Staff | Sep 22, 2008

Assault charges against an 18-year-old Faribault County Jail inmate being held on a felony charge have been dropped.

As a result, the city will save several hundred of dollars in legal fees.

Blue Earth assistant city attorney Daniel Lundquist says “in the interest of justice” he filed papers in district court Sept. 9 to dismiss fifth-degree assault charges against John Andrew Yahnke.

The case was set for trial on Sept. 18 before a six-member jury.

Lundquist says many factors went into his decision, including taking a “good hard look” at a video taping of a fight that occurred July 23 between Yahnke and another prisoner, 17-year-old Selerino Del Angel.

“It would have been a tough case, the state’s burden of showing beyond reasonable doubt that he did not act in self-defense,” says Lundquist.

Yahnke’s attorney, public defender Bill Grogin, in the past has said his client was acting in self-defense.

“I believe this vindicates what he has said all along, that he acted in self-defense,” says Grogin. “Without the video discovered by our investigator, we would have had to go to trial and an innocent man might have been convicted of a crime he did not commit.”

Yahnke has been in custody in the county jail since July 14 when he was arrested for possession of explosives in his Blue Earth apartment.

Lundquist says while the tape shows Yahnke may not have been the “main aggressor” it is not conclusive he acted in self-defense.

“That was too close to call. We just don’t try cases to try cases,” he says.

The assistant city attorney says other possible charges against Yahnke were discussed.

Because the assault charge was a misdemeanor and the offense occurred within city limits, the city attorney’s office prosecuted the case.

Legal costs will come out of a $39,960 annual retainer fee paid to Frundt & Johnson in Blue Earth, the law firm contracted by the city.

Under the agreement, the first 10 hours of prosecution each month are included in the retainer. Anything above that is billed at the hourly attorney rate of $130. Litigation expenses also are reimbursable.

Lundquist says the city hasn’t been billed yet for work already done on the case and he isn’t sure how much that will be. In addition, he says the trial was scheduled for a full day and several hours of preparation would have been involved.

After an investigator for the Martin/Faribault counties Public Defender’s Office discovered a video tape of the fight, Del Angel also was charged with fifth-degree assault.