Opening arguments begin in sexual assault, kidnapping trial

Both the county and defense gave their opening arguments Friday, Jan. 7, and asked the woman questions about the alleged sexual assault and kidnapping.

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The jury trial for a man who allegedly kidnapped and sexually assaulted a woman began on Friday, Jan. 7, with opening arguments and testimony from the accuser.

Dennis Michael St. John Jr., of Scanlon, was charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon and threats of violence after his arrest in July 2020, according to the criminal complaint.

The county’s opening arguments, given by county attorney Lauri Ketola, described 30 hours where the woman was allegedly sexually assaulted, beaten, forced to use methamphetamine and prevented from leaving the defendant's home.

Defense attorney JD Schmid painted a different picture of the events, one where St. John and the woman consensually engaged in activities on a two-day "meth bend" until she tried to steal a $50 bill and St. John “snapped” and beat her.

Schmid added St. John would not fight a domestic abuse charge, but that is not what he is currently being charged for.


Dennis Michael St. John Jr.

After the opening arguments, both parties had a chance to hear from and ask questions of the woman.

She said she met St. John at Black Bear Casino, going to his house to smoke marijauna and then going inside his house to have sex with him on July 17, 2020.

She also acknowledged she had previously been in a relationship with the defendant, but in July 2020 was trying to distance herself from him.

Then, she said, St. John refused to let her leave until she escaped on July 19, 2020. During the time she was being held at his house, she alleges he beat her, raped her, threatened her and her children and forced her to use methamphetamine.

When the county asked questioned the accuser, photos were shared of bruising she sustained on her left side, where she said St. John had beaten her.

The woman described how she was not allowed to even go to the bathroom alone, and the layout of the house only had one viable exit door, which made escaping even more difficult.

Schmid asked her why she didn’t tell law enforcement or the nurse who administered the rape kit the reason she went into St. John’s house was to have consensual sex with the defendant.

The woman said she could not remember exact conversations with law enforcement or the nurse, but the transcripts of their conversations do not show her explaining that.


“I was raped and beaten, I have no idea what I said,” the woman said in response to questions about her story.

She added she was more concerned about her own safety and the safety of her children in the immediate aftermath of escaping.

According to the defense attorney, no mention of it was made to law enforcement until October 2020.

Schmid then asked the woman if she had ever used methamphetamine voluntarily, which after an objection from the county, the woman said she had.

The defense attorney's line of questioning then turned to whether the woman needed a place to live and if she was just "making up" the story to live with her children's grandparents.

She denied those claims.

The trial is scheduled to continue this week and end Friday, Jan. 14.

This story was updated at 1:13 p.m. Jan. 14 to correct language referring to the woman who accused St. John of sexual assault. It was originally posted at 10:12 a.m. Jan. 12. The Pine Journal regrets the error.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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