Rigot guilty on most counts
HAWKS — Michael Rigot is guilty of having sex with a minor but not guilty of raping a 12-year-old girl, a jury decided this afternoon.
After five-and-a-half hours of deliberation, the five-woman, seven-man jury brought back a guilty verdict on 20 of the 26 charges against Rigot, an Onaway man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl and having an ongoing sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl between late 2016 and late 2017.
The News does not identify victims of sexual assault.
According to the girls, both of whom testified during the trial, Rigot had sex with them while they were babysitting his young son and on several other occasions.
The jury acquitted Rigot of first-degree criminal sexual assault charges related to the younger girl, finding him guilty of one charge of touching her breast for sexual purposes.
He was declared guilty of the months-long sexual relationship with the older girl, and of giving her marijuana.
Rigot, who maintains his innocence, will escape a mandatory 25-year-minimum prison sentence tied to the first-degee sexual assault charges. He faces up to 15 years in prison on the third- and fourth-degree charges of which he was found guilty.
Rigot will return to court in September for sentencing.
Three of the 29 original charges against Rigot were dropped earlier in the case when witness testimony didn’t reference the crimes indicated in the charges.
The girls had a hard time describing the incidents to police and the jury, and that validated their truthfulness, Presque Isle County Prosecutor Ken Radzibon suggested in closing arguments today. He doubted anyone would make up such stories — full of intimate and embarrassing details — knowing those details would have to be described publicly, he told jurors.
Because they were minors, it didn’t matter whether the girls resisted the sexual encounters, or even if they consented to the sex, and the testimony of the victims didn’t need to be corroborated, the prosecutor said.
It’s not the defense’s job to provide every single theory of why the prosecution’s story wasn’t true, defense attorney Devin Pommerenke told the jury in his closing remarks.
“Our theory is that we didn’t do it,” Pommerenke said. “That it didn’t happen.”
He pointed to lies one victim seemed to have told about when she first started using marijuana, uncertainties by several witnesses regarding the timeline of events, and initial denials by the girls as proof the minors shouldn’t be believed.
Though previously warned they would be asked to view explicit and offensive photos during the trial as part of the defense’s argument, the jury was never shown photos. Also posed during opening statements, the theory that one of the victims made up her story in retaliation for a fight between her father and Rigot was not substantiated by witnesses, Radzibon said.
The jury was removed from the room several times during closing statements while attorneys debated several objections.
Radzibon challenged Pommerenke’s explanation of the timeline of Rigot’s incarceration.
Judge Aaron Gauthier was astonished, he said, that the defense attorney had stated his client was currently being held in jail — something the prosecution couldn’t have mentioned without causing a mistrial
The court went to great lengths to avoid depicting the defendant as an inmate, up to having the officers transporting him park out of sight behind the building.
“And then you go and tell the jury,” Gauthier said. “Why are we working so hard for them to think of him as a free man?”
Two jury alternates, one man and one woman, were chosen by lot and dismissed before deliberation began at 11:22 a.m.
About four hours into deliberations, the jury asked what would happen if they were unable to reach a consensus on a particular charge.
The court couldn’t answer a hypothetical question, the jury was told.
While court rules outline what would happen in that case, Gauthier said he was reluctant to tell the jury because he didn’t want them to feel pushed to reach a verdict.
Half an hour later, the jury reemerged, saying they couldn’t agree, and were read instructions for a hung jury.
They were told to talk a while longer and reached their verdicts shortly before 5 p.m.
Rigot has been kept in isolation during the trial to avoid possibly spreading the coronavirus to other inmates at the Presque Isle County Jail. His trial was held at the Bismarck Township Hall in Hawks to accommodate social distancing requirements.